Among the many options available to students considering a seminary education, George W. Truett Theological Seminary stands out for its emphasis on both the theoretical and the practical.
"Truett has allowed me to be a full-time youth minister and a full-time student," says Scott Shelton, 25, a third-year student and also Minister to Students at First Baptist Church of Lorena. "The Truett classroom has really come alive to me. Things I learn there, I can immediately apply in my church. It's been a great combination of ministry and classroom."
Shelton was a senior marketing major at Stephen F. Austin State University in 2004 who had figured all through college that after graduation he would follow the crowd and "get a sales job somewhere."
"I kind of fought against the ministry my whole life," he says. "I wanted to be a regular guy who could share his faith with people and walk beside them."
As Shelton and his wife Stephanie planned for the future, they considered attending Truett, where Shelton's brother Ross was also a student. With graduation quickly approaching, the Sheltons finally decided the time just wasn't right to go to seminary, in large part because of the debt they would have to incur.
The very next day after making that decision, Shelton received a letter stating that he had received two scholarships that would cover the full amount of his tuition: the Doris and Marshall Edwards Endowed Scholarship, established by Ted and Sue Getterman in honor of their former pastor at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, and the Reverend Bill and Katherine Herron Endowed Scholarship.
"Those scholarships completely changed my point of view," Shelton says. "God's funny like that; he meets you where you're at and eliminates hurdles."
In his year and a half working with the youth at First Baptist Lorena, Shelton says he has "tried to focus on the discipleship element with a holistic approach," using the servant leadership style he sees in his professors at Truett.
"It's the model--how Truett professors are. They're willing to go the extra mile for students and with students. That, to me, is servant leadership. That's the Gospel."
Education in action
Tihara Vargas, a member of the class of 2008, has taken a slightly different approach. Vargas was drawn to Truett after meeting one of its graduates in Iraq, where she was serving in the Army Reserves. As her deployment came to an end, she shelved her plans to attend law school at the University of Virginia and applied to Truett instead.
"I probably applied around February; by that time most of the scholarships had already been doled out," she says. "But I attended a Baptist church in Virginia (during her undergraduate years), and the Baptist General Convention of Texas offers very generous scholarships--70 percent tuition remission. Without that, I would not have been able to come."
In addition, Vargas received the Armes/Gloer/Gaston George W. Truett Seminary Endowed Scholarship, established by members of First Baptist Church of Corpus Christi (Texas) in honor of their previous pastors, as well as scholarships from the School of Social Work.
She was particularly intrigued by the joint Master of Divinity/Master of Social Work degrees offered by Truett.
"What does the Gospel look like? That's where social work comes in," she says. "Truett is one of the only (seminaries) I'm aware of that integrates the two."
During her studies, Vargas learned about the lack of services available to immigrants between Austin and Dallas. She and another student, Viviana Triana, have worked with the BGCT's Baptist Immigration Services Network and the Waco Regional Baptist Network to create a new non-profit organization that can help immigrants navigate the American legal system.
"I began to read about current immigration policies and saw that they are very complex and expensive," Vargas says. "We're working within the system to empower churches to cut costs ... If an individual qualifies, they can get legal help for free or at very low cost.
"When I leave Waco, I'll be able to look back at the Immigration Services Center and see it as part of a legacy. I'll see that during my time in seminary, I wasn't just preparing for ministry, but I was able to do it there."
Making it possible
Both Shelton and Vargas said they wouldn't be at Truett were it not for the scholarships made available to them.
"People lament rising tuition, but our tuition is equivalent if not less than other Southern Baptist seminaries because of the scholarship endowment and because Baylor gives a discount for students," says Truett Dean David Garland. "Many people don't know it's as inexpensive to go to Truett as it is to go to another seminary down the road."
That connection with Baylor provides other benefits, as well, because people outside the University associate the reputation that Baylor has earned over its 160-plus years with the much-younger Truett.
"There are people all over the country who love Truett Seminary because it's a part of Baylor University," says former dean Paul Powell, BA '56. "(Truett's supporters) realize the value of our religious heritage and Baptist principles, and they want that preserved.
"They know the world needs ministers and missionaries. If you have love for Baylor University, and you're gonna support that, it's the place to do it."