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True to the call

Aug. 21, 2007

Nearly a century after Truett came to Baylor, then-Baylor President Herbert H. Reynolds presented the idea of starting a seminary at Baylor that would uphold traditional Baptist ideas and beliefs and naming it after the man who had saved the university so many years before.

Baylor's Board of Trustees officially reserved the name "George W. Truett Theological Seminary" in July 1990, and the seminary was chartered eight months later.

"The seminary was born in the heart and mind of Herbert H. Reynolds," says former Truett Dean Paul Powell, BA '56. "The thought came to his mind of starting a seminary and naming it after the greatest preacher ever to come out of Texas, George W. Truett."

The seminary began classes in 1994, and 30 of those students made up the first graduating class in May 1997. In just 10 years, Truett Seminary has produced 534 graduates, many of whom serve as ministers and missionaries from El Paso to Texarkana, across the country and around the world.

"I believe that Truett has already become the finest Baptist seminary in the world," says Baylor President John M. Lilley. "I'm continually impressed by the quality of our graduates and the churches and ministries in which they serve."

Teaching beyond the classroom

Truett's first students began classes at First Baptist Church of Waco--the church home for every Baylor president in the 20th and 21st centuries, from Samuel Palmer Brooks to Lilley--while officials decided on plans and raised money for an on-campus facility. Former Regent John Baugh provided a $5 million lead gift in 1997; the seminary's facilities opened in 2002 and are today collectively known as the Baugh-Reynolds Campus of George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

The classrooms are small--intentionally so, designed to limit class sizes and encourage what is known as "seminar-style" teaching, where dialogue between teacher and student is favored over traditional lecturing.

"It's a sharing of ideas and discussion so that if you have a question or point of view, you can share it with others," says Powell, Truett's dean from 2001 until his retirement this past June. "It enriches the education beyond anything you can do with 40 or 50 people in a class."

"That's one of our strengths," agrees David Garland, who was named dean of Truett this past spring. "It creates a sense of community and interactive learning so that students must be actively engaged rather than passively taking notes."

That sense of community carries on outside the classroom, where professors and other mentors really get to know the students.

"The professors are involved in our lives, taking interest in us, like knowing that my wife and I recently had a daughter," says Truett student and new parent Scott Shelton (see profile on page 41). "We've had professors over for dinner. They're not just concerned about academics, but they genuinely care about me as a person. I've really learned how to be a good pastor by watching my professors."

It's not unusual to see students hanging around after class, continuing a classroom conversation in the hallway or over coffee, says Roger Olson, a professor of theology.

"Our faculty and students really interact a lot. We mentor students--not just teach them," Olson says. "It's a habit of the heart; it just comes naturally to us. It's just an aspect of our community life and teaching method. We expect teachers to be more than classroom teachers."

Teaching by walking alongside

Truett's staff works hard to connect each student with a mentor who can show him or her the ropes of being a pastor.

"Ideally, students go off for a full semester to work in a church setting or mission setting to get a deeper feel for what practical, hands-on ministry requires," says Garland. Rather than confining students to a classroom, he points out, "we partner with churches in the education of our students."

"The best way to learn is to walk alongside somebody," Powell explains. "That's the way Jesus taught ... He called the disciples to be with him and walk with him, and used life experiences to teach them things they needed to know.

"If you've got a gigantic seminary, it's overwhelming to find people who will serve as mentors," he continues. "(But) that's what ministers ought to be doing. On-the-job training is very important. Mentoring, prayer and Bible study, and small classrooms--that's essential to good education for a minister."

Of course, that's not to downplay the importance of scholarship. When hiring professors, Garland says he looks for outstanding teachers who are active in church leadership and actively publishing in the field.

"The quality of our professors is amazing," says Levi Price, Jr., BA '64, Truett's professor of Christian ministries and director of pastoral ministries. "Many come from other settings; they want to be involved in a quality place ... We've got a world-class faculty, and we've got some young guys on this faculty who are going to be world-class."

Truett professors have received one Christianity Today Award of Merit as well as two Gold Medallion and three Silver Medallion awards for books published from the Christian Booksellers Association. Members of the seminary faculty have served as interim pastors of churches throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arkansas, and have given invited lectures in Europe, Africa and Asia as well as across the United States.

In addition to its own outstanding faculty, Truett students receive teaching from some of Baylor's best professors in other fields of study. Truett offers dual programs that combine Master of Divinity with Master of Music or Master of Social Work degrees. The dual degrees afford Truett students yet another way to get practical training to accompany what they learn in the classroom.

Since 2001, Campus Living and Learning and University Ministries have placed Truett students in various residence halls on campus as resident chaplains, where they provide general pastoral care to students, help lead Bible studies, coordinate service projects and more. In return, the resident chaplains receive room and board plus a stipend in addition to the hands-on ministry experience that complements what they learn in the classroom.

"We offer the academic rigor that other seminaries offer, but with an emphasis on spiritual formation and participation in covenant groups. Our intention is to form a covenant community," Garland says.

Learning to shepherd

That sense of community is fostered through small groups, called "Covenant Groups," geared towards Bible study, prayer and accountability in a more intimate setting than the classroom.

"We divide our students up into small groups to meet each week for prayer and a bit of devotional. We're trying to instill in them the importance of personal, private time to worship God on their own," says Powell. "Ministry is a very taxing job. ... The thing that keeps you steady is your own time with God, praying and reading the Bible."

