By Gary D. Myers
NEW ORLEANS—The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary trustees approved a number of initiatives during their April 16 meeting designed to enhance two of the school’s most distinctive programs — the counseling/social work program and the Christian education division.
During their spring meeting in 2013, trustees created a new academic division of church and community ministries, for the counseling and social work programs. Last December, the board approved the creation of a counseling center to serve as a resource for NOBTS students and people in the surrounding neighborhoods. The counseling center will also provide NOBTS counseling students with a place to fulfill their counseling practicum hours.
Trustees followed these previous actions by officially naming the center and approving a timeline for its opening. The Leeke Magee Christian Counseling Center bears the name of Louisiana Baptist and NOBTS supporter Leeke Magee who passed away in 2013. Before his death, Magee named the seminary in his estate plan. This estate gift provided the funds needed to transform the former William Carey University nursing building on the NOBTS campus into a counseling center and office space for counseling and social work professors. The building will be fitted with counseling rooms and offices this summer and the counseling center will open to the public August 1.
“We deeply believe that Southern Baptists need to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to engage the communities around our churches,” said NOBTS President Chuck Kelley. “We have to find a way to start the conversation about Jesus with people who are not in our churches and we think a counseling program, centered in Christ does that and we believe that community-based ministries, again, centered in Christ and the church can do that.”
The unique counseling program at NOBTS provides the educational background needed to achieve state licensure. Currently, NOBTS is the only SBC seminary offering a licensure track in counseling. And while many NOBTS counseling graduates serve as church-based counselors, others have sought employment in non-profit organizations and private Christian counseling groups in order reach those outside of the church. According to Ian Jones, chairman of the church and community ministries division, all students in the program are committed to biblically-based ministry and are involved in taking the gospel to hurting people.
“Christ challenged believers to be salt and light in the world ‘so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,’” Jones said, referencing Matt.5:16. “The division of church and community ministries is committed to training students with the skill sets necessary to help churches connect with their communities through counseling and social ministries, building up the church and bringing the transforming power of the gospel into the world.”
“The new Leeke Magee Christian Counseling Center will be a significant part of this ministry as students are trained to provide an array of biblical, effective, and accessible counseling services to individuals, couples, and families in the greater New Orleans community,” he continued.
In a related vote, trustees elected Kevin Brown as assistant professor of church and community ministries at NOBTS. Brown brings a wealth of experience in church-related community work in New Orleans to his new role at the seminary. Brown will occupy the newly-formed Caskey Chair of Church and Community Ministries.
“The appointment of Kevin Brown is evidence of the commitment that the seminary trustees, administration, and faculty have to prepare ministers to engage actively and organically with local communities,” Jones said. “He has a heart for the gospel and a biblical commitment to bring its message to people who are often overlooked and neglected, through church-driven programs of ministry-based evangelism.”
Brown earned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Wheaton College and a master of social work degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently studying in the doctor of philosophy in urban studies program at the University of New Orleans. For the past 16 years, Brown has served as the executive director of the Trinity Christian Community, a faith-based non-profit located in the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans.
In addition to his work in ministry and community development, Brown taught pastoral counseling at the School of Urban Missions in New Orleans and served as a field placement supervisor for master of social work students at Tulane University.
“We have to find a way to start the conversation about Jesus with people who are not in our churches and we think a counseling program, centered in Christ does that and we believe that community-based ministries, again, centered in Christ and the church can do that,” Kelley said following Brown’s election. “Kevin Brown has spent most of his life doing church-based community ministry. He has worked with justice issues, education issues, violence, job training and poverty issues and how the community of Christ can address needs in the urban context.”
“Southern Baptists have to learn how to be effective and fruitful in an urban context,” Kelley said.
Along with the outward focus of the counseling and social work program, the trustees launched an initiative to help foster spiritual growth and discipleship in the local church. The trustees approved the creation of the Center for Discipleship and Spiritual Formation to assist the work of the school’s division of Christian education. At a time when many Christian colleges and seminaries are shifting away from Christian education programs, NOBTS is seeking to strengthen that area. The center will conduct research in discipleship strategies, collaborate with pastors and Christian education practitioners and host conferences and training events. The first discipleship conference is tentatively scheduled for next fall.
“The need for strategic and comprehensive discipleship in our local churches has been a growing concern for several decades as our churches have plateaued and declined. NOBTS is committed to addressing the concern,” said Randy Stone, chairman of the division of Christian education. “The Center for Discipleship and Spiritual Formation will prioritize training for church and lay leaders, research and writing in the field, as well as encouraging and resourcing staff members and ministry leaders serving in discipleship and Christian education vocations.”
NOBTS provost Steve Lemke added, “The Great Commission calls upon us to baptize new disciples, but it doesn’t stop there. It calls upon us to disciple them and teach them all things that God has commanded us. The passion of the new Center for Discipleship and Spiritual Formation is to accomplish that commandment through our Baptist churches.