Jeff Iorg Blog
A Moving Experience
Nov 18 2013
A few days ago, while in Hong Kong, Ann and I worshipped with the Kowloon International Baptist Church. We were fortunate enough to be with them on “International Sunday,” the day their church celebrates their multiculturalism. Like most “international” churches in cities outside the United States, they worship in English. They minister to the expatriate community and others from various countries who want to worship in English. Many “international” churches have leading businessmen, diplomats, educators, and other professionals who are working in foreign settings. For many, English is their second language but there is no church available in their first language. Kowloon International certainly fits that description.
Their “International Sunday” celebration included a flag display with persons standing when their country’s name was called and flag displayed. We lost count around 30 countries represented in the service! The service also included a scripture reading, just one verse from a Psalm about God’s work among the nations. The verse was read in succession by several people, each reading in their country’s mother tongue. It was powerful to hear the verse read, among others, in Russian, German, Kazakh, as well as several Asian languages and dialects. Interspersed in the scripture reading, we sang a hymn – also in various languages as we all tried our “phonetic best.”
The service was emotionally moving – perhaps because it reminded me so much of home. Golden Gate is a truly multicultural ministry setting. We have moved beyond tolerating cultural differences to embracing and celebrating them. We practice a wide-variety of worship styles in chapel, eat all kinds of food on our campuses, and recognize cultural overtones and influences in our teaching/learning environment. We relish the messiness of it, rather than react to its challenges.
God has been good to move me beyond monoculturalism to the richness of relating to and working with all kinds of people. If you are still in “mono-mode,” take the risk to branch out. Meet some new friends, eat some new food, worship in some new ways, and get over thinking your way is the best way or the only way to do life (or church!). God will enrich you when you develop these relationships and discover how he works differently through people in other places or cultures.
Extend the Call
Aug 26 2013
Because of one of my books, Is God Calling Me?, I get asked to speak at college events on the subject of “God’s call.” A few years ago, when speaking to about 600 students, I asked, “How many of you have ever heard a sermon in your church on God’s call to ministry leadership?” Only a few hands were raised. Then I asked, “How many of you have heard a pastor or speaker extend a public invitation to answer God’s call to ministry leadership?” Even fewer hands were raised.
I am often asked, “How’s the seminary doing?” My response is, “In many ways, just about like the churches.” We are a reflection of the churches that support us. When churches don’t teach about God’s call and challenge young people to respond to it, we will naturally have fewer and fewer students pursuing God’s call at the seminary.
A young church leader called me recently and said, “We had the best thing happen at camp. The pastor asked for a show of hands – among 125 campers – of those who thought God might be calling them to be missionaries, pastors, or other church leaders. Amazingly, 25 hands were raised.” She then told me, “We had been teaching on missions and ministry all week, but it didn’t occur to us to ask the pastor to include answering God’s call as part of the worship services. When he did, it seemed so natural. I was embarrassed we hadn’t planned to do it and glad he did it. Now we have a whole group of kids to shepherd forward toward potential leadership.”
Learn from this example. Older children and teenagers are interested in kingdom service. Many of them will commit to a life of ministry leadership – if they are challenged to consider it and supported in their decision. Golden Gate is the end of the training funnel for future leaders. The beginning point is children’s and youth ministries in churches. Collegiate ministries are also vital to the process.
Church leaders – be more intentional about teaching and preaching about God’s call. Fan the flame of initial interest and nurture embryonic commitment. Seminaries don’t produce leaders. We only shape those the church sends. We are depending on you to call out the called!
It’s graduation time at Golden Gate! We now have six commencement ceremonies each spring – one at each of the five campuses and one in San Quentin prison. I get to lead and speak at all six. One person lamented, “Sorry you have to go to all those graduations!” Sorry?! Have to go?! I don’t have to go to graduations, I get to go. Graduation is the whole point! We work hard for years shaping students toward the day when they complete their diploma or degree. Watching them graduate is one of the best days of the year.
This is a milestone graduation season for Golden Gate. During commencement at the Northern California Campus, our 8,000 graduates walked across the stage. That’s quite a number – 8,000. It’s hard to believe our school, often perceived as “the small seminary out west,” has graduated 8,000 ministry leaders. But we have! It was fitting the 8,000th graduate was a Master of Missiology student. While we train all kinds of church leaders and missionaries, our passion to get the gospel to the nations is well known. Having a milestone graduate typify this passion is exciting.
