FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – With two decades of ministry to college students and young adults under his belt, Michael Wilkinson feels well prepared to take on his new role as dean of the College at Southwestern. Trustees at Southwestern Seminary elected Wilkinson to the post in a special-called meeting of the board’s executive committee, July 24.
Wilkinson has served as assistant professor of Bible in the college since 2012 and fills the vacancy left by Steven Smith, whom trustees elected as the new vice president for student services and communications. Prior to joining the faculty at Southwestern, Wilkinson served as an associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas, from 2007–2012, Central Baptist Church near Texas A&M University from 1993–2007, and Geyer Springs First Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., from 1991–1993.
“The 22 years I spent in ministry through three very good churches served as the training ground for this position,” Wilkinson says. His primary areas of ministry have been to single adults and missions, which align perfectly with the College at Southwestern and its strong missions emphasis.
Wilkinson notes several areas where his ministry experience in the church equipped him to lead the college.
“First, a sense of ‘life together’ is essential,” Wilkinson says.
“During my time at Central Baptist in Bryan/College Station, the overwhelming number of our single adults were not from the area; this was, obviously, more the case for the younger group. They didn’t have family close by; thus, we became family for each other.
“The College at Southwestern is very similar in this regard. It is essential for the spiritual and intellectual growth of these students to have a sense of ‘life together.’ Though some are not far from family, many are away from home and family; thus, they’ll need the kind of Christ-like environment that will encourage their growth.”
Additionally, Wilkinson’s experience with ministering to a wide range of single adults—from young never married to single moms to widows—has prepared him to relate to the broad variety of students found in the College at Southwestern.
“I had to learn how to care for all of these people in all of these situations with one goal in mind, namely, helping them become growing disciples of Christ on the path to being a mature follower of the Lord. I learned that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot work to reach, care for and disciple single adults; there are a wide variety of issues to be addressed.
“Again, there is a similarity here with the College. We have a wide variety of types of students, from the more typical 18-year-old freshman to the more mature who have experienced God’s call to ministry later in life; from the young single adult to those married with kids. All of these students, and their families, face some stresses and challenges that we need to be sensitive to and address.”
Wilkinson recalls sifting through a myriad of ministry models in the church and ultimately simplifying it to one goal—making disciples.
“I focused my attention on helping those under my care to grow into maturing followers of Christ,” Wilkinson says.
“I believe that’s what we’re here to do through the College at Southwestern. As an institution designed to serve the churches, how can we do anything different in our calling? As students come through here, we are committed to developing them both intellectually and spiritually so that when they leave this school, they do indeed take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, make disciples for Christ, and serve Christ as effectively as possible. Our goal is to give them the tools necessary to enable them to fulfill God’s commission.”
Wilkinson is excited about leading a faculty that he says “is more involved with the students than anything I ever experienced in college.”
“Some may say that this is possible for us since we’re not as large as other schools, but I don’t think that would make any difference; these professors would be very involved with the students if we were two or three times our present size. Furthermore, this is a group of professors committed to one another and to the program as a whole—none seem to have a personal agenda but an abiding commitment to what we’re seeking to do as a college.”
Wilkinson says the college will continue to equip students’ hearts and minds—their devotion and intellect. This will happen in the classroom as well as outside through discussion groups, debates, events, and mentoring.
“We will continue to maintain the high academic standard that has been in place since the college’s inception,” Wilkinson says.
“In addition to that, we will continue to develop student life. Steven Smith has led the way in this for the past three years; he and I have discussed the importance of continuing to build on the foundation that has been set. This will be the first thing to get my attention.”
As the fall semester kicks off, Wilkinson is ready to go.
“To say that I’m excited about the opportunity to serve as dean of the College at Southwestern is a significant understatement,” Wilkinson says.
“It seems a bit overwhelming at times, but the faculty is exceptional and the Lord is more than adequate to provide richly what I don’t possess in and of myself. He’s been doing this for years.”