One SBC pastor’s candid look at SWBTS’ financial challenges

Note to readers: this information was received recently. The author is an SBC pastor who has spent a good bit of time looking at public documents concerning Southwestern Seminary. We’re posting it anonymously although the author did not ask us to do so. None of us has scrutinized the data or conclusions. The team here has reached out to key leadership at SWBTS and received no response whatsoever. It would be a simple thing in our view for the seminary to state that they appreciate the concern of Southern Baptists and are working diligently on all the challenges of the school going forward. Or, to state that information is being prepared and will be released when ready. We received no response. Others have expressed the same frustration that no information about his situation is coming forward from SWBTS.

We’re just pastors who are both observers and supporters. If there are sincere questions asked by Southern Baptists of our organizations, they should be answered if possible but certainly acknowledged.

We appreciate our brother who took the time to pore over public documents and gather this information.

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Finances for any SBC entity, from a big picture perspective, are not hidden if one knows where to look. Two helpful resources are the SBC Annuals found here and the Association of Theological Schools reports (for seminaries) found here. The most recent Annual was prepared for the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting, and it presents data for the 2016-2017 fiscal year (FY) ending July 31, 2017. The one unfortunate reality is that the data lags by a year or more at a time. Perhaps interim financial data is given to the Executive Committee for their Spring and Fall meetings that can be requested. That being said, the SWBTS financials thru 7/31/17 as recorded in the 2018 Annual reveal the following:

LOANS

The school had $20,378,678 dollars in notes (loans) to be repaid for 252 new student housing units. The loan was taken out in the 2012 FY. Of biggest concern is that $17,125,488 is due December 15, 2021, unless otherwise restructured. See note 12 in the Annual for details about the loan’s structure.

BORROWING RESTRICTED FUNDS

To add to the debt, the school has, over time, borrowed a cumulative $25,870,967 from restricted funds that needs to be reimbursed, with over $25M of the total coming from temporary restricted funds (funds that are released when the donor specified time and/or condition is met). One must also know that tens of millions can be released from temporary restricted funds each year as donor restrictions are met. In the 2017 FY, ~$21M was released and used as revenue to help offset annual expenses. However, with ~$25M of the total ~$30M of temporary restricted funds already borrowed, apart from an increase in temporary restricted fund giving in the 2018 FY that was also allowed to be released in FY 2018, the school seemingly only had access to approximately $5M for appropriate expenses if more than $5M was allowed to be released. Which brings me to…

RELIANCE ON RELEASED RESTRICTED FUNDS

Finally, the financial report shows that the 2017 FY operating revenue was highly dependent on temporary restricted funds coming available. Perhaps this is not unusual for an academic institution. On the year, the school brought in ~$3M more than what was spent (~$50M in revenue vs ~$47M in expenses), which is great. However, the ~$50M in revenue includes ~$21M in temporary restricted funds that were released. If SWBTS continued to spend anywhere near $47M in 2017-2018 and only up to $5M in temporary restricted funds were available to be released, it’s very feasible that the school could’ve spent millions and millions more than their revenue if additional unrestricted giving or even additional temporary restricted giving to be released in 2017-2018 did not come in.

SUMMARY AS OF 7/31/17

In sum, the school faces ~$46M in debt (loan / borrowed restricted funds) to repay with possible operating budget losses per year. The school had almost $250M in net assets, the leader of SBC seminaries; yet, not enough is liquid.

THE GOOD NEWS

I think the school can survive this situation with the Lord’s provision and some decisive leadership. According to Baptist Press, the trustees set a 2017-2018 budget for the school at $36.8M, approximately $10M less than what was spent in 2016-2017. This gives me hope to believe that current trustees are actively working with the SWBTS administration to move the institution out of the present financial dilemma. Consequently, I’ve been led to believe that the school had a fruitful financial year in 2017-2018 and was able to repay approximately $12-$13M of the borrowed temporary restricted funds. FY 2018 financials will reveal much.