While we are happy to graduate so many – more than 250 each year – it’s also sad to see them go. But then we remember new students are coming! In a few weeks, new students will start their seminary journey. The cycle of training the next wave of leaders continues. We have our sights set on 10,000 graduates! We will probably hit that number sometime around 2021-22. If you are a high school senior or college freshman, you could be the magic graduate – number 10,000. Start planning on attending seminary – and not just any seminary, Golden Gate!
An Historic Moment
Jun 25 2012
During the recent Southern Baptist Convention, Rev. Fred Luter was elected our president. He is an outstanding pastor who has built a strong church – twice! He did it once before Hurricane Katrina and again after the storm. On his leadership record alone, he deserved to be elected when the convention met in his hometown of New Orleans. As our first African-American, his election was also a profound step forward for our denomination.
My report to the convention was just prior to the presidential election. After concluding my remarks, I slipped to the back of the stage and sat near Rev. Luter, with a sense of awe at history in the making. When the convention elected him – without opposition – it was a powerfully moving moment. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and mine too! There were hugs all around as we celebrated God’s grace and the good will of Southern Baptists.
During the next year, or two if he serves the traditional second term, Rev. Luter will lead our convention to be more diverse, more inclusive, and more effective. My hope is he will appoint more people from our burgeoning ethnic leadership base to trustee boards and committee leadership. Their influence, will in turn, be felt for the next 8-10 years as they serve out their terms. From this group, we also need the leader to emerge who will become the first non-Anglo entity president in the SBC. That will be the final formal step in the long process of transitioning from a southern, white denomination to the pluralistic family we are becoming.
Golden Gate has been on the leading edge of this movement for decades. We have long modeled what it means to work in multicultural community. We have become so accustomed to eating different foods, hearing different music, learning from varying perspectives, and enjoying diversity in our family – it’s hard to imagine many others are just starting on this journey. The Golden Gate family assures you living in multicultural community is invigorating and enriching – worth every effort to overcome the challenges. Our convention has just taken a huge step forward. Now, take the step yourself, and learn to live and love people who just don’t look like you!
A Young Seminary
May 29 2012
Age, at least the perception of age, is relative. When a young couple arrives at Golden Gate, they often assume the school has been here forever. The buildings, particularly in Northern California, are old enough to show their wear – to have “character” or to be “historic” a real estate ad would claim. The president and faculty are old, most of us old enough to be the parents of many of our students. Our school appears old – on the surface.
Last week, we had an occasion that reminds us how young our school really is. We honored our distinguished alumnus for 2012 – Dr. Edmund “Bill” Hunke. He graduated from Golden Gate in 1952 – 8 years after we were founded and only 4 years after the first graduating class. He remembers our “Berkeley” days fondly and knew the founders of our school. It is amazing a seminary some would perceive as “old” has graduates who knew our founders! We are, in reality, a young school.
In some ways, Golden Gate is a gangly teenager. We are mature enough to make a difference, but young enough to have our best years ahead of us. We are still growing, changing, and becoming a mature seminary. We see this in the continued development of our academic program. It is strong and healthy, but getting more and more polished year by year. We also see it in our fundraising. We have more donors than ever and they are giving more than ever. Those are good signs of a maturing school.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable aspects of being a younger school is our endowment – or rather lack of it. We only have about $12 million in endowment. Most endowment gifts to Golden Gate have been estate gifts – bequeathed to us when a graduate or other supporter dies. One reason we have received so few of these is our founding generation is still alive! We know this will change in the next generation as our founders move into eternity. They are the “builder” generation and many of them consider their legacy giving through their estate to be the culmination of a lifetime of stewardship. We will be the recipients of that disciplined generosity.
So, thank God for Golden Gate.! Old enough to make a difference, young enough to still have our best years ahead of us!
Going to Dark Places
Feb 20 2012
This past weekend was the 51st annual Missions Conference hosted by Golden Gate Seminary at our Northern California Campus. The conference featured front-line workers from around the world as well as our faculty. Most of it was organized by our students, who also provided worship and prayer leadership in the plenary sessions. A special bonus this year was a packed house for special chapel service featuring Dr. Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board, SBC – followed by a luncheon for pastors and other local leaders.
