|Dr. Elmer Towns, dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary|
The late Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr. often praised God for how Thomas Road Baptist Church grew from its initial membership of 35 in 1956, and how Liberty University, now the world’s largest Christian university, grew from 154 students its first year in 1971.
Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary began with a mere 41 students in 1975; it now hosts more than 10,000 students, fulfilling yet another vision of Falwell’s — becoming the largest seminary in the world.
The seminary graduated its largest class in May when more than 2,000 received degrees. LBTS offers 13 degree programs covering 25 different specializations both residentially and online.
Dr. Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty, first took over as dean of the seminary in 1979 and continued in that position until 1992 (when there were 322 students) before stepping down to focus on his new role as dean of the School of Religion. He resumed the seminary dean position near the end of the 2009-10 academic year and remains dean of the School of Religion.
This past spring, the seminary met the first of Towns’ three goals he set forth when he once again took on the seminary responsibilities: to exceed 10,000 students in total enrollment (residential and online).
This fall, he is seeing his second goal accomplished as the seminary moves into its own building at the former Thomas Road Baptist Church property at 701 Thomas Road.
Liberty University purchased the property from the church earlier this year for about $4 million.
The purchase not only provided a new home for the seminary but it also helped the church achieve its goal of reducing long-term debt and maintenance expenses.
“We are thrilled that seminary students will now learn how to build ministries at the place where Liberty University was given birth. It seems fitting in so many ways,” said Liberty President and Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr.
Towns’ third goal is being fulfilled this semester as the seminary returns to placing a greater emphasis on ministry.
“You can’t build a great seminary on scholarship, but you can’t build a great seminary without scholarship,” Towns said. “You build a great seminary on ministry, putting ministry first, serving the Lord Jesus Christ through the Great Commission.”
According to Towns, one of the things that makes LBTS so unique is the high level of diversity within the student body. Of the graduates, more than 400 were women and over 450 were African-Americans. The student body represented over 40 different nations and 50 different denominations.
There are 11,288 students registered in seminary classes for the 2012-13 academic year.
Those numbers are welcome and a blessing, according to Towns, but it is what each individual accomplishes for the Lord as they utilize their training that truly matters.
“The greatness of a seminary is not in its buildings, classrooms, or even its libraries; the greatness of a seminary is not even measured by the faculty or the board of trustees. The greatness of a seminary is measured by the graduates who go out into all the world fulfilling the Great Commission and building strong churches to evangelize, teach, and worship the Lord.”