Based on the 2017 FY data, here are a few suggestions for moving forward. Note: at least one of these suggestions has already taken place in part since 2017 and maybe others of which I’m not aware.
  • The administration should strive to find ways to get auxiliary enterprises to break even, as opposed to losing money, to functionally gain ~$1M/yr.
  • The administration may need to strive for a leaner staff. In FY 2017, the school spent $27.5M on instructional needs and institutional support for 1222 FTE students (4076 students taking 1 hr or more). In comparison, SBTS spent $27.2M for 2238 FTE students (5513 students taking 1 hr or more). If SWBTS staff was as lean as SBTS, based on FTE, SWBTS could save $12.6M/yr. Based on total students, the school could save $7.4M/yr.
  • Furthermore, reversing the enrollment decline will help bring in more tuition/fees revenue and possibly more Cooperative Program revenue. It seems this reversal has been started as the Association of Theological Schools indicates a Fall 2018 FTE enrollment of 1521, up from 1222. If not already, the goal ought to be to create such a Christ-centered, theologically and academically robust, humble-minded, excellence-driven, ministry-equipping, church-serving, missions and evangelism-oriented culture that anybody west of the Mississippi, and even an easterner, doesn’t have to think twice about where to pursue seminary education because of what’s going on at SWBTS, particularly those from Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
  • SWBTS could consider increasing tuition as the 2017-2018 SBC rate per hour was $250 versus $276 at SEBTS, $294 at SBTS, and $296 at MBTS. The result would be an additional ~$1M if bumped to $275/hr and slightly over $2M if bumped to $295 based on FY 2017 tuition income.
  • Expanding the current donor base ought to continue to be an aim as well.
As of 7/31/17, the situation before SWBTS was absolutely challenging. But with the help of the Lord through faithful trustee and administration leadership, I’m hopeful for the financial future and kingdom impact of this theological institution in the days to come. In the meantime, pray for wisdom for the trustees as they continue to search for a new president who can lead the school through, and far beyond, these days for the sake of the gospel.

NAAF President Dr. Marshal L. Ausberry, Sr. Responds to SBTS Report on Slavery & Racism

As President of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, I commend Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Mohler’s commissioning the study and releasing the internal report on the history of slavery and racism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is clear leadership akin to the men of Issachar. (1 Chronicles 12:32 (ESV) 32 Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…) Dr. Mohler clearly understands the times and knows what to do!

I am sure that Dr. Mohler understands that he will face backlash in some corners. A leader does not stick his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing to make a decision. Instead, a true leader makes a decision knowing the right thing to do and does it!

The reporting of the study should not surprise anyone! The history is the history! The Mother seminary of the SBC marches in lockstep with the SBC. The history shows that the Seminary as an institution reflected the political and social culture of its time. It is perplexing how otherwise godly men could miss the mark so badly. But, when culture and politics have such an unmerited influence, the reaping is the result of what has been sewn. Southern Seminary is not by herself, many institutions of that era were swimming in the same river of prejudice, racism, and elitism cloaked in the sheets of the idea of manifest destiny.

My hope is that the release of the report will not cause dissension or divisiveness. I hope that the report will facilitate healing and a sober recognition of how far we have come as a people. While we still have ways to go, we truly have come a mighty long way! We needed this history to be documented, as stinging and troubling as it is, because as someone has said, “If we do not know our history, we are apt to repeat it!”

For Southern Baptists, we embrace the message of reconciliation. When we are wrong we don’t hide it, we admit it, and move not to repeat the past, but to make a better future! We must learn from the past. As brothers and sisters of every hue, we can be reconciled to one another because of Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ is our great reconciler. We reconcile to each other because that is the picture of Christ reconciling a sinful world to Himself. Southern Baptists have a golden opportunity to show the world how we can make peace with our past, and truly love one another, because the love of Jesus Christ binds us together. The history of the Seminary is like an antibiotic and a vaccine. As an antibiotic it kills the lingering infection of racism and as a vaccine kills a recurrence of the disease!

We have the advantage of history because we can look back and wonder, “How did those otherwise godly men miss the mark so badly?” When we allow the culture and politics to become idols, we always miss the true interpretation of the Word of God!

Again, I commend Dr. Mohler for commissioning and releasing the report on the history of slavery and racism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I pray that it will be used for the betterment of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Marshal L. Asbury, Sr.
President, National African American Fellowship, SBC
December 15, 2018

Dr. David Hankins Announces Retirement

Dr. David Hankins, Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, has announced his retirement effective June 30, 2019. This newest announcement comes in the wake of a number of other recent highly visible SBC personalities stepping aside from leadership positions for various and sundry reasons.

Many people might know that Dr. Hankins and I have had our disagreements over the years but I wish he and his family nothing but the best as he transitions on to a new chapter in his life. Dr. Hankins was a faithful pastor, is a gifted speaker, and cared very much for the Southern Baptist Convention. I have said on numerous occasions, he has been one of most powerful men in the SBC for the last couple of decades.

His absence leaves a significant void in the Louisiana Baptist Convention. I am very hopeful that as the LBC moves forward, we will find a leader who will unify our convention, will encourage a big-tent mindset, will be deliberate in bringing various and diverse voices to the table from around the state and will help to lead our state further toward a 50/50 split as we seek even greater cooperation with our SBC entities.