The conference evoked a hodgepodge of impressions, thoughts, and insights for me. First, our students are amazing. Many of them have no interest in building a ministry career. They want nothing more than to disappear to the backside of the world introducing the gospel to people who have never heard the name of Jesus – much less the gospel. They expect financial hardship, health struggles, and danger from oppressive governments to be their daily experience. Many of them are single, focused on obeying God even it means no marriage or children. Their spirit of sacrifice humbles me and reminds me how easy my life and ministry really are.
Our faculty also inspires me. Our missions faculty, as you might expect, are amazing people who speak multiple languages, have worked all over the world, and have lived a missionary lifestyle in every dimension. But a faculty member from another department told me of a recent experience that reminds me all our faculty are “missions faculty.” A student submitted a paper outlining the main problem in his ministry setting – followed with proposals for solving it. His problem, as he identified it, was “98% of the students on a nearby college campus are not Christians.” The professor stopped reading at that point and wrote on the paper, “That’s not a problem. That’s an opportunity. Start over.” I loved it! When did lost people become the problem? They are an opportunity for the gospel! It excites me our faculty gets that on every level.
Now back to students. Not only are they willing to go anywhere in the future, they go there now. As part of the conference, students, faculty, and missionary speakers went into San Francisco for an urban immersion. They spent the afternoon walking the streets, meeting people, and sharing the gospel. Once again, the international missionaries told us what we hear every year, “San Francisco is the hardest place, the darkest atmosphere I have ever experienced.” Why do veteran international workers say this?
You can start with the public nudity. It isn’t illegal in the City. Last week, one of our churches had a nude man come to the worship service. The sign out front says, “All are welcome” so he walked right in – despite the presence of young women and children. Or, perhaps it’s open expressions of every kind of sexual practice. Maybe, it’s the large, aggressive homeless population begging on almost every busy corner. If not that, it’s the politicians who advocate every liberal tolerance – except equal respect for evangelicals. But if you thought any of this was the cause, you would be wrong. The cause is much deeper. It’s spiritual, a stronghold of evil resulting from decades of disregard for God’s Word, that manifests itself in these destructive ways.
Pray for our students, faculty, and staff – as well as the pastors and other courageous workers – who make San Francisco our home and/or mission field. And, while you are praying, thank God for people who are drawn to the dark, difficult places around the globe. Without their work over the past 20 centuries, our world would be an even darker place.
Jan 17 2012
We have just finished our annual meeting with leaders of Southern Baptist-affiliated state conventions across the West. We shared recent progress, deepened our working relationships, and developed join strategies for doing our ministries together. We enjoy strong partnerships in the West – because we have worked on them for more than 20 years.
These days, a growing number of ministry leaders define partnerships as “the people we are working with right now.” While there is some value to changing partners often to meet your current pressing need or ministry interest, there is also something lost when long-time partnerships are not maintained. It’s like the difference between long-term dating and marriage. A long-term romance is fun, but marriage is fulfilling because of the depth of the commitment and what can only be learned and enjoyed in that context.
Southern Baptist church leaders have usually been “the marrying kind.” Leaders and their churches linked up with denominational entities and stayed together – even when a shinier model drove past – because we knew, over the long haul, sticking it out with family would be better for everyone. Those commitments seem to be waning.
Rather than reform current relationships, churches are moving on to other options. Over Christmas, I visited four different SBC-related churches. All four promoted special offerings or projects. All had good intentions and seemed like worthwhile efforts. But in only one of those churches was there any mention of the International Mission Board, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, or anything else about denominational mission partners.
Note this – there was plenty of promotion of missions, international projects, meeting human needs, and in one case, even sending a missionary with church support. Various mission organizations, projects, and partners were highlighted. None of these churches seemed to be giving up on the idea of partnerships – just historic denominational mission partners.
Some may read this as a lament that “things are changing” or a call for “blind allegiance” to denominational programs. If so, you don’t know me very well. Kingdom advance matters more to me than maintaining the status quo or preserving the organization. What concerns me is neglecting long-term good for short term flash.
