TRUSTEES: Amid COVID-19, Midwestern holds meeting electronically

by T. Patrick Hudson, posted Wednesday, April 01, 2020 (one month ago)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) -- For the first time in the history of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS), trustees met virtually Monday (March 30) to address key issues and conduct institutional business during the Spring Trustee Meeting.

The seminary's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and budgetary issues dominated updates from MBTS president Jason Allen, who underscored the seminary's solid position despite these trying times.

"Our nation is clearly entering a season of economic disruption and uncertainty," he said. "It is impacting not just businesses and families, but also churches, ministries and educational institutions. By God's kind providence, Midwestern Seminary enters this season of economic uncertainty in a strong financial position."

That includes a reserve of "nearly one year of operating expenses" in the form of "cash and unrestricted financial assets," according to Allen, who added that MBTS' annual operating expenses were approximately $17 million.

"We have a conservative budget model, wherein we plan to spend under our projected revenues," Allen said. "More broadly, we have no long-term debt, and over the past seven years, we've caught up on nearly all campus deferred-maintenance needs. Strategically, we've maintained a smaller campus footprint, thus minimizing operating overhead, and contributing to our sustainable business model."

Allen said while MBTS continually emphasizes financial stewardship in all areas of operations and decision-making, the issue has taken on critical importance in light of the pandemic and its effect on the economy.

"This is a season of focused stewardship for all ministries, including Midwestern Seminary," he said.

MBTS trustees approved a $1.9 million decrease in the proposed 2020-21 budget, to $26,797,000. Allen noted the revision is still an increase over the 2019-20 budget of $25,385,760.

Along with general trimming in many areas, MBTS has postponed hiring for some planned new positions, frozen salaries and postponed some capital projects.

"We'll continue to monitor the situation closely and further reduce our budget as circumstances necessitate," Allen said. "What is more, the Cooperative Program is essential to our work and to our students. Any negative impact the coronavirus crisis has on the Cooperative Program will have negative impacts on our ministry -- and on the pastors, ministers and missionaries we're training."

He said MTBS would continue to closely monitor the coronavirus crisis -- and the economic downturn it has spawned -- noting its impact on local churches, students and theological education, and said if events warranted, the school would adapt accordingly.

"Wisdom and prudence are definitely the orders of the day," he said. "Yet, we can look toward the future, even amidst gathering economic storm clouds, with hopefulness."

MBTS reported record enrollment during the spring semester in headcount and hours sold. Allen said MBTS projected total enrollment in 2019-20 of 4,200-4,300 students, compared to 4,000 last year.

"We're thankful for God's kind providence," Allen said, "and that Southern Baptists continue to resonate with our vision -- for the church."

He added: "In many ways, this academic year has already been one of unprecedented institutional achievement. We have both our highest enrollment and our strongest financial balance sheet in history. In absentia, this May we'll graduate our largest class in history. Our seminary library is currently receiving a comprehensive renovation and other signs of institutional momentum continue unabated. Come what may economically, we'll continue on with our resolve to serve Southern Baptist churches."

Holding the Spring Trustee Meeting in person was not an option because of guidelines regarding social distancing and prohibiting large gatherings during the pandemic. Instead, trustees joined a main session conference call with Allen for seminary updates. Later, committees met online using video technology to conduct seminary business. The board's executive committee met in the same manner to consider measures recommended by the committees.

The Business Services Committee recommended to the full trustee board the adoption of the proposed 2020-21 budget as well as approval of the 2020-21 Schedule of Fees. Both recommendations were approved by the board.

In other business, during the plenary session the trustees re-elected and promoted faculty members and selected board officers for the upcoming year.

Acting on recommendations from the Academic Committee, the trustees re-elected Robin Hadaway as professor of missions and Gary Taylor Chair of Missions and Evangelism; Tom Johnston as professor of evangelism; John Lee as associate professor of New Testament; and granted approval for Michael McMullen's sabbatical request.

The committee also recommended the promotion of David Sundeen from assistant professor to associate professor of ministry and evangelism; Matthew Swain from assistant professor to associate professor of worship ministries; Steven Thompson from assistant professor to associate professor of pastoral ministry; and Jason G. Duesing from associate professor to professor of historical theology.

Additionally, the Board moved to re-elect its current officers. John Mathena, a businessman from Edmond, Okla., will serve a third term as chairman; Lee Roberson, a businessman from Hobbs, N.M., continues as first vice chairman; Chad McDonald, a pastor from Lenexa, Kan., continues as second vice chairman; and Bryan Pain, a pastor from Duncan, Okla., continues as secretary.

Midwestern Seminary's Board of Trustees consists of 35 members and meets biannually in October and April.

T. Patrick Hudson is assistant professor of communications and history at MBTS.
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