By Neisha Roberts, The Alabama Baptist
For many pastors and church leaders, seminary education is a longing that sits just out of their reach. It may be the cost, lack of available time or the distance to the nearest classroom — or a combination of all three — that keeps men and women from being fully equipped through seminary.
That’s where New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) Caskey Center for Church Excellence has stepped in.
Launched in spring 2014 the Caskey Center focuses on the needs of bivocational pastors, as well as pastors and leaders of smaller membership churches, those with less than 150 members. One way the center looks out for the needs of those leaders is through full-tuition scholarships.
In 2014 more than 100 scholarships were awarded to pastors in Louisiana. In January 2015, 50 scholarships were awarded to leaders in Mississippi, and for spring 2016, 50 scholarships are available to Alabama Baptist leaders.
To be eligible one must serve as a paid staff member (bivocational or full-time/part-time minister) of an Alabama Baptist church with less than 150 members. Applicants must already be admitted to the seminary, affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 and Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, engage in personal evangelism, submit reports on evangelistic activity and be interviewed by the center’s director, Mark Tolbert.
Tolbert said one passion of the center is the need for more personal evangelism, which is why part of the scholarship requires taking an evangelism practicum each semester.
“It’s my observation that we never drift toward evangelism,” Tolbert said. “We tend to drift away from evangelism. It’s not intentional. It’s not a decision we make. We get focused on other activities and then we never drift back.”
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said, “It is both interesting and refreshing that the eligibility requirements stipulate that scholarship recipients should be involved in personal evangelism.”
And as for the scholarship money itself, Lance said, “We are grateful for the generous financial assistance provided through the Cooperative Program to all Southern Baptist students attending 1 of our 6 seminaries, and I am also thankful that special help will now be available for Alabama Baptists who are enrolled at NOBTS and serving one of our state convention’s churches.”
Alabama extension centers
Although the center is located on the seminary’s main campus, that does not limit the scholarships to students who take courses there.
The scholarship can be applied to online courses or to any course at any of Alabama’s extension centers located in Huntsville, Rainsville, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Montgomery, according to Teman Knight, the center’s assistant director for Alabama and pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, Montgomery.
“Our goal at NOBTS is to make theological education available to the men and women serving our churches wherever God has placed them,” Knight said. “(With the extension centers) any student in Alabama is less than two hours away from seminary classes. Now that classes are accessible this scholarship will provide the financial means to allow these pastors to not only begin but to complete their degree.
“God is already using these pastors and staff members but with education and training they become more effective tools that can be used to do even greater work to build the Kingdom. If we have healthier, better-equipped pastors and staff, then we will have healthier and stronger churches.”
Randy Harvill, former bivocational and now full-time pastor of Brushey Creek Baptist Church, Greenville, will be applying for the scholarship, he said.
“My passion is to be a pastor,” said Harvill, who noted he doesn’t have any seminary training but has earned a biblical teaching certificate. His background is in forestry.
“Anything that would help me to become a better pastor, better teacher and proclaimer of God’s Word … would be something that would greatly benefit me and ultimately the church.”
Scholarship application deadline is Nov. 15. For more information, visit http://www.nobts.edu/CaskeyCenter/.