Hemphill resigns at Southwester
April 11 2003 by Mark Wingfield , Texas Baptist Standard

Hemphill resigns at Southwestern | Friday, April 11, 2003

Friday, April 11, 2003

Hemphill resigns at Southwestern

By Mark Wingfield Texas Baptist Standard

FORT WORTH, Texas - Ken Hemphill announced his resignation as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on April 8.

Hemphill, 54, told a packed chapel audience of students, faculty, staff and trustees that he will take "early retirement" from the seminary to become national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative.

He becomes the first president in the seminary's 95-year history to voluntarily leave the post for another position. His six predecessors either died in office, retired or were fired.

Hemphill will complete the current academic term before moving to Nashville, Tenn., where he will be jointly employed by the SBC Executive Committee and LifeWay Christian Resources. Empowering Kingdom Growth is a new national initiative to promote church health and growth and mission. It has no specific goals but has been touted as an inspiration emphasis.

Hemphill came to Southwestern in 1994 from a position similar to the one he soon will assume. From 1992 to 1994, he directed the Southern Baptist Center for Church Growth, a strategy role funded jointly by the SBC's Home Mission Board and what is now LifeWay.

Prior to that, Hemphill built a reputation as an effective pastor at First Baptist Church of Norfolk, Va., where membership grew from 800 to 6,000 in 11 years.

Southwestern trustees turned to Hemphill for leadership after firing President Russell Dilday. Fundamentalist trustees criticized Dilday for not getting on board with the conservative political and theological changes occurring within the SBC at the time.

Hemphill has enjoyed more favorable relations with SBC leadership during his tenure, but some trustees privately have expressed frustration that he has not moved fast enough or far enough to make sweeping changes at the Fort Worth seminary, the SBC's largest.

At the April 8 meeting, trustees gave no outward appearance of dissatisfaction with Hemphill. Those who spoke about his departure declared the change to be "God's will" and a positive transition.

Asked if Hemphill felt any pressure to leave, trustee Chairman Michael Dean responded by quoting Hemphill's own words: "Circumstances inform our decisions, but only the word of God and will of God determine our decisions."

Dean is pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, where Hemphill is a member.

Ted Stone, a Durham resident who serves as a Southwestern trustee, said Hemphill successfully brought healing to the school.

"He echoed the will of God in his vision for Southwestern," Stone said in a telephone interview.

Stone said Hemphill showed compassion and concern in his words and actions.

"I think that it is important during this transition time that we honor his legacy but doing all possible to strengthen the trust and respect among and between the faculty, staff, students, trustees and all who love the seminary," Stone said. "It is my prayer that his forward-looking vision will prevail at Southwestern and we will move forward to even greater heights in ministry."

In the chapel service where Hemphill announced his plans, Dean urged students, faculty and staff not to despair over Hemphill's departure but to understand it as God's will.

"Nothing important has changed," Dean said, emphasizing the certainty of God's reign.

Although this may be a "time of disappointment, discouragement, grief," Dean said, such "can be times when we see the Lord."

The bottom line, he declared, is that "God is still on his throne."

Hemphill tearfully read from a prepared text, emphasizing his love for the seminary and its people.

"I will always be grateful for the opportunity the Lord has given me to serve the greatest seminary on the face of the Earth," he said.

He recalled the first time he heard former President Robert Naylor's first-of-year ritual of pronouncing new students "Southwesterners." And he recalled Naylor's admonition never to do anything to "defame the name."

In an apparent appeal to students not to protest his departure, Hemphill said: "Remember that your actions on this day reflect on (God) and his kingdom."

Hemphill reported that he and his wife, Paula, feel a strong call from God to move to the new role, even though the decision is painful. Making this change, he added, is "in the best interest of the seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention."

"Southwestern's future is bright," he declared, as are the possibilities of his work with Empowering Kingdom Growth.

The chapel audience gave Hemphill three standing ovations, including one for Mrs. Hemphill when her name first was mentioned. The final ovation at the conclusion of Hemphill's statement lasted several minutes.

After Hemphill's announcement, Dean appointed a presidential search committee to be chaired by Denny Autrey, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. The committee of nine men includes one Hispanic and no black members.

Dean said the search committee will be given no time frame to complete its work. "We're setting the beginning point, not the end point," he said, urging the committee to take "however long it takes to find God's man."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - BR Managing Editor Steve DeVane contributed to this story.)

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4/11/2003 12:00:00 AM by Mark Wingfield , Texas Baptist Standard | with 0 comments
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