Jeff Iorg Blog


Moving Toward the Future

Apr 01 2014

For the past four years, we have been involved in a difficult process related to development of our campus in Mill Valley, California. We have engaged top planning firms, real estate specialists, financial analysts, legal counsel, and political consultants to help us with this process. Despite these skilled professionals – and much prayer – we have been stymied.

Sometimes, God allows obstacles like these to teach us perseverance. Other times, he erects barriers to re-direct us. For the past four years, we have interpreted the challenges we have faced as obstacles to overcome. We have now changed our perspective and believe they are signposts telling us to go another direction.

Developing this new perspective began with a reaffirmation of our mission. Over the past few months, our executive leaders and Board of Trustees have refocused on how the current situation relates to fulfilling our mission. Our mission is clear: Shaping leaders who expand God’s kingdom around the world. Our mission isn’t land development. It’s not campus preservation. Our mission is shaping leaders. Whatever we do in the future must be driven by that clearly defined mission.

The question before us then, is this: “What land development option best fulfills our mission and vision in the 21st century?”

The next definitive step forward in answering this question has been taken. We have signed an agreement to sell all Seminary-owned property in Mill Valley, California. The sale was approved by the Board of Trustees by a unanimous vote. We are now in a period of due diligence and hope to close the sale later this summer.

When the sale closes, we will lease the property for our continued use through July 2016. This means the Seminary will continue to use its Mill Valley location for the rest of this academic year, plus two additional academic years. Then, we will be moving into a new future with new facilities in new locations.

The Seminary will ultimately relocate its primary campus to Southern California. Both church and population demographic projections for the next 40 years indicate the primary campus for the Western United States should be in this location. The seminary will also open a new regional campus for commuter students in the San Francisco Bay Area.

One way to look at this change is this: We are reversing the roles of our California campuses. The primary campus will be in Southern California with a regional campus in the Bay Area – although both will be new campuses in new locations.

During this transition we will maintain our academic programs and standards currently in place. Current residential students at the Mill Valley Campus will have the balance of this academic year, plus two more full years to complete their degree programs at the current location. We will work with every student who can’t finish on that timetable to assure they can complete their program as seamlessly as possible. All other students (Northern California commuters, regional campus students, online students, non-residential doctoral students, CLD students) should experience no disruption in their academic programs during the transition.

Employees will also be impacted during this transition. This is an inevitable outcome of major organizational change. Those changes won’t be finalized for some months as our employees continue to work at all five of our campuses for the next two years.

In making this change, we are walking away from a beautiful location, but not from our mission. We are leaving behind a dilapidated campus, a resource-draining political and legal conflict, and financial challenges which are getting more and more difficult to manage in this location. But this decision is not about what we are leaving behind. It’s about the future we are headed toward.

We are sacrificing short-term comfort for long-term fulfillment of our mission. We are positioning ourselves strategically, geographically, and financially to impact the Western United States and the world like never before.

We will all pay a personal cost for fulfilling our mission and vision this way. It will, at times, be scary and unnerving. Nevertheless, as we have said countless times at Golden Gate, “The mission matters most.” Like perhaps no seminary in recent history, we are standing behind that declaration with our actions today.

We ask you to pray for us and stand with us as we go boldly into the future. We have prepared a video as well as answers to frequently asked questions which can be found at www.ggtbs.edu.

 

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!

 

8,000

May 29 2013

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!

 

Mexican Partners

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.

 

I Sprout Bible

Aug 15 2011

Despite the roller-coaster like stock market which makes retirement so unpredictable, a few of us were discussing it last week. We talked about places we would like to live, hobbies we would like to start, and how much we will enjoy setting our own schedule. We also talked about the kinds of work we will do in retirement – essentially all the aspects of our current jobs we like without the parts we don’t. 

One of the men in the conversation is a faculty member at Golden Gate. After listening to our jabbering, he said, “Well, it really won’t matter where I live or what I plan to do. Wherever I’m planted, I know I’ll sprout Bible.” God made him to teach – and that’s what he will do. He shared his conclusion with a kind of happy, resigned, matter-of-fact shrug of the shoulders. He knows, no matter what, wherever God places him – teaching the Bible will emerge as naturally as a seed sprouting a plant. 

It’s good to work with people like my friend. His life is consumed with biblical truth – learning it, applying it, and sharing it with others. He has been doing it for so long it is an engrained habit, a life-long pursuit that won’t stop when the paycheck does. He can no more stop teaching than an apple tree can stop popping out Fujis. He was born to teach, is trained to teach, and will teach until he is no longer physically able. It’s what he was born – and born again – to do.
One of our retired faculty members personifies this. He retired from Golden Gate, and then took on a significant teaching load in our prison program at San Quentin. He is planted in prison, so he sprouts Bible. The inmates love him, the work fulfills him, and the fruit of his labors is significant. 

Working with people who are passionately consumed with fulfilling their calling – in this case to teach – is a pleasure. But it makes me think. Wherever I’m planted, what sprouts? For me, the best answer is probably leadership. Whether I’m at seminary, on a community board, or serving on a denominational committee – my first thought is always, “How can we get more done, more effectively, with more people involved, while maximizing available resources?” Leading sprouts out of me like teaching does my faculty friends. 

What about you? What do you sprout? If you can answer that, you have identified not only your passion, but the reason God made you and your best contribution to kingdom work. Knowing this about yourself will enable you to fulfill God’s purpose and find your most satisfying role in his kingdom.
Don’t over-think the problem! What you are good at, what gives you the most satisfaction when you do it, what other people compliment you for doing, or what you would pay others to let you do – that’s your passion. Find it, celebrate it, do it!

 

Cultural Connections

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.

 

Urbanization

Mar 03 2008

A distinctive feature of Golden Gate Seminary is our locations in major metropolitan areas in the western United States. We have campuses in or near San Francisco, California; Los Angeles, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon. We are located in five of the seven largest metropolitan statistical areas in the western half of our country. 

From time to time, it has been proposed we move one or more of our campuses to a more suburban or small town location. The high cost of urban locations is usually cited as the primary reason. Financially, it would be less costly to work in a different environment. But missionally, it would be a step in the wrong direction. 

A February 2008 population study released by the United Nations indicates 50% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by the end of 2008 and about 70% will be urban dwellers by 2050. There will be at least 27 mega cities (population over 10 million) by that time. 

The numbers, in some cases, are staggering. For example, the total population of urban areas is expected to increase from 3.3 billion to 6.4 billion by 2050. In China, 40% of the population already lives in urban areas. That will increase to 70% by 2050. The perception of China as a rural economy of poor villagers is wrong. China is a booming collection of urban mega cities – with already more than 50 cities with population exceeding 1 million each. 

One prominent mission leader recently complimented our graduate’s success in overseas service. He said, “One of the reasons is they are urbanized by living on or near your campuses. They already know how to function in a big city environment.” This has not been a strongpoint for Southern Baptists. We have been a suburban, small town, rural denomination. Going into the city, into the heart of major cities, has been difficult. But that is changing. We have specific efforts underway to develop new church planting strategies, new ministry models, and new paradigms of evangelism for urban settings. 

At Golden Gate, we have a track record of accepting the challenge of preparing people for urban ministry. We are implementing new courses and degree programs to further this effort. We know the future of world-shaping kingdom growth is in the cities. 

Urbanization is challenging. The gospel can handle it. Will we?

 




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