Dockery highlights ‘markers of renewal’ in Southwestern report to SBC messengers

DSD - SBC report 2024

INDIANAPOLIS — Acknowledging Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary “faces a number of very real challenges,” President David S. Dockery highlighted “markers of renewal” that have taken place at the Fort Worth-based institution during his June 12 report to messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Before beginning his report, Dockery expressed gratitude to Bart Barber, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and two-time Southwestern Seminary graduate. He also extended thanks to Joseph R. Crider, dean of the School of Church Music and Worship (SCMW), Charles R. Lewis, associate dean of the SCMW, Southwestern A Cappella and Cowden Hall Band for leading worship during this year’s annual meeting.

Acknowledging that “whatever good has taken place at Southwestern in recent months has come as a gift of God’s grace,” Dockery, who has led as president of the 116-year-old seminary since Sept. 27, 2022, said the “various aspects of the seminary’s constituencies have prayed faithfully and fervently for God’s kindness and favor and blessings to rest once again on the Southwestern community.”

Dockery reported on the “markers of renewal and recovery that have taken place in recent months” that are “encouraging recognizable steps toward institutional stability that can be identified and celebrated.”

Dockery spotlighted an increase in the number of new students enrolled this academic year, which “has surpassed last year’s total.” He added that enrollment numbers for the upcoming fall academic semester are also “tracking quite well at this point” while reporting that the numbers “build upon and add to last year’s annual headcount, which increased measurably over the previous year.”

“We’ve seen total credit hours taught increase in the fall, spring, and summer last year, and the fall, spring, and summer this year for a total uptick of more than 2,700 hours since two years ago,” Dockery reported.

Dockery said trajectories about the institution’s operational budget, through ten months of the yearly budget, “will be considerably better than last year, and dramatically improved” over the 2021-2022 budget year. He said that the “bottom-line net asset total for this year will show a major increase” explaining that unlike previous years, “Southwestern will finish this year with cash reserves and with no short-term debt, for which we offer thanks to God.” The reporting of this information was met with applause from the gathered messengers.

Additionally, he said, unrestricted and temporarily restricted giving have remained “steady,” and he gave “thanks” to God for the sale of the seminary’s Carroll Park property.

“All these markers point toward increased institutional stability,” Dockery said. “There remains a genuine sense of joyful hopefulness across the entire campus – faculty, staff, and students.”

Recognizing the leadership of W. Madison Grace II, provost and vice president for academic administration, Dockery said the seminary’s chief academic officer has “led the faculty to increase their commitment to our shared mission and core values.”

“We seek to do all things in a way that manifests our commitments to be grace filled and Christ centered, scripturally grounded and confessionally guided, to be student focused, and globally engaged in all that we do,” Dockery explained, highlighting the seminary’s six core values that were adopted in 2023.

Dockery said the “quality of teaching, research, and service is noteworthy and consistent with the expectations associated with Southwestern since its founding.”

“A bright spot for the entire campus” has been student life, as “everyone” has “worked to prioritize the development of a culture that now emphasizes discipleship and disciple making.”

Dockery said a “partnership” for the seminary that underscores “our sanctity of life commitments” is the recent announcement of the Prestonwood Pregnancy Center that will be on the Southwestern campus. Dockery said the seminary community is “grateful to God” for Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and two-time Southwestern Seminary alumnus. Dockery also mentioned that Graham is the chairman of the seminary’s recently formed Board of Reference.

“Leaders across the campus have re-envisioned our approach to reporting, response, and counseling related to sexual abuse issues, while raising expectations for the completion of Ministry Safe certification for all of our students, staff, and faculty,” Dockery said.

Characterizing the current student body as “multi-national, multi-ethnic, intercultural, and intergenerational,” Dockery said the institution is “truly a seminary with an international reach far beyond anything that our early shapers could have imagined.”

Reflecting on the seminary’s history, Dockery said that for almost 12 decades, Southwestern has “prepared those called to enter pastoral, preaching, teaching discipleship, counseling ministries, church administrators, church musicians, and worship leaders” while today the seminary continues to “prioritize its long-term commitments to evangelism, missions, and global ministry, while Texas Baptist College offers the undergraduate opportunities for both ministry and marketplace preparation.”

“The Southwestern community joins me in pledging to continue the very best of our Baptist and evangelical heritage, sharing the foundational convictions regarding the Scripture and the Gospel exemplified by our founders in 1908 and carried forward by dozens and dozens of others over the past 116 years,” Dockery said. “We stand with Southwesterners through the years who emphasized the full inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Holy Scripture, with an unflinching conviction regarding the faith once for all delivered to the saints, as well as our shared Baptist distinctives.”

Before concluding his report, Dockery expressed gratitude on behalf of the Southwestern community “for your prayers and encouragement, as well as your support through the Cooperative Program.”

“We pray that God will continue to bring renewal recovery and rebuilding to Southwestern as board members, faculty, staff, and students work together in our shared service for the good of Southwestern and for the glory of our great and majestic God,” Dockery concluded.

Following his report, Dockery fielded a question from Kyle Sullivan, a messenger from First Baptist Church of Paris, Kentucky, seeking Dockery’s “insight” about why seminaries have “record enrollment” but there is a continual “need” for pastors to lead congregations due to a “shortage” of pastors.

Dockery said he and the other five Southern Baptist seminary presidents would encourage “the churches to call out the called.”

“We want you to find ways to nurture those who have sensed God’s blessings upon their life in giving them particular gifts that can be used for faithful leadership, for biblical studies, for communication in the pulpit,” Dockery responded. “And we want to work with you to help find those people who can come, not just to Southwestern, but to those institutions represented behind me as well,” referring to the presidents of the five other SBC seminaries seated on the platform.