By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
BALTIMORE, Md. – Two months after the announcement for the formation of a program at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to provide free theological education for Louisiana Baptist bi-vocational and smaller church pastors and staff members, $4.5 million in donations has been received for the program.
The additional donations have provided an expansion of the Caskey Center for Excellence, which received an initial amount of $1.5 million to support 100 students for the fall. However, additional separate donations of $1.5 million each within a week’s period has provided for the acceptance of more students.
The most recent donation of $1.5 million was given in an envelope to New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley a few hours before he delivered the school’s report on June 11 to the SBC messengers meeting for the convention’s annual meeting in Baltimore.
He called the donations a “blessing.”
The program will provide up to $6,000 annually for the Louisiana students. Equivalent to the amount of a full scholarship, the program will apply to associate, certificate, undergraduate or master’s degree study at New Orleans Seminary. As of early June, 125 students had applied to the program, prompting an expansion.
In addition to receiving a tuition scholarship, students participating in the Caskey Center also will receive a Logos Bible software package. The students will engage in person evangelism and submit evangelism activity reports throughout their studies through the Caskey Center.
Additional information about the Caskey Center for Church Excellence can be found by contacting the director, Dr. Mark Tolbert, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 504.282.4455, ext. 8227.
Kelley said Caskey may not have been well-known in the Southern Baptist Convention and Louisiana Baptist Convention while he was ministering as a Louisiana Baptists bi-vocational pastor but his name is known by many more today.
“There was a bi-vocational pastor who spent his whole life serving in communities that you’ve never heard of and probably couldn’t spell if you saw the list of the places he served in Louisiana,” Kelley said. “Nobody ever heard his name to my knowledge. He was never asked to speak to a conference. He was never called on to do anything with the Southern Baptist Convention or the Louisiana convention where he served.
“He simply labored in that obscurity that many of our pastors know very well in very small bi-vocational churches,” he said. “And the highest honorary title that he ever had was Brother Caskey. But God is always at work.”
Currently, 92 percent of Louisiana Baptist churches have an average attendance of less than 250 and seventy percent have 100 or less in attendance on a Sunday morning. Such statistics are similar throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.
“We are a convention of smaller churches,” Kelley said.
Just like Caskey, Kelley encouraged all pastors, especially those serving in smaller churches and as bi-vocational ministers, to continue laboring no matter how difficult things might be or how little recognition they receive.
“No one knew him then. They’ll know him now. And I don’t want you to ever forget as you are laboring, are you are working, as you are doing work that is unappreciated and appears to be unnoticed by everybody around you, you remember God is always at work. If you are serving in obedience, God is always at work. Never forget.”