NEW ORLEANS — A program enacted by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary more than 20 years ago continues to hurdle location and linguistic challenges to provide biblical training.
The school’s Church Leadership Certificate program, explains Robert Wilson, benefits nontraditional students. Many wanting accredited theological training might not live near a seminary hub. Also, they may not speak English.
Wilson, Certificate Center director for Georgia and Alabama as well as pastor of God’s Acre Baptist Church at Ben Hill in Atlanta, says the program address both challenges.
“For ministers, Sunday School teachers, evangelists, and bivocational ministers this provides at opportunity. The classes serve as an introduction to Leavell College or New Orleans Seminary to see if they’re ready to take on those disciplines.”
It also gives them the opportunity to do so at an economical price, he asserts. Each certificate requires eight hours of classes, priced at $100 per course.
The latest group of graduates received their certificates Dec. 16 at NOBTS.
Training for different reasons
Many students use the classes to begin their theological academic careers. Others, though, just want to strengthen their apologetics or teaching skills. In addition to being the NOBTS North Georgia Hub, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta serves as a certificate center. Taking advantage off that, numerous Sunday School teachers there have benefited from the certificate-level classes.
The most recent set of graduates, Wilson points out, included one who already wields a Specialists’ degree in mathematics. Another holds her Master’s in computer technology.
Serving urban and rural
“[The certificate program] began in Mississippi mostly in rural areas … but have spread to all locations,” adds Thomas Strong, dean of Leavell College. “Most participants are local church leaders. The goal is to help support the work of the local church through training leaders to lead in effective ministry.”
Wilson oversaw the genesis of the first Georgia certificate centers in Atlanta in 2012. Mitspa Baptist Church in Norcross, a Haitian congregation speaking French Creole, served as one location. New Calvary Missionary Baptist Church and Decision Point Ministries, both in Atlanta, were two more. Altogether, they provided on-site certificate training for 30 students.
Those sites, Wilson points out, can vary. Most are at churches and associational offices. But, locations such as LifeWay Christian Bookstore on Cleveland Ave. in Atlanta also suffice. At least 15 students are needed to make up a class.
Serious about kingdom-building
Individual classes include those on apologetics, hermeunetics, missions church history, feminist theology, doctrine, and church planting. In Georgia, 20 certificate centers provide training in metro Atlanta and as far south as Moultrie and northward to Dalton. Classes taught in Vietnamese and Burmese will soon join those in Moultrie, Warner Robins, and Savannah taught in Spanish. The Mistpa center teaches in both English and French-Creole.
“If we’re serious about kingdom-building, we need to make sure we’re equipping our people at every level of theological educatiion,” Wilson says. “NOBTS is committed to doing that, coming alongside our churches, associations, and state conventions to provide quality, economical, biblical, theological education.”
“I am convinced God has used the Church Leadership Certificate program to encourage effective ministry in the local church,” agrees Strong. “I’m excited to see what God continues to do through the program and in the lives of the participants of the certificate program.”
Wilson points out a basic truth of the program, one his witnessed for years.
“We provide the quality biblical ministry training they otherwise wouldn’t get.”