Truett students come from all backgrounds. Though predominantly Baptist, eight other denominations were represented in a fall 2006 study. The student body is approximately two-thirds male, one-third female, and includes representatives from nearly 20 countries on five continents. With people from so many walks and stages of life, the Covenant groups help students form bonds with one another while transitioning to a life in ministry.

"That's something very, very unique about Truett," says Shelton. "My best seminary friends were in my Covenant Group. ... I've learned a lot of ways to really be creative in my journey of faith beyond Sunday mornings and quiet times."

Part of that spiritual formation is learning a style of servant leadership, with pastor as shepherd, not as CEO.

"We go back to the model of Jesus, who washed his disciples' feet," Powell says. "He says, 'This is how you can serve me'--more like a shepherd. People are like sheep, not cattle. You can drive cattle, but you have to lead sheep."

"We strongly believe in the ministry of the laity, and therefore believe in the pastor as facilitator," Price adds. "That's what pastors have historically been among Baptists."

Built on Baylor's Baptist heritage

After successfully adjusting the University's own governance structure to insure autonomy in 1990, Reynolds wanted to make sure there was an environment for seminary students that valued academic freedom and achievement while upholding Baptist tradition.

"It was Dr. Reynolds' idea--his dream and vision," says Price, a member of the seminary's first advisory board. "I think he saw the direction the Southern Baptist seminaries were headed, and he wanted to provide an alternative that would uphold the traditional Baptist ideas and beliefs."

"That's my tradition; it's not something I was ever going to throw away," says Shelton, who grew up attending a Baptist church in Jersey Village, Texas. "There's a history of Baptist heritage that is wonderful, with wonderful people involved with it. ... (Truett professors) are very committed to that, but not so tied to it that it limits their faith journey. We're open to other ideas, but at home in being a Baptist."

Truett's niche as a progressive, middle-ground seminary in the Baptist tradition has proven to be a benefit for many of its students after graduation.

"I think we're fulfilling a role whereby churches that we call 'moderate' are looking for our graduates," Price says. "Some of our students are going into very significant churches at a very young age because they are looking for Truett graduates--not just in Texas, but outside of Texas, too. Our students know that a degree from Truett will mean something for them in the future."

As the largest Baptist university in the world, Baylor's long-held commitment to its Baptist heritage helps Truett, says Garland.

"It's wonderful to be part of a research university with a deep faith commitment. We contribute to Baylor's mission, and Baylor contributes to ours," he says.

"That Truett is part of a major research university is unique," echoes Olson. "We're surrounded by all levels of resources that other seminaries don't have: libraries, speakers, conferences ... All of those things are available to students where they are. We have world-class theologians like N.T. Wright who come through here because we are affiliated with Baylor."

But the relationship works both ways, with Baylor and Truett benefiting from one another.

"At least half our faculty will be out preaching every single Sunday--not only regionally, but around the nation," says Garland. "We spread the name of Baylor and Truett Seminary widely. That increases awareness of Baylor's commitment to its Baptist heritage, faith and the church."

The seminary also hosts several conferences each year that, combined, bring about 1,500 pastors onto campus annually. Six such conferences were held last year: a general meeting, plus individual conferences aimed at Hispanic pastors, black pastors, cowboy pastors, small church pastors and rural church pastors.

"They get inspiration and information about being a better pastor, and they also see Truett's facilities," says Powell. "Hopefully they catch Truett's spirit and become supporters of Truett, both financially and by sending students to us."

"In its short history, Truett Seminary has enjoyed broad-based support from alumni and friends of the university," says Mark Minor, associate vice president for major gifts. In fact, Minor says Truett has had the most funds raised of all academic units of the university for the past five years.

"Truett not only makes the school stronger in the short term by bringing these students to campus, but it ties these people into Baylor University for the rest of their lives," says Powell.

Price agrees, adding, "One of the best advertisements that Baylor has is Truett Seminary. Our graduates are going out and ministering in churches, and that's some of the best public relations Baylor's got going for it."

That public relations made it all the way to Iraq, where Tihara Vargas was serving as a drill sergeant in the Army Reserves (see profile on page 41). She was planning on pursuing law school to impact the lives of people in need when she met a chaplain who changed her life. "He happened to be a Truett graduate, and he told me about the dual program (in social work) here," says Vargas. "I was so impressed by his example that I knew I needed to go somewhere that graduated people like that."

George W. Truett's legacy

"People like that" is exactly what the seminary faculty hopes to keep producing.

"My hope for students is that they leave us not only well-prepared theologically and Biblically, but that they also have a deeper sense of calling to pastoral ministry, and that when they go out, they will be successful as servant leaders," Garland says.

Not surprisingly, that goal reflects George W. Truett's own approach to helping young pastors. According to Truett's wife Josephine, as reported in Powhatan W. James' George W. Truett, A Biography:

"Mr. Truett's deep and abiding interest in all young preachers and in their real call to ministry is one of the outstanding characteristics of his life. Regardless of denomination they come to him for advice and inspiration, and he is never too busy nor too tired to listen with painstaking care to their problems and uncertainties. They go away encouraged and revitalized for the great work to which they are called, and reassured as to its divine nature."

In this way, Truett the man continues his work today--through the words and actions of faculty, students and alumni of Truett Seminary.

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