BOLIVAR – Southwest Baptist University celebrated the inauguration of Richard J. Melson, Ph.D., as its 26th president in a ceremony Wednesday, March 2, in Mabee Chapel on the Bolivar campus.
The inauguration formally commemorates the beginning of Dr. Melson’s leadership at SBU, while celebrating the University’s rich history and reaffirming the University’s mission of being a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society.
SBU’s Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and other delegates participated in the event.
Dr. Nathan Wright, division of business head, associate professor of business administration and faculty senate president at SBU, as well as a member of the presidential search committee, recalled his first impressions of Dr. Melson during the committee’s initial/virtual interview with him.
A few highlights in the notes Wright took during that interview included: “Good communicator;” “Passionate about servant-leadership;” “Stands unapologetically on his biblical convictions;” and “Will be a tremendous ambassador for SBU.”
“I am grateful for Dr. Melson’s heart to point faculty and staff to serve our students to God’s glory and our joy,” Wright said. “More than anything, SBU needs its president to be the spiritual leader for the university. Dr. Melson is the spiritual leader SBU desperately needs.”
Perspectives were given by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt; Dr. C. Pat Taylor, president emeritus of SBU; Mayor of the City of Bolivar, Christopher D. Warwick; Jon Nelson, president of the Missouri Baptist Convention; John L. Yeats, executive director of the MBC; Nathan Wright, SBU Faculty Senate President; Chance Bedell, Staff Council president; and Tyler Eads, Senior Ambassador of the President.
Charlie Waldburger, business writer and strategist, presented a scripture reading, followed by the introduction of Dr. Melson by Dr. Rick Mann, professor of leadership and strategy and director of MBA/DBA programs at Trevecca Nazarene University. Dr. Jerry L. Gillis Jr., lead pastor of The Chapel in Buffalo, N.Y., delivered the inaugural message.
“The prestigious role you’re now inhabiting, Dr. Melson, is one filled with promise and hope for the future, while also carrying with it the heavy weight of responsibility,” Gillis said. “The proverbial phrase is, in this moment, perfectly apt: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’
“My appeal with that statement is to Christians because it makes me think of Christ. We think of Jesus here, not because he made this statement but because he answers the larger question that this statement begs: If great power comes with great responsibility, then what exactly is that power and responsibility for? I would suggest to you the great power and responsibility are for the purpose of demonstrating the humble and sacrificial heart of God.”
Gillis pointed to Jesus’ last week on Earth when He was privately ministering to His disciples. They met and ate together for one last time in the upper room, after which Jesus humbled himself and washed the feet of the disciples.
“May the humble heart of God in you, Dr. Melson, surprise people,” Gillis said. “May your humility be unapologetic for King Jesus that breeds a culture of humility on this campus and beyond. And may your surprising humility, your power used for service be a model for every student and faculty member that will experience your life. In fact, may what they experience actually be the life of Jesus in you.
“So, Dr. Melson – Rick – may you lead this university with the strength and grace of Jesus. May your heart always be pure and may your feet be willingly dirty, so that others may be clean.”
During the presidential investiture, Dr. Melson was presented with the presidential medallion and chain of office by David Brown, vice-chairman of SBU’s Board of Trustees.
“It is my great pleasure, as vice chair of the Southwest Baptist University Board of Trustees, to install you in the office of President of SBU with all of its requisite rights, privileges and responsibilities,” Brown said. “By accepting the presidential medallion, you accept the charge to serve the Lord in this position with diligence, dedication, vision and integrity as you carry out the duties as president of Southwest Baptist University.”
In his inauguration speech, Dr. Melson emphasized that SBU stands unapologetically as a Christ-centered university.
“We’re not merely an academic institution comprised of Christian faculty, staff and students. Rather, we’re a Christ-centered institution, rooted in biblical orthodoxy and scholarly orthopraxy and committed to the holistic development of every student,” Dr. Melson said.
“SBU is uniquely positioned as a caring, academic community to support students in a partnership of transformational learning, growth in the context of biblical truth, intentional discipleship, committed to equipping graduates to become those biblical servant leaders who glorify God and make him known. They go out and make an impact in the world for Christ. As I like to say, ‘we are making world-changers at SBU.’”
Melson has had the opportunity to meet SBU alumni from several decades and has enjoyed hearing their stories.
“Every alumni story has one common theme – the meaningful relationships with faculty, staff and students who made a transformational impact on your life that created a lifelong bond to the SWBC/SBU Bearcat family,” Melson said. “This is the outcome of a Christ-centered, caring academic community. Each of those alumni have been pointed to Christ by fellow students, by faculty and by staff.
“SBU alumni are leading and serving around the world, in every sphere of society, from healthcare to finance, from the pulpit to the halls of justice, from social work to the legislature, from the classroom to the boardroom, and everywhere in between – each one of them are on mission to know Christ and to make Him known.
“So, today, SBU family, let us rise to the challenges before us. Let us take hold of the opportunities that await us, and let us lead SBU to its greatest days ahead, all for God’s glory and our exceeding joy.”
Melson began serving as SBU president, Sept. 7, 2021. He previously served at Cedarville University as vice president for advancement and associate professor of business administration.