When you establish a “partnership,” think through what you really mean and be sure the positive impact of your decision will last more than your short season of ministry. Think long-term as you make these important choices. Think about generational kingdom advance over the next decades, not just what works this year.
Oct 26 2011
Recently, it was my privilege to visit the Mexican Baptist Seminary in Mexico City to celebrate their 110th anniversary and dialogue about partnership possibilities with Golden Gate. During my visit I taught a seminar, shared meals and talked extensively with students about everything from church planting to immigration policies, preached in a dynamic church, delivered the keynote address for the anniversary celebration, and consulted with the Mexican Seminary’s leaders about working together. It was a full weekend!
One impression from the trip was how much they are accomplishing with limited resources. While we sometimes complain about lack of resources – money and people – at Golden Gate, we work in relative opulence compared to our Mexican brothers. Yet, in public comments and private conversations, not one complaint was heard! They are more interested in building for the future than lamenting what they may not have in the present. While we are going to do all we can to help build their work, my hunch is we will receive far more than we may give. Their passion is palpable and contagious.
While our five campuses are all in urban centers, Mexico City redefined the concept of urban for me. It is huge, complex, beautiful, intimidating, and packed with more cars than you can imagine. It seemed every person owns two cars – and found a way for both of them to on the road at the same time (while he or she rode the bus!). About 22 million people crowd the metropolitan area, creating a rich urban learning center. If a person is serious about reaching people in the great cities around the world, Mexico City is an excellent immersion and training possibility.
Being generous with your resources, while trusting God to replenish your supply, is a biblical principle and pattern. It works for individuals, families, churches, and seminaries. We are committed to helping seminaries around the world strengthen their work. By focusing on blessing others, God will continue to meet our needs. It was an honor to visit the Mexican Baptist Seminary and will be a privilege to work with them in the future.
Apr 28 2008
One of the unique features of Golden Gate Seminary is our multi-cultural and intercultural learning environment. On all five campuses, we have students and faculty who represent different cultural backgrounds. This year, about 58% of our students are non-Anglo. Because of this, we are constantly observing and learning from culture.
On a recent trip to Jordan and Israel, observations of two different groups produced new insights for me. The groups were women and Bedouins. My cultural expectation of women in these two countries was conservative dress, limited social interaction, and little public responsibility. My observations revealed a much more complicated situation. In Israel, where military or national service is mandatory for young men and women, it was not uncommon to see young women in military uniforms armed and prepared to defend their country. It was somewhat unsettling for me to see college age women in such roles. In Jordan, women were seen wearing everything from the traditional burqa to designer fashion from Europe. According to our guide, 54% of all university students in Jordan this year are female. Granted, when we drove through more rural areas, women were largely not visible (and those we did see were in more traditional dress – and probably more traditional roles). Still, my experience of observing culture (even through tourist eyes) convinced me my expectations about women in these countries were wrong.
My initial impressions about the Bedouin were equally off base. When we first saw Bedouin tents, my immediate thought was “those poor Bedouin.” They live nomadic lives in tents, following herds from grazing spot to grazing spot and from water hole to water hole. But then two other observations starting changing my perspective. First, some of the tents had satellite dish television receivers. Second, some of the tents had Toyota Landcruisers parked next to them. The poor Bedouin didn’t seem quite so poor or backward anymore. Then we engaged in conversation with a Bedouin proprietor of a trailside gift shop. We learned he had been to the United States as a part of his university’s debate team. He particularly liked Iowa! He was one of nine brothers, all university graduates. When asked why he wasn’t working in his field of study, he replied with a twinkle in his eye, “I make more money running this stand!”
These two groups, and my experience with them, remind me how easy it is to make wrong assumptions about culture (from our perspective) and miss the richness of genuinely experiencing and understanding other people. Many Americans view other cultures through a “right and wrong” lens. A better perspective is a “different and fascinating” lens. If you live in a monochromatic world, or if you too easily project your cultural bias on others, ask God for fresh eyes to see and learn from the complex mosaic of 21st century culture.
Is Preaching Still Important?
Apr 21 2008
One of the more bizarre developments in the past decade has been the precipitous decline of both the quality of and value placed on preaching in the modern church. Students ask me, “Is preaching still a valid communication method and an important part of meaningful worship services?” Just the fact the question is being asked is startling enough. Even more, the fact they are asking because they assume the answer is “yes.”
