After a financial crisis at Mid-Continent University reached a breaking point last week, climaxing in immediate faculty layoffs and imminent closure, area ministers are lamenting the significant loss of their beloved school, but are still hopeful students — thanks to committed faculty volunteers — will be able to complete degrees.
Though not officially connected to the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the university has deep roots in western Kentucky Baptist soil. Birthed by a movement that sprang from First Baptist Church of Clinton in 1949 and quickly received endorsement of Western Kentucky Association churches, the Baptist Bible Institute settled in Mayfield in 1957, before changing its name to Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College in 1965 and later assuming university status in 2004.
Rick Reeder, director of missions for Caldwell-Lyon Association, graduated from Mid-Continent in 1981. “Many of the men who attended about the time I did have gone on to serve the Lord for nearly three decades,” he said. “At one time we were told, back in those days, that about 75 percent of the Baptist churches in the area were pastored by graduates or former students.
“Since then, there have been many more ministers who have come from the school and are faithfully serving around the world—missionaries, pastors, DOMs and others in just about every area of ministry you can think of,” he continued. “Many students in the years of the Adult Advantage program are new believers, stronger believers, in their respective career calling.”
Reeder’s own commitment to the school goes well beyond his educational experiences there. His son, Kim, is a graduate and now serves as a pastor in Arkansas. His other two sons also attended—Kyle, pastor of evangelism and missions at Trace Creek Church in Mayfield, and Joel, an Army veteran who works at Fort Campbell. “So you can see why I love the school!” he exclaimed.
Ronnie Stinson Jr., pastor of Trace Creek, also has felt the impact of the school’s closing, both as a graduate and trustee. Five on its staff are former students. His wife and father are graduates, and a cousin is enrolled.
Mid-Continent has faithfully served Baptists in the region for 65 years, Stinson said, pointing out that many churches in western Kentucky and western Tennessee are led by men who attended there. “In addition, many individuals and churches have faithfully supported the school through those years,” he said. His church has included MCU in its budget for years. “When the financial issues became evident, some churches sent additional monies to the school. Some did this by taking up an offering,” he added. For the immediate future, help is needed to fund feeding students until classes are over.
Charles Frazier, pastor of Zion’s Cause Church in Benton, recalled feeling that “the place is where God wanted me to be” when he walked onto campus in 1993. “I am pained and saddened that this voice of theological education will be silenced, and those currently called to ministry will not have the same opportunity as I had,” he said, adding that the theological education he received prepared him well for ministry and his further studies at Southern Seminary.
Former KBC President Dan Summerlin, pastor of Lone Oak Church in Paducah, said he, too, was saddened by what has transpired. “We have faculty and students who are members at our church and it hurts all of us to see their pain,” he said. “The closing not only will affect our local economy, but also will have an impact for the Kingdom of God, because many men and women going into the ministry attended there. Also, the evangelistic thrust to all the students and their families to hear the gospel is lost.”
Stephen Williams, dean of MCU’s Bible college, also highlighted the “extraordinary impact” that the university has made on western Kentucky. “It has a faculty who, year after year, have driven up to five hours one way to make education available in many small communities across the state,” he noted. “While doing this we have focused on four core courses in Bible and Christianity and seen many adult students return to church or come to know Christ.”
And, Director of Community Relations Bill Bartleman stated, “All of us at Mid-Continent are saddened by the events that led to the closing. We were part of a unique mission to win the lost to Christ and renew the faith of believers. I am comforted by knowing that God is in control and that all of this is part of His plan. Someday we will understand the blessing behind the heartache.”
As fellow Kentucky Baptists, we should covenant to be in prayer for Mid-Continent’s faculty, staff, students and trustees as they seek God’s direction in the days ahead.