Seminary provides new degree in social work

NEW ORLEANS (BP)--A master of social work degree is one of the newest degrees offered at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The MSW degree was approved by the seminary trustees in their annual spring meeting on March 12-13.

An increasing need for Christian social workers equipped with the MSW degree has arisen as a result of the federal funding of faith-based initiatives in the Bush administration, and from an increased interest for trained professionals to serve in the Southern Baptist Convention's church-based evangelism and Christian social ministries, said NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke.

Social ministries are performed through Baptist state conventions and the North American Mission Board through mission centers, children's homes, homes for the aged, crisis pregnancy centers, centers for abused women and children, and Baptist hospitals. Lemke also noted that the Convention's focus on reaching people for Christ in major cities around the world has led to an increasing demand from NAMB and IMB for individuals qualified in social ministry.

Many churches have been effective in reaching people through ministry-based evangelism, such as First Baptist Church in Leesburg, Fla., under the leadership of Charles Roesel. This 7,500-member church focuses on "Meeting Needs -- Sharing Christ," and operates a "ministry village" with a benevolence center, children's shelter home, teen shelter home, pregnancy care center, men's residence, women's care center and community medical care center. Future plans include an advocacy center that will be staffed by volunteers, with attorneys and mental health counselors.

Roesel, who has taught ministry-based evangelism courses on the New Orleans campus for several years, has expressed interest in providing ministry opportunities for NOBTS students, said Perry Hancock, dean of graduate studies.

Speaking of the new MSW program, Roesel said, "I am excited to see the new Master's of Social Work degree at New Orleans. I am convinced ministry-based evangelism is the most effective way to reach people for Christ."

Offering the MSW degree in a seminary setting provides a uniquely Christian perspective for carrying out social ministry. "We do not want to abandon the field of Christian social ministry to the secular world," said Lemke. He explained that students who come to NOBTS would only do so because they were committed to having a distinctively Christian perspective on social ministry. The seminary MSW students would have to pay more for their education than they would at secular schools and would have to take another 29 hours [the equivalent of about another year of study] of biblical and theological courses at NOBTS.

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley called the trustees' attention to the first program goal of the seminary's MSW degree, which reads, "to provide a biblical and theological foundation for Christian social ministry." With this degree program, graduates will be able to minister out of a Christian context, and to apply spiritual resources such as the Bible and prayer in the practice of social work; will perform commitments about the biblical perspective on morality and human behavior; and will be able to share their faith perspective with others.

"Evangelism is the undergirding reason for our social work program," said Kelley. "It's time for social work training to come back into the Southern Baptist Convention."

New Orleans Seminary students are already able to earn the MSW degree through an articulation agreement with the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. However, many students have expressed the desire to receive their education in Christian social ministry through the seminary rather than a secular institution.

"Studying social work at a state institution inevitably involves a more pluralistic setting than would be the case in a seminary, and obviously lacks any emphasis on the biblical and theological foundation for ministry," said Lemke.

"NOBTS students would receive training equal to any secular institution in all the skills necessary to perform social work," said Hancock. "They would just have the added advantage of learning how to do that ministry out of a biblical perspective."

"It is the conviction of our social work faculty that we can maintain our biblical values and orientation, and we can build a specifically Christian social work program that will meet all accrediting criteria and not compromise one iota of our convictions about what the Bible teaches us on how people ought to live, in our mission of sharing Jesus Christ as we meet the needs of men and women," affirmed Kelley.

"Being Baptists and being people of the Book, we simply cannot compromise our convictions with the world," said Kelley. "But this does not mean we ought not to prepare believers to go into the world and minister. This is an extremely well thought-out degree and has the weight of a terminal degree for its field."

In addition to a special emphasis on spiritual needs, the social work degree focuses on services to individuals, families, and groups in relation to social, economic, and psychological forces that affect social well-being. These kinds of ministries often require adherence to federal and state standards, and there is great need in these ministries for persons who have the MSW credentialing and licensure to perform such tasks.

"We are excited about being a part of a program that equips students to minister in the field of social work from a Christian perspective," said Jeanine C. Bozeman, professor of social work and chairperson of the division of Christian education ministries. A specialist in family therapy, Bozeman has made a lifetime of helping hurting people and has taught social work as part of the master of Christian education and master of divinity in Christian education degrees at NOBTS since 1985. She brings significant experience as a social worker in the public school system and in private practice to her position at NOBTS.

"We believe that New Orleans is one of the best places in the world to learn to minister to persons as Christ did," said Loretta Rivers, instructor of social work at NOBTS.

"Since NOBTS is located strategically in a metropolitan area in which there are many social work agencies, students have opportunities to do practical work in the NAMB-sponsored mission centers and in social agencies through a clinical practicum in social work," she said.

The basic MSW degree with a concentration in children and families or aging is 89 hours, or approximately three years of full-time study. Other options in social work include dual degrees with the same concentrations: the 127-hour master of divinity/MSW degree, and the 105-hour master of Christian education/MSW degree. The dual degrees require approximately four years to complete.

For more information about the seminary's degree offerings, contact the Office of Student Enlistment at 800-662-9701, ext. 3303;; or

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