You may find the full story at Baptist Press.

NOBTS Chapel and My Meeting with Dr. Kelley

Some time after Katrina (I’m not sure when. Months maybe. Those early years are a blur to me now) I arrived back to my house from a long day of helping visiting mission teams gut homes. My wife Michelle met me at the door with a big smile. It was hard to smile then and we were very busy. Well, I was very busy. Maybe too busy. But Michelle greeted me with a smile and said, “hurry in and look at what we received today.” There on the kitchen counter was probably the prettiest bouquet of flowers I’d ever seen and on the note was something like the following,

Dear Michelle and Jay, We know how busy you are during this difficult time and just wanted to let you know that we are praying for you both. Especially you, Michelle, for the sacrifice you are making while Jay is spending all this time serving with Disaster Relief. You are both appreciated.

Signed, Chuck and Rhonda Kelley

That note was then, and remains today, one of the most thoughtful things anyone ever did for us. I can’t tell you how much we needed that kind word at that time.

I have long appreciated Dr. Kelley for his encouragement to me and his heart for evangelism. I have loved him for his love for New Orleans and his service to our school. He has been gracious to my family, including to my mom and dad (Dad served for 10 years on the Board of Trustees at NOBTS). I publicly defended him from the floor of the Convention way back during the “Sole Membership” issue. Prayed for him in the aftermath of Katrina. Disagreed with him on some administrative issues at NOBTS and then this past Tuesday was disappointed and deeply frustrated with his chapel message that opened the Fall semester at NOBTS. You can find the link to that video HERE.

In the 16 years I have known Dr. Kelley I had never seen him stick out his neck like he did this past Tuesday. He rarely engages in polarizing topics. He appears never to be rattled by the goings on around the convention. He, to my knowledge, has never publicly waded into the trite debates of social media. But there was something markedly different on Tuesday.

Admittedly, he did something he had never done before and that was to publicly offer his own personal thoughts, from his private journal, during a chapel message about the state of the Southern Baptist Convention. While many of us in the blogosphere regularly comment on SBC issues without giving it a second thought, for him, it is unusual. And it was disconcerting and uncomfortable for me to see it happen in chapel.

Most everything he said during the first half of the message (much of the second half was agreeable to me) felt to me, not angry or malicious, but rather like I was watching a deeply hurt man react to frustration and pain that has been building for some time.

I basically disagreed with almost everything he said. He spoke of communicating with people who expressed great disappointment in the meeting in Dallas and on the direction of the future of the convention. I, on the other hand, have never been more encouraged and excited about the SBC and its future. He spoke of concerns for entities and decision makers that came across as frustrating and perplexing for him, and although I have had concerns about our entities from time to time I have not once been as moved to the level of disappointment that he is experiencing.

After his message Tuesday afternoon I though about contacting him, but then I thought (or hoped) maybe folks didn’t interpret the message the way I was afraid it was going to be interpreted. So I waited, but I didn’t have to wait for long. Social media lit up and it was clear that for some, his message came across even worse than I assumed it had. So, Friday afternoon I contacted his office for a meeting and he graciously received me. What follows is not a verbatim account of our two hours but is a survey of our interaction and my thoughts. It was a private conversation with privileged information but he is aware that I was going to write about our meeting.

After a kind welcome, he asked about my dad’s health. We chatted for a moment and I began my remarks by expressing my appreciation for him, retelling him of the story of those flowers after Katrina and how important I believe, just as he does, it is for brothers to speak with one another when we have differences. I expressed my concern over his comments, how I believe they have been taken in a very negative light by a great many Southern Baptists. I expressed my concern for him and for how his remarks reflected on our school as well. I told him that it was clear to me, although others may not have seen it, that I was watching a man that was hurt and that I was surprised by his message because it was not what I was used to seeing from him. I went on to state my concern for how his words could be damaging to recruiting efforts for new students and frustrating for current seminary students who might feel as if their thoughts/opinions and their hopes for the future of the SBC have been dismissed as being off course. I spoke for quite some time on a number of concerns and he listened actively and with interest. Then it was his turn to share his thoughts.

If Dr. Kelley is anything, he is a walking encyclopedia of Southern Baptist life and history. He recounted some aspects of the history of the SBC of which I was unaware. He spoke of the histories of entities, of stories of convention work and cooperation through the years and his deeply held conviction about what is happening in the SBC.

Although he did not “double down” on his remarks from Tuesday, his conviction regarding his concerns remain steadfast. He did not say this to me but I honestly do not think he expected the kind of response his message engendered. It is clear to me he feels strongly that he is expressing the sentiments of a significant portion of people in the SBC and as evidenced by the number of people that have corresponded with him before and after his message, he appears to feel validated in most, if not all of the ideas he shared on Tuesday.

