“In 1917, Southern Baptists did something they’d never done before in their history: they decided to give birth to a seminary,” Kelley said, noting that there were then only five or six Southern Baptist churches in New Orleans. “It was not exactly easy pickings for a seminary, but [New Orleans] was absolutely crucial to the United States economy. It was a place of great world significance. And [Southern Baptists] wanted a place for training ministers where ministry was going to be part of the curriculum.”
Today, New Orleans is consistently ranked a top city for entrepreneurs and business. The movie industry is booming in New Orleans, which ranks behind only Hollywood and New York in movie production. Millennials, underrepresented in Southern Baptist churches, are moving to New Orleans in droves, Kelley noted.
“Now imagine that. Nearly a hundred years later, New Orleans is ground zero for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Kelley said. “A place where the Great Commission is not a conversation, nor is it a trip or a field experience. It is the daily life of all of us that are there.
“It is a good thing to be in the city of New Orleans.”
NOBTS has dedicated the Doris Kelley Showers of Blessing Resource Center on its main campus. Named for Kelley’s late mother, the center will house a homeschool program and a campus community center. The seminary will launch in August the Leake Magee Center for Christian Counseling, which will offer counseling services for campus families and community families alike. Kelley described the dire need for counseling services in the city.
“In New Orleans after Katrina, we lost nearly all of our Christian ministries for counseling and helping broken people,” Kelley said, adding that there are only 25 mental health beds in the entire city. “So we are going to use this center for counseling to introduce people to Jesus Christ, and there will be professions of faith from the community as they come to us to learn how Jesus can make a difference in healing broken lives. Both you and I know, at that He excels.”
Last year, more than 3,800 students trained for ministry at NOBTS, which offers 10 degrees entirely online and non-residential doctoral programs. The seminary is expanding its extension center network and offering credit through events, conferences, workshops, mission trips and study tours. Additionally, students are free to weave together any combination of class formats to suit their needs.
“Everything we do is like Legos — it all fits together,” Kelley said. “We are putting the needs of our students at the center of how we do theological education.”
Kelley briefed messengers on the new Caskey Center for Church Excellence, a partnership with an anonymous donor who gave an initial $1.5 million to provide free theological education for small church (less than 250 in attendance) and bi-vocational pastors and staff of Louisiana Southern Baptist churches. The goal is to provide up to $6,000 per year, a full scholarship, for up to 100 students who qualify.
The program targets the overwhelming majority of Louisiana churches, 91 percent of which have less than 250 in attendance each Sunday. Convention-wide, 89 percent of churches fit that category.
“We are a convention of small churches,” Kelley said.
With more than 125 applicants to date, response has been so great that just two weeks ago the anonymous donor gave an additional $1.5 million to bolster the program, Kelley said.
“And then as I’m walking to our alumni luncheon today, in the hallway of the convention, I was handed an envelope” containing an additional $1.5 million, Kelley said.
Kelley closed by challenging messengers to never be discouraged, to always trust God and to always serve faithfully, in spite of difficult circumstances.
“I don’t want you to ever forget as you are laboring and working, as you are doing work that is unappreciated and appears to be unnoticed by everyone around you, you remember God is always at work,” Kelley said.