A. Neal Scoggins
Relationships 101 suggests that in order to build a healthy relationship, you must engage another person at a place of common ground and build a bridge from there. As African American churches and their pastors began to express an interest in being a part of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, they found one thing in common - their appreciation for theological education. This was the common ground. However, while there was an appreciation in the Delta, there was also a lack of access to this level of education. This gave birth to what is now called the Delta Institute.
The Delta Institute started as a series of classes that were focused on areas where pastors and leaders in the Delta wanted to grow and mature. This initial random class selection has matured into a partnership between the ABSC and the Seminary Extension arm of the Southern Baptist Church.
The partnership with Seminary Extension allows the ABSC to offer Seminary level courses in a contextualized format, at a low cost. To further prove its commitment to the Delta and the Delta Institute, the Arkansas Baptist Foundation has made scholarships available to pastors and lay leaders who enroll in these classes and share the financial burden. This guarantees that class costs remain reasonable.
While these classes originally started in West Helena, sites have expanded to other cities in the Delta like Forrest City, Fordyce, and Marion with more sites planned in the future. Little Rock also has a site. Although it is not in the Delta geographically, the contextualized format of Seminary Extension is very attractive to smaller membership churches, African-American churches, and churches interested in partnering with the ABSC.
Seminary Extension has been a great tool in breaking down the divide of socio-economic status, race, church size, and geography. Who knew that books made great bridges!
For more information about the Delta Institute, contact A. Neal Scoggins on the Evangelism and Church Health Team at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention; 501.376.4791 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.