Reeves nurtures passion for missions
SBU thrives under dean’s tutelage
BOLIVAR – Rodney Reeves, dean and professor of biblical studies at Southwest Baptist University, is a Ph.D. and an academic through and through, so his philosophy for The Courts Redford College of Theology & Church Vocations might strike you as a bit of a surprise.
“Our goal is not to crank out scholars,” Reeves said. “Our goal is to serve the church, because the church is the instrument that does the work of the kingdom. Years ago, when I first started teaching, I didn’t have that as clearly in my mind as I do today.”
The 48-year-old dean, whose writings have been recognized in Christian publishing circles as being a good way to disciple postmodern thinkers, was touched deeply by his experience as senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark.
“When I first started teaching, I thought my goal was to advance my discipline, and if the church benefits from it, all the better,” he said. “I don’t blame myself for that, because you spend so much time reading scholars, and you spend so much time preparing, and you fall in love with your discipline, and my discipline’s the New Testament. Then I left the classroom and became a pastor.”
Reeves said that many of the 240 or so Redford majors are passionate about doing missions to the point where they seek to do missions right now.
“That’s why they’re taking mission trips even in high school,” he said. “From what I gather, they would rather do mission trips than go to conferences. They’d rather be on the field, doing for the kingdom, than going to church camps.”
Generally, he said, that results in a graduate who heads straight for a ministry opportunity with a church or a parachurch. Some will go directly to a seminary, but the geographical and denominational link from Southwest Baptist University to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, while tangible and sensible for some students, is not as strong as it used to be. Out of a class of 20-40 graduates, “not even 1/5” will go straight to seminary, Reeves said. And the seminary they select might be anywhere.
“In our day, if you worked in a Southern Baptist context, you went to a Southern Baptist seminary, period,” he said. “But students today don’t think in those terms. The loyalty is not there to the denomination. They think way outside the box as far as denominational work, and they don’t think in terms of conservative versus liberal. Honestly, they think more in terms of convenience.
“They don’t think in terms of ‘I want to work in a Southern Baptist context, therefore I better to go to a Southern Baptist seminary.’ Those lines don’t exist for most students.”
The Intercultural Studies program within the Redford College has grown to be one of the larger areas of study with about 60 students participating. Mission-minded students get to spend a semester of their senior year abroad, learning the language and taking classes overseas.
“It’s a great laboratory,” Reeves said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for them to combine axis and praxis on the field, learning emotionally, spiritually and academically what it takes.”
Youth ministry attracts a comparable number of students, but generally not in a manner where students would for four years hone in on becoming a youth pastor on staff with a church, Reeves said.
“They come wanting to do ministry through the church, but the idea of a staff position in an established church doesn’t excite them,” he said. “They don’t think in narrow, vocational terms. They feel committed to ministry to youth, however that manifests itself—whether it’s through camps, parachurch organizations, through all kinds of connections.”
Reeves said he was surprised when officials at Baker Books deemed his book A Genuine Faith: How to Follow Jesus Today as being ideal for discipling postmodern students due to its emphasis on the storytelling power of Jesus in the Gospels. He simply told his publisher that the writing came from his preaching. Though he never planned on any of this, he does recognize that post-modernity could turn into a bit of a niche for Southwest Baptist as he thinks about what could be included in a future graduate school.
“The old models of ministry just are not working,” he said. “That’s why we have all these church conferences for all these pastors. We’re trying to figure out, ‘How are we going to do ministry in postmodernity?’ And in certain respects, that’s cross-cultural communication in our own context.
“Now I haven’t embraced postmodernity as a matrix by which we make sense of all things, but whether we like it or not, that is the worldview of many of our students.”
Developing a master’s program at SBU is one of his primary goals as the university goes through an estimated $1.26 million renovation of the Jim Mellers Center, where the Redford College is located. The eight faculty members are in the process of being temporarily relocated, and when the renovation is completed sometime next year, Reeves said he can more easily envision a future that may involve the filling of up to 17 faculty offices – one side for graduate faculty, the other for undergraduate.
“There are too many seminaries, and there are too many graduate schools, that are doing excellent work with outstanding resources to produce young scholars,” he said. “It would be foolish for us if we were to try to replicate what Midwestern’s doing, or some of our other sister institutions. What we want to do is try to do something that’s different in a master’s program.
“Intercultural Studies is a huge, huge interest for us. We may not start the master’s program with that, but in my heart of hearts what I’d like to see us do is offer something that complements, not competes with, our sister institutions on a graduate level.”
Reeves said he does feel called to be a dean, although he never sought the position. Teaching is what gives him the greatest joy, he said. He calls himself “a pastor who’s doing a professor’s job that happens to hold the office of dean.” When a student starts to “get it” in the classroom, or when a student lets him into the moment when he or she is getting excited about spiritual things, Reeves can sense that God is pleased with him.
“I feel as if my job, in part, is to shepherd students,” he said.
Fall classes at SBU begin Aug. 17. It may very well wind up being a full year in exile for Redford students, who are being sent to classrooms all over the Bolivar campus while the renovation begins. Reeves said the temporary inconvenience will be worth it.
“We’ll have the building organized more functional for academic purposes, more accessible for students,” he said.