Oklahoma Baptists are the most ethnically diverse denomination in Oklahoma. This diversity is a beautiful thing to behold. Excellent leaders continue to emerge from these groups and take their places of leadership in the convention.

Nearly 20 years ago, I asked Mark McClellan, who was on staff with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) at the time, to help develop a robust training program for pastors among our ethnic brothers. McClellan had served as an International Mission Board missionary in Guatemala, and he was one of the best and most effective trainers of pastoral leaders I had ever seen on the mission field.

For years, the BGCO had provided training for ethnic leaders, but the convention’s vision was to accelerate and broaden our approach. In this context, the Robert Haskins School of Leadership (RHSL) was born. Haskins had served as the director of the former BGCO Cooperative Missions Department and as BGCO associate executive director. Haskins helped McClellan and me shape the plan for training. From the beginning, the approach was to give practical training that would allow ethnic pastors who could not attend college and seminary to be effectively trained for ministry. The school was launched, and with the retirement of Haskins, I asked the BGCO Board of Directors to name the training school in his honor.

The approach to this training has varied under those directors who followed McClellan. Each director brought excellent ideas and training concepts to help develop strong ethnic leaders. The training found its greatest strength among Hispanics. The convention has trained many leaders across the years who today serve in BGCO churches. For several years, the RHSL has partnered with Golden Gate Seminary in a non-accredited diploma program. Marta Elisa Caceres has given wonderful leadership to this training.

While the diploma program provided good training, it lacked the practical aspects desired from the beginning, and was not as broad ethnically as the convention had hoped. Recently, two additions to the BGCO staff provided the opportunity to develop a uniquely Oklahoma school that would expand its reach and broaden diversity. McClellan returned to the BGCO staff after having served as the director of the Phoenix campus of Golden Gate Seminary, professor of missions and theology at Boyce College, and dean of the Hobbs College at Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU). In addition, Emerson Falls, one of the most respected Native American leaders, pastor, and former director of the Denver campus of Golden Gate, was already serving on the BGCO staff. These men bring a wealth of background in training unique to Oklahoma.

This month, the BGCO leadership will present a plan to the BGCO Board of Directors to create the Robert Haskins School of Christian Ministry (RHSCM) replacing the School of Leadership. McClellan will serve as the dean. The RHSCM will be a non-accredited diploma program and certificate-granting extension of the BGCO. The school will have specific training tracks for African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Asian ethnic groups. A track will also be available for Anglos who desire practical training, but do not desire to work toward an accredited degree. The program will be taught online by teachers who will teach general subjects like preaching, pastoral ministry, and theological training and apply them within the distinctive context of each ethnic group.

One of the significant changes will be the individualized approach to each student. There are ethnic leaders who hold high school diplomas and desire to work toward college and seminary credit. Each student will be counseled and assisted in finding the right program to fit each individual’s needs, as well as helping students seek a degree through OBU and a Southern Baptist seminary. Other students who are not academically prepared or just desire practical training will prefer to work toward a diploma or certification through the Haskins School. This is a “win-win” for everyone, no matter what the academic background.

I am so thankful for all the RHSL leaders of the past. Each provided excellent supervision in training. I am very pleased that we will now return to our original vision, and I am also pleased that the future is bright for practical pastoral training for leadership in our local churches within the ethnic and Oklahoma context.