On the evening of December 7, 2014, the congregation of Fourth Baptist Church authorized its pastor, Matt Morrell, to become the sixth president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. The church vote was the final step in a months-long process that began when Sam Horn announced his intention to leave the presidency in January. The result is that Central Seminary will have both a new president and a new provost.
Who is Matt Morrell? For the past six years he has been the senior pastor of Fourth Baptist Church in Plymouth, Minnesota. Before accepting the pastorate at Fourth Baptist he was the youth pastor and then the senior pastor at Chisago Lakes Baptist Church in Chisago City, Minnesota. Morrell has his education through Northland Baptist Bible College (BA), Central Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv), and Northland Graduate School (DMin). He was a contributor to The Pastor: A Guide for God’s Faithful Servant, edited by Jim Vogel for Regular Baptist Press. He and his wife, Kim, have five children.
Morrell is already actively involved in the ministry of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He not only pastors the church that hosts the seminary, but has also chaired the seminary board for six years. He has taught as an adjunct professor, participated in seminary programs, and has involved himself regularly in the lives of faculty and students. He already knows the inner workings of the seminary in intimate detail. No one could be better equipped to step into the position and to continue the positive momentum that Central Seminary has built up over the past several years.
As the pastor of Fourth Baptist Church, Morrell will not be expected to handle the day-by-day administration of the seminary. In extending the call to the presidency, the Central Seminary board also authorized the creation of an office of provost. The provost will act as the chief executive officer of the seminary under the direct authority of the president. All other officers and administrators will report to this office.
The creation of the provost’s office is thoroughly in keeping with the plan of the seminary’s founder, Richard V. Clearwaters. According to witnesses, when Clearwaters organized Central Seminary in 1956, he intended the actual administration of the school to be in the hands of an executive vice-president. Though this plan was never fully realized, deans like Warren Vanhetloo and Rolland McCune exercised considerable administrative latitude.
Brent Belford has been tapped to fill the position of provost under Matt Morrell’s presidency. The choice was almost automatic. Morrell and Belford are close personal friends who served as each other’s groomsmen. Belford has occupied a position on the pastoral staff of Fourth Baptist Church for the last year, but has spent much of his time administering the work of the seminary—and administration is one of the many things that Belford does very well.
Every professor at Central Seminary has been a pastor, and Belford brings years of pastoral experience in West Virginia and Michigan. His educational background will also strengthen Central Seminary. He holds a BA and DMin from Northland Baptist Bible College and Graduate School. His MDiv is from Central Seminary’s sister institution, Faith Baptist Theological Seminary in Ankeny, Iowa. He is presently a candidate for the PhD at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia.
The pastor/president model is not much used in seminary education any more, but it was the original plan of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Richard Volley Clearwaters united the pastorate of Fourth Baptist Church and the presidency of Central Seminary, and they have only been divided twice. When Clearwaters left the pastorate of the church, he retained the presidency of the seminary for some years. Then about eleven years ago, Douglas McLachlan resigned the presidency while remaining pastor of the church. Both Ernest Pickering and Douglas McLachlan held both offices simultaneously. Kevin T. Bauder and Sam Horn have occupied the presidency of the seminary.
When the offices were divided eleven years ago, the intention was not to separate them permanently. Douglas McLachlan was nearing the end of his public ministry and he felt that he could not do justice to the pastorate and the presidency together. The offices were split, but with the thought that some future pastor of Fourth Baptist Church might have the interest and the ability to hold both offices at once.
The two living past-presidents of Central Seminary (Douglas McLachlan and Kevin T. Bauder) are both still teaching in the institution. When the search committee was formed in September, both were tasked to serve. The committee also included representatives of the board and the alumni. During the deliberations of this committee, Morrell’s name rose quickly to the top as the primary candidate for the presidency. When asked, however, Morrell was uncertain about pursuing the presidency. The committee requested that he prepare a presentation of his vision for the seminary. As the result of that presentation, two things happened. First, it became clear that God was giving Morrell a burden for the presidency and a vision for the future of Central Seminary. Second, the few hesitations that the committee held were completely dispelled. In November, the committee recommended that the board extend a call to Matt Morrell.
Although the board members already knew Morrell quite well, they subjected him to two days of intense questioning and scrutiny. In the end, the board extended the call, but with two provisos. The first was the creation of the office of provost so that a pastor/president would not have to bear the burden of day-by-day administration. The second was the approval of Fourth Baptist Church.
The church’s approval was considered essential because the seminary sees itself as the servant of the churches, and of Fourth Baptist Church in particular. The seminary relies upon the help of many Christians and churches, but it is in a unique way a ministry of Fourth Baptist Church. Of course the church birthed the seminary in the first place, but as Sam Horn is fond of pointing out, “We’re not a puppy—we’re a paw.” Ministry training ought to take place in and under and through local churches, and Central Seminary is determined to maintain this model.
The church’s decision was not made casually. Multiple public meetings were held in which every church member could learn whatever she or he wished to know about the proposal. Opportunity was given for deliberation and even disagreement. Last Sunday night, however, Fourth Baptist Church poured out its overwhelming approval.
Morrell points out that Central Seminary has had a scholar-president in Bauder and a promoter-president in Horn. He sees himself as neither of those, but as a pastor-president in the tradition of Douglas McLachlan and Ernest Pickering. His vision for the seminary includes a strong dose of personal, pastoral mentoring for its students. He is a shepherd with a shepherd’s heart. Of course he will raise funds, recruit students, and address the toughest administrative difficulties. But the pastoral dimension will be an important aspect of his labor over and for Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
Let Zion’s Watchmen All Awake
Philip Doddridge (1702–1751)
Let Zion’s watchmen all awake
And take the alarm they give;
Now let them from the mouth of God
Their awful charge receive.
’Tis not a cause of small import
The pastor’s care demands;
But what might fill an angel’s heart
And filled a Savior’s hands.
They watch for souls, for which the Lord
Did heavnly bliss forego;
For souls, which must for ever live,
In raptures, or in woe.
All to the great tribunal haste
The account to render there;
And shouldst Thou strictly mark our faults
Lord, where should we appear?
May they that Jesus, whom they preach,
Their own Redeemer see;
And watch Thou daily o’er their souls,
That they may watch for Thee.