Preaching has not passed out of vogue. People are
less and less interested in hearing bad preaching. People today are accustomed to hearing good communicators so a poorly prepared preacher has little hope of gaining a hearing. Cultural evidence is overwhelming that people still want to hear an authoritative person with authoritative conclusions about important issues about life. For proof, you need look no further than the current presidential campaign. When McCain, Obama, or Clinton speaks – people gather in large numbers and news networks show up en masse. Why? To hear a politician preach their passionate message of change, improvement, and reform. They don’t want a seminar, a Powerpoint presentation, or a quaint talk. They expect a message.
Golden Gate has made a strong statement this spring about its commitment to preaching. First, we hosted our annual Hester Lectures on Preaching with Dr. Mark Dever, pastor, Capital Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. Dr. Dever challenged us with two outstanding lectures on preaching. Second, our spring academic convocation address was given by Dr. Paul Smith, associate professor of Old Testament and pastor of First Baptist Church, Chandler, AZ. Dr. Smith lectured on “Creative Expository Preaching” citing references and examples of each of the three words in his title in his presentation. (Audio files of these presentations are available at www.ggbts.edu
). These two special events – coupled with preaching courses taught by Dr. Claybon Lea (African-American pastor in the Bay Area) and me – have given us the opportunity to teach students the practical application of the challenges in these special lectures.
Preaching is not a method or a strategy. It is a timeless symbol of God speaking to his people. It is an opportunity to focus attention on the Word as central to worship. It is a moment to be silent, listen to the Word, and the words of a person whose thoughts are profoundly shaped by the Word. It is a holy moment. Preaching deserves our best preparation in every way – content, delivery, and preparation.
My experience has been people – believers and unbelievers alike – respond positively to good preaching. By good, I mean biblical, articulate, passionate, to the point, and applicable to contemporary life. May God give us the grace to preach like that – and end the debate about preaching passing out of vogue.
The Trustee Process
Apr 07 2008
Twice yearly, including this week, our trustees gather to deliberate and decide important issues about our seminary. Southern Baptists depend on the trustee process to guide all our institutions. While it may seem like cumbersome bureaucracy, it is really a very efficient way to govern when a school or mission board is owned by a large denomination. It would be impractical to conduct our business on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention each summer. It would also be unethical to turn over all operations to our employed staff without some kind of clear accountability. Hence, the need for the trustee system.
Our trustees are selected this way. The president of the SBC appoints a committee on committees that in turn selects a committee on nominations. Both of these committees are made up of two people from each cooperating state convention. The committee on nominations then nominates trustees (the number determined by SBC bylaws and each institution’s bylaws) from across the Unites States. Generally, every state convention is represented on each board. In our case, we have six trustees from California to weight western leadership for our western identity.
Our trustees are both ministers and lay leaders. They are mostly men, with a few women. They are mostly Anglo, although our board chairman is African-American. They come from large churches and small, large cities and rural communities. They are a cross-section of the SBC – as they should be. We have no role in selecting trustees. In fact, many of our trustees have very little knowledge of Golden Gate when they join our board. The first few years of service are spent learning about us. Most trustees serve two, five-year terms for a total of ten years. This leaves ample time to learn about the seminary and then make a significant contribution.
What do the trustees do? They make policy, adopt the budget, and elect faculty and executive leaders. Their primary functions are accountability and support. They hold us accountable theologically and fiscally. For each meeting, the staff prepares detailed reports and submits them to the trustees about three weeks prior to the meeting. These reports become the foundation for the actual meeting. We discuss them, answer questions, and listen to suggestions. When appropriate, the trustees adopt official actions to chart our course.
They also provide support. All our trustees are donors. Some give large amounts, some small. But all support us financially. They also pray for us. Between meetings, they also work in small groups on special projects – like faculty interviews. Trustees are also key people in getting Golden Gate personnel on convention and conference programs across the nation. Finally, they support us personally by encouraging us personally and professionally.
We are blessed with good trustees – theologically sound, fiscally responsible, not afraid to hold us accountable, but always supporting us as we do our best to move the seminary forward.