Three Lessons the Growth of MBTS Can Teach Local Churches

The growth of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) is incredible. The school’s twitter account posted on April 6th, 2017, “If all trends continue, we are on course to break 3,000 students enrolled this academic year.” This is especially impressive when compared to the 1,107 enrolled in the 2010/2011 academic year.

The Southern Baptist Convention has numerous seminaries, all solid for their commitment to the gospel and training men and women for ministry, but the seminaries most known for growing in recent years have been The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), led by Dr. Albert Mohler, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), led by Dr. Danny Akin. But now the youngest of the SBC theological institutions is joining the party. MBTS is surging and does not look to be slowing down anytime soon.

A nearly 200% increase in enrollment over a few years is not something you stumble into. That kind of growth – in any type of organization – does not happen by accident. This naturally leads to the question: What happened?  The simple, yet vitally important answer: leadership. There is no secret sauce to the success of these institutions. It is solid, courageous leadership. And the good news is that the lessons from MBTS’s growth are transferable and applicable to the local church.

Here are 3 lessons we can gain from MBTS for our ministry contexts:

1. Leadership is Invaluable to Success 

What was the catalyst to MBTS’s growth? The appointment of Dr. Jason K. Allen as President. On October 15, 2012, Allen became the fifth president of MBTS at 35 years old. Since his appointment, the school has flourished. Why? Because – as Maxwell says – everything rises and falls on leadership. The school did not magically start growing. Dr. Allen has demonstrated incredible leadership. He would never take credit for MBTS’s success (another mark of good leadership), but he was the catalyst. Why? Because when institutions and churches are led well, they will thrive.

We too often dismiss or ignore the vital role leadership plays in the success of the local church’s mission. Yes, the preaching of the Word and the blessing of God are indispensable for a thriving church, but so is leadership. You will never hear someone say, “You know, that church is terribly led, but it just keeps reaching the lost and making disciples.” We cannot underestimate this as pastors. Our leadership – good or bad – is shaping the church one way or the other. Solid commitment to gospel-rich theology and preaching, coupled with strong leadership, will result in more thriving churches.

2. Tell Your Story Through Vision and Branding

MBTS has done an incredible job casting the vision. They are “For The Church.” You have probably heard that phrase or even seen it on a shirt. Why? That is the story and branding MBTS is purposefully communicating.

The vision and branding of MBTS are not hollow slogans. They are putting resources behind this vision. They distribute free content to pastors and churches through their For The Church website. They equip pastors and local church leaders through conferences. The vision and brand tells the story of MBTS. Because of this many are daily resourced for ministry via their degree programs, online content, and conferences.

As pastors and church leaders, this shows us the importance of discerning and communicating clearly what our church is about. Like the seminary, we must purposefully tell the story of our church. We want the vision to be clear and the branding to match our vision. We cannot be scared of the word “branding.” Our churches are already branded, it is just matter of whether or not we are being intentional about it. What people think about when they think about our church is its brand. The images and phrases we use when describing our church and its vision is vital to this. What do we think about when we hear about MBTS? We think, “For the Church” and likely imagine the logo.

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3. Good Leadership Attracts High Caliber People 

As Dr. Allen began shaping the vision of MBTS, more high caliber leaders joined him there. Christian George, Owen Strachan, Jared Wilson, and others are good examples of this. These leaders, and others, bought into the vision of the seminary and brought their unique gifts and abilities to help fulfill it.

As more high quality staff have joined MBTS (because of the vision and leadership), the ripple effect is the school attracts more students. There is an important principle in this: people want to be where there is momentum. Winning is attractive. As the school continues to grow, it attracts more high quality staff, which draws more interested students. This is all the fruit of good leadership.

As pastors, this should encourage us. The better our leadership, the better the leaders we will attract. Maxwell (again) reminds us of the Law of Magnetism, “Who you are is who you attract.” We will attract the quality leader that we are. If we lead well, more and more good leaders will want to be a part of the vision. As we attract more and more strong leaders, the stronger our church’s ministries will be. The stronger our leaders, the greater our reaching capacity will be. So we must keep developing our leadership and leading well, it will determine the caliber of leaders running beside us AND the reach of our church.

In Closing

I give God thanks for what He is doing at MBTS. I am an alum of Southern Seminary (SBTS), but I regularly brag to others about what God is doing at Midwestern. I pray for Dr. Allen as he continues to provide great leadership. I also pray for us as pastors, that we would take those lessons and apply them into our own contexts, that our churches would flourish.

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