By Frank Michael McCormack
NEW ORLEANS—New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary held its annual convocation service in Leavell Chapel Sept. 2, during which one new professor signed the seminary’s confessional documents and five other faculty members were honored for anniversaries of 10, 15 and 20 years at the school.
Kevin Brown, in his first semester at NOBTS as associate professor and Caskey Chair of Church and Community Ministries, signed The Articles of Religious Belief and The Baptist Faith and Message. Every NOBTS professor since the school’s first semester in 1918 have signed the school’s own Articles of Religious Belief. Brown specializes in community-based social work and, from 1998 to 2014, was executive director of New Orleans’ Trinity Christian Community organization. Brown’s father started TCC in the mid-1960s.
Jeff Griffin, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew and dean of libraries, and Jeff Nave, professor of psychology and counseling and director of testing and counseling, were honored for 10 years at NOBTS.
Philip Pinckard, professor of missions and director of the Global Missions Center, received accolades for 15 years at NOBTS.
Both Darryl Ferrington, professor of music education, and Allen Jackson, professor of youth education and director of the Youth Ministry Institute, were honored for 20 years at New Orleans Seminary.
These three other ministry-based and senior professors were recognized for their long-time service at NOBTS:
• Bob Hall, director of the Birmingham, Ala., extension, has been a ministry-based faculty member for 10 years.
• Jimmy Dukes, senior professor of New Testament and Greek and director of prison programs, has been on the faculty 30 years.
• Dan Holcomb, senior professor of church history, has taught at NOBTS 35 years.
Following the faculty recognitions, NOBTS President Chuck Kelley shared a message from Acts 20, which recounts the Apostle Paul’s farewell to the elders of the Ephesian church. Paul describes himself in verse 19 as “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews.”
“Did you notice that?” Kelley asked. “Paul said he was serving the Lord with all humility of mind, devout, complete in his service to the Lord. And what happened? … Paul had trouble in his life and his ministry.”
Kelley said Christians in America have to fight against what he calls the “blessing curse.” Christians in America live in the most wealthy and powerful nation in the world and, for students present at the NOBTS convocation chapel, they are part of the largest Protestant denomination in America.
“You have this great blessing that seeks to convince you that, if you love Jesus, everything is easy. If you love Jesus, everything works. If you love Jesus and God is blessing, ‘blessing’ means the absence of trouble,” Kelley said. “There’s one problem with that: You will not find that anywhere in the pages of Scripture. You will not find that anywhere in the experiences and the lives of those who follow Christ.”
Kelley said most faithful, true followers of Christ, including Paul for much of his ministry, are often found to be suffering.
“The blessing curse makes you get discouraged when things are not going as well as you think they should. You were obedient to God. You came to New Orleans for seminary. Why don’t you have more money in your bank account at the end of the month? Why isn’t it easier to pay tuition because, after all, you’ve been faithful? Why is it that you are struggling to find a place to serve?” Kelley asked. “Why? I don’t know. All I know is, when you serve Jesus, you will experience trouble. It comes in all different shapes and packages. It comes in all different times and seasons.”
Paul experienced a sharp disagreement and parting of ways with Barnabas over fellow-missionary John Mark.
“How do you get into a fight with someone called the ‘Son of Encouragement’? How do you do that?” Kelley said.
Paul also faced difficult issues with congregations and run-ins with Roman and Jewish officials.
“He had a life of struggle. So if you’re here and you have a challenging year, congratulations, you’re becoming like Paul the Apostle,” Kelley said. “That’s the way it is. This is going to be a year in which we experience challenges in every one of our lives.”
The question is, how will NOBTS students — and Christians in general — respond to that trouble.
“What you have to do is get your arms around it and understand that, when some bit of trouble happens in your life and your ministry, it doesn’t mean God forgot your name. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. When things aren’t coming together smoothly, it doesn’t mean you’re not on the right path,” Kelley said.
He also pointed to what Paul says in verse 24: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Kelley said Paul faced trouble with joy because of the gospel he was proclaiming to those he met. Joy in the midst of trouble, Kelley said, is what sets Christians apart from the rest of the world.
“Everybody has trouble. Atheists have trouble. Agnostics have trouble. Hindus have trouble. Buddhists have trouble. Animists have trouble. Everybody has trouble,” he said. “What distinguishes us is not the absence of problems in our lives. What distinguishes us is the presence of joy in the midst of conflict and trouble. This is our witness we make on behalf of Jesus.”
To remaining steadfast in the faith and have joy in the midst of trouble, Kelley said, requires a daily life of devotion to Jesus.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is what it all boils down to, this is what we must be doing every day,” he said. “We cannot assume that, simply because we are at a seminary, we are walking with God. We must hold one another accountable. We must immerse ourselves in our devotional life every single day.”