Graham School D.Min. equips state convention leaders

Communications Staff — December 16, 2008

Pastors have long benefited from the doctor of ministry program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth.

But an increasing number of state Baptist convention employees are finding that a Graham School D.Min. is tailor made to equip them as well.

Two December graduates, Tim Smith of the Georgia Baptist Convention and Keith Henry of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, are among the state convention leaders lauding the Graham School D.Min.

“The academic work from the reading to the cohort group and the interactions with the group really helped me,” Smith, team coordinator for Sunday School and open group ministries at the Georgia Baptist Convention, said. “The reading exposed me to new ideas and new approaches. Learning from the cohort group was a very positive experience.”

Smith’s project, the culminating assignment of the degree, studied how to help Baptist associations declining in Sunday School attendance but located in areas increasing in population.

For the project Smith mentored leaders in several churches and found that many of the congregations experienced Sunday School growth as a result of the mentoring process.

“Most definitely to me the project has been the highlight,” he said.

But the benefit of Smith’s studies extended far beyond fulfilling his degree requirements.

“We have taken that process and tweaked it and have made it a yearlong process now,” he said. “And we have done it in several associations. What we’ve found is that seven out of every 10 churches that participate in the mentoring process show growth in the area of Sunday School enrollment, Sunday School attendance and baptisms. Two out of 10 do not show growth but they’re saying they are better off than they were.”

Smith said his studies at Southern provided “a tool that I can use in my ministry to Georgia Baptist Churches.”

Henry, leadership facilitator for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, said his D.Min. experience also provided valuable resources for his work with Arizona pastors and church staff members.

Working on a doctor of ministry degree “will help you coordinate your ministry for that period of time you’re in the program,” Henry said. “So instead of a shotgun approach, it’s going to be more like a rifle approach.

You’re going to be focused in on an area. That’s a good discipline for most of us because so many things pull us in different directions.”

Henry’s project studied how ministers can reflect Christ in their leadership philosophy and overcome isolation. He gathered a group of 12 Arizona pastors and taught them about servant leadership in a group that met face-to-face and via the Internet over a three-month period.

The participating ministers each had personal coaching appointments with Henry, connected with an accountability partner within the group and contributed to an Internet blog. The 12 ministers also met together twice for two days each time during the project.

The project was so helpful to the participants that they were sad to see it end, Henry said.

“I had one pastor say how much he enjoyed the time and he really hoped the type of relationship we built could be maintained post-the project,” he said. “And in the case of that particular pastor, I have continued to meet with him at his request and will enter into a formal coaching relationship with him for the next six months.”

Henry recommended the Graham School D.Min. to other state convention employees, saying he did his job most effectively during his degree work.

“When I was facilitating the actual project the spring of this year, in many ways I felt like I was doing my job the most effectively that I’ve ever done my job in seven years,” he said.

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