I believe he painted an unfortunate, dark and foreboding picture of the SBC on Tuesday and I could not disagree with him more. I see great hope in the future of our convention. I am very happy about the election of our new president (of whom, by the way, Dr. Kelley spoke very highly and shared his confidence in Dr. Greear’s work in evangelism and passion for the gospel). I am encouraged by the overall direction of the entities (but will continue to offer critique when I feel it is appropriate) and I am down-right excited with this current generation of pastors and young people who have a great passion for the lost and a heart for discipleship. I have argued in the past that convention entity heads ought to be allowed to speak their mind about issues in SBC life, just like the rest of us (albeit not in the area of entity servers being used for electioneering 🙂 ) … and, well… he did just that. He shared his concerns. I just wish he hadn’t done it in chapel.

It is most evident to me that his greatest concern is with the change in dialogue we have witnessed which favors spending time on secondary and tertiary issues in place of focusing on the “heart matter” of evangelism. To me, it appears that his particular critiques weren’t as much about the specific concerns he shared as it is that those things, in his mind, are the evidences that our focus is not where it should be. He offered me a helpful analogy in the form of “conversations at a party.” He noted that the tone and tenor of a party is often loud with many different conversations going on at the same time. He suggested that the reason for or theme of our party (the SBC) is for the work of evangelism. However, he notes, when the purpose of the party has been lost, people begin to hear and pay more attention to the private side conversations taking place at the party and we become distracted by the peripheral dialogues. He believes the reason for the problems, which he has pointed out, is due to our lack of focus on evangelism. I heard him loud and clear on that. In fact, I’m now rehashing his sermon through that lens. All in all, it is even more clear for me that a sort of perfect storm happened for Dr. Kelley on Tuesday with (1) his personal convictions, (2) validation from an agreeing segment of Southern Baptists, and (3) his own hurts and concerns culminated in privately-journaled thoughts that were (unfortunately, in my opinion) unveiled in a chapel message.

Dr. Kelley does not need me to defend him, nor would he want me to, and certainly, in this case, I would not do so. We not only have disagreements about the content of his message but also about some of the mode and tone of the message. However, what we ALL need is to realize that each of us are more often misunderstood than completely understood by others. I know I have been. I believe Dr. Kelley to be wrong about most of his concerns, although I now understand his concerns better than I did. I believe him to be wrong about the state of the SBC, but I now understand what he is seeing that moves him in that way, even if I disagree with his interpretation. What is NOT wrong is his heart for the lost, his love for the SBC and his willingness to stand up and say what he feels is right even if he is in the minority. I think the most important thing I took from our meeting is that we all do well to remember in these days, however you feel about the state of the SBC, there are considerable numbers of Southern Baptists who feel differently about the health of the SBC.

On a side note, I was reminded today why it is so important to interact with those with whom we disagree. Sitting down with one another does not mean, nor should it mean, that we rise in unanimous agreement. But it does mean that we are giving ourselves and the other an opportunity to listen and to be heard. I have been reminded anew that to sit on the other side of a computer screen and lob ad hominems to and fro is sinful action. It is unchristlike. I needed to remember that. We need to be better at communicating. We need to engage one another. We need to be people who will “talk with” one another rather than just “talk about” one another.

Also, let me reiterate something for current and any possible future students of NOBTS. I am very proud of our seminary on a couple of fronts. As Dr. Kelley mentioned in the later part of his message, NOBTS has always been a balanced school. In my words, we have had both 5 point reformed profs and 4 point remonstrant profs. 😉 Speaking as a Pastor who holds to a reformed soteriological position, I can say that I have only and ever been appreciative of the good balance of professors at NOBTS. We are not a “reformed” seminary and we are not an “anti-Reformed” seminary. We are a Baptist Seminary holding to the tradition of “both rails” and I want to assure anyone who might view Dr. Kelly’s chapel message in contrary terms to rest assured, that will not change. His hiring philosophy has kept our school balanced and for that I am very thankful.

We left one another still in disagreement about the particulars but I hope we left with a little more respect and appreciation for one another having sat down to talk as brothers should. This is how Jesus taught us it ought to be. For the sake of our school I believe we can move past this issue and on to a mutually shared excitement for the future of the cooperative work of the SBC.

P.S. I have asked Dr. Kelley if he would be willing to consider writing something for us here at Voices that might offer more insight or help to clarify his position and he received that offer with a smile and suggested he would consider that opportunity. I hope he does.