I rolled on to Midwestern Seminary campus three winters ago unsure of a whole lot about the school and my place in it. The future looked promising, and the opportunities looked exciting, but I don’t know if I—or anyone—could have predicted the outrageous amount of growth we’ve experienced over the last few years.
Perhaps Jason Allen could have. Our seminary president is completing his first five years this year, and what he has presided over at Midwestern could perhaps only be described as miraculous. While many schools are making cuts after cuts, some even closing campuses, we are enjoying another year of enrollment growth, and the momentum continues to gain.
There are lots of things I could look back on and reminisce about my first three years at Midwestern, but instead I prefer to look forward. With the groundwork laid by Dr. Allen’s impressive first five years, what lies ahead for Midwestern that makes one really excited to be here? I’ll limit myself to three.
1. Team Expansion
I’ve been consistently impressed with how Midwestern makes key hires. As I’ve seen the communications team I work on expand, this has been true, and it’s been doubly true of the strategic additions Dr. Allen and seminary provost Jason Duesing have made to the Midwestern faculty. In the last three years, we’ve seen the arrival of Owen Strachan and the opening of his Center for Public Theology, as well as the recent arrival of scholar Matthew Barrett, who brings a wealth of knowledge (and a growing list of publication credits) to campus. With the further of addition of H. B. Charles Jr. and Steven Smith as Spurgeon Center preaching fellows, Midwestern continues to enhance its already established and gifted faculty team. Year by year, hire by hire, enrolling at the seminary only gets more attractive.
2. Campus Growth
With exponential enrollment growth comes the need to adapt infrastructure, and it’s just plain fun to show up to work every day and see a new construction or remodel project underway. Midwestern’s Kansas City campus needed some updating when Dr. Allen arrived, but it also presented a pretty big blank slate for new builds. With the establishment of the Spurgeon Library and the newly renovated chapel where we host the annual For The Church Conference, we’ve also seen awesome beautifications and enhancements in courtyards and patios, including the addition of a few of those cool fountains Kansas City is known for.
The biggest expansion to date, of course, is the $14 million, 40,000-square-foot Mathena Student Center, currently in progress and due to open summer 2018. This will be a game changer for us, and I’m excited to see the student center become the epicenter of campus fellowship and student life. We need this space very much, not just for the seminary and college students already making Midwestern’s campus their home, but for the many more besides who will be doing so in the years to come. The buzz on campus has only gotten busier and more vibrant, so I’m excited to walk through the new coffee shop, fitness center, cafeteria, commons areas, and bookstore to see campus life in action.
3. Church Partnerships
This is probably the aspect of Midwestern’s growth I’ve been most excited about, and it’s the area I’m most excited about seeing continue to develop. Lots of people ask me how the extraordinary increase here can be explained. There are a few reasons, of course, but perhaps the single most important factor in the phenomenal turnaround at Midwestern has been our laser-like focus on existing For The Church. It probably sounds cliché to many at this point, and it is of course the seminary’s slogan, our “brand” if you will. But over the last three years, I’ve also seen that existing For The Church is not simply institutional smoke and mirrors. Jason Allen’s original vision for re-marrying seminary training to the life of the local church—to the building of pastors, specifically—has been taken seriously from the top down.
So like all theological institutions, we train scholars for the academy and prepare other Christian leaders for all sorts of contexts. But our primary vision is to support and supply the local church. So I’ve been encouraged by our ongoing partnerships like The Three Fourteen Institute with The Journey Church in St. Louis and The Cornerstone School of Theology with Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, where seminary education is provided and facilitated “in house” for those training for ministry.
I’ve been excited about the ongoing expansion of local opportunities for residential students. The Timothy Track is a seminary-affiliated program run by Jordan Wilbanks, where residential MDiv students are placed in internships in local churches. While they study, they get lots of hand-on opportunities to learn and lead in the life of a local congregation. They also get a 50 percent tuition break their first year, which is nice!
Other churches offer internships and various other ministry roles for seminary students, as well, of course. One of the coolest developments has been the rise of ministry residency programs designed to complement and coalesce around seminary training. My friend Josh Hedger leads the Emmaus Pastoral Residency at Emmaus Church in North KC, and I direct The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church just northeast of the city. Both of these residency programs, and similar programs at other churches, offer Midwestern students the possibility to press deeper into their pastoral training and learn how to apply more of their studies to the life of church ministry.
These are just three of the reasons I think the brilliance of the last few years at Midwestern prefaces a bright future still to come. I’m glad to call Kansas City home, and I’m hugely optimistic about the days ahead helping train the next generation of leaders for the church.