Dani Price

Truett in Houston

This August, Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary is coming to Houston, Texas.

The new extension campus will be housed at Tallowood Baptist Church and offer the opportunity to earn a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (MACM) or a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree. It will initially be led by Dr. John Burk, assistant dean for strategic initiatives at Truett.

“We are at a place in our institution’s history when we have the capacity and the bandwidth to expand,” Burk said. “And from my vantage point and as a way of honoring our foundation and our history, we have a burden of stewardship to provide the same kind of rigorous and unique theological education that we provide here in Waco to as many as we possibly can.”

City of Opportunities

The launch of the extension campus in Houston is a prime example of innovation entwined with tradition. Truett Seminary upholds a tradition of excellence. Since the first students enrolled in 1994, Truett has offered a theological education that equips men and women for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. This tradition does not change with the extension campus, but Houston does present many innovative opportunities for the Seminary.

“We want to respect the legacy that we have here in Waco while acknowledging that we cannot replicate exactly what we have in Waco,” Burk said. “We don’t want the rigor of the curriculum to change, but we want what happens in Houston to have a unique Houston flavor to it.”

Houston is home to over 600 Baptist congregations, and while there are other seminaries in the city, none offer moderate theological education in the Baptist tradition as Truett does. In addition, no other extension campus in Houston offering Baptist theological education is embedded in a parent university, which makes Truett’s association with Baylor University—a reputable and historic institution—even more significant.

The courses Truett is offering in Houston are catered toward full-time working professionals. Classes will be held in the evenings and on weekends and taught by Truett faculty from the Seminary’s main campus in Waco, in addition to qualified instructors from the Houston metropolitan area.

“The trends of higher theological education are such that, in order to keep in pace, we need to be looking at strategic markets like Houston, where people simply do not have the time or the resources to pursue full-time theological education, but they may want to pursue theological education on their own time while they continue to work,” Burk said. “They may be ministering in a church already and have not completed their degree program or they may be ministering in a church and have no theological education at all.”

Unique Mentorships

One of the long-standing strengths of Truett Seminary is its commitment to a thorough core curriculum,emphasizing Scripture, theology, practical theology, global Christianity, and spiritual formation. This comprehensive and effective curriculum will remain unchanged at the extension campus; however, Houston does offer unique mentoring opportunities particular to the needs of the city, such as:

► Ministry Among Refugee and Immigrant Populations: Houston takes in more refugees annually than any other U.S. city. Truett students in Houston will have the opportunity to work with organizations like One Tribe or the Resettlement Ministry at Tallowood Baptist Church, ministering to those recently resettled in Houston after fleeing their home country.

► Community Health and Ministry: The medical industry is behind only energy in terms of scope and size in Houston. Baylor College of Medicine is based in Houston, and the University of Texas Medical Branch is located in nearby Galveston. Seminary students interested in the medical field will have potential opportunities to work in hospital chaplaincy roles and with local clinics and non-profits.

► Theology and the Arts: Houston’s vibrant arts scene offers Truett students the chance to reflect on ways that the arts impact large communities and to explore the link between Christianity and an emphasis on beauty. Placement possibilities include the Holocaust Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, and the Society for Performing Arts.

► Ministry Among Incarcerated Populations: Nineteen detention facilities operate in Harris, Brazoria, and Galveston counties alone, including prisons, substance abuse felony punishment facilities, and psychiatric facilities. Though field placement opportunities are still being explored, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice organizes volunteer service programs with a track for chaplaincy services.

► Justice and Human Trafficking: According to United Against Human Trafficking (UAHT), it is estimated that there are 313,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas alone. Given its size and location, it is not very surprising that Houston is home to a very large population of human trafficking victims. Students interested in justice and human trafficking initiatives will be encouraged to partner with organizations like UAHT to combat trafficking.

Mentoring opportunities like these are doubly beneficial. The city of Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and home to speakers of approximately 145 languages with 212 dialects. The cultural and economic diversity of the city offers an excellent setting for the type of theological education provided by Truett. Also, the types of careers associated with these mentoring opportunities align well with recent vocational trends among seminary students, which indicate an increase in those wanting to serve alongside the church in some capacity. 

“People are seeing the value of taking the church outside of the church and applying it to those problems that we’re seeing culturally,” Burk said. “The feedback we’ve received from students—particularly students based locally in Houston—is that they are excited about the opportunity to pursue ministerial education and think creatively about how to apply that theological education in contexts that may impact the church even when they may not office in the church.”

Looking Forward

“The conversation about Houston has been ongoing for quite some time, really since our inception,” Burk said. “We just haven’t been in a position where it made a lot of sense to pursue it until now.”

As August approaches, the initial focus for the Houston campus centers around student interest and retention rates. Truett began offering occasional classes in Houston with partner churches South Main Baptist, Church Without Walls, and Tallowood in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018, and the attendance of these classes reflected the idea that the need and desire for the type of theological education offered by Truett is great. With this positive precursor to the Houston campus, hopes are high for a strong initial class. 

 Dreaming of the future, Burk says the ultimate goal for Houston is for the extension campus to have its own geographically convenient space that could house full-time faculty and administration.

“The Houston campus has been designed to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining,” Burk said. “With the large alumni presence of Baylor and the partnerships we enjoy with dozens of congregations in and around the greater Houston area, we do anticipate much more support for this initiative.”

With both immediate goals and future objectives in mind, the Truett community is excitedly looking forward to August and the launch of the Houston extension campus. Those interested in learning more can do so online at baylor.edu/truett/Houston or by contacting John Burk at john_k_burk@baylor.edu.