FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Throughout its history, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has broadened its geographical reach and influence by opening extension campuses in other areas, starting with Houston in 1975, and today includes classes as far away as Germany.

But this semester the seminary celebrates the 20th anniversary of partnering with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) to bring seminary education to students at the Little Rock extension.

“We began in 1992, with the partnership between the state convention and Southwestern growing out of the desire to allow students who were already in ministry in Arkansas to begin or continue their theological education through Southwestern Seminary,” Dean of Extensions Deron Biles says.      

Extension classes meet at the state convention’s facilities, and several ABSC staff have even taught courses.

“It makes for not only a great relationship between Southwestern and the state convention but also makes a great relationship between local churches and the state convention and the seminary,” Biles says.

Because of the close relationship with the state convention, the Little Rock extension has been one of the most consistent extensions with regard to student enrollment. This semester the extension has about 25 students.

Tim Deahl has been integrally involved in the partnership, serving as an adjunct professor for the extension, local church pastor, executive support for ABSC, and liaison between the main campus and extension. Deahl, who earned his Master of Divinity from Southwestern, says most extension students are already involved in areas of ministry as opposed to preparing for ministry. About half of their numbers are involved in youth or young adult ministry, while the others serve in pastoral or music ministries.

This past semester, five students graduated from the extension, one of their larger numbers for one graduating class, Biles says. One student from the Little Rock extension received the C.W. Brister Pastoral Ministry Award, given to graduates in the school of theology and in the field of pastoral ministry.

“That was exciting to see not just the recognition of our extension but to see how our extension work is impacting the churches in Arkansas,” Biles says.

Students are asked to complete at least one year at Southwestern’s main campus to complement their studies at the extension. Deahl says some students actually started their education at the main campus but then finished their degree at Little Rock after being called to ministry in the area. Others finished at the main campus but then returned to the Little Rock extension to teach classes there.

In the future, Biles and Deahl both say online education will likely increase and may impact the further growth of enrollment in a positive way for those who cannot attend class in person.

“It’s a new day with online education,” Biles says. “I see online education strengthening the work of our extension centers. This now becomes an opportunity for students to continue ministering where they are, and they now have new options to continue or even complete their degree and continue to serve in the place God has called them and led them.

“This is, I think, an opportunity for us to see the potential of reaching students that we might never had reached, who now have not only exposure to Southwestern through the extension but opportunities to study with our elected faculty on campus,” Biles says. “And I think it opens doors to the opportunities for new students for our extensions.”

Deahl says the enrollment at the extension had dropped slightly for a time, but now it is again picking back up, and he looks forward to even further growth.

Classes at the extension meet just one day a week, and because of donations, a meal is now provided for students. The extension also provides a fully equipped library and other resources.

Biles and Deahl both look forward to the continuing partnership between Southwestern and the ABSC, as they train students to preach the Word and reach the world.