During his report to messengers during the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Nashville, Jeff Iorg highlighted Gateway Seminary’s racial diversity and the seminary celebrating its 10,000th graduate.
“We reached a significant milestone just a few weeks ago,” said Iorg, Gateway Seminary president. Iorg announced that student is Yoon Sagong, a Korean pastoral intern and church planter.
Sagong represents thousands of students from the nations of the world who are attending Gateway, based in Ontario, California, Iorg said.
“Some of you may be surprised by that because you still may think of Gateway as your small seminary out west,” Iorg said. “Well, we’re now a leader-producing powerhouse that’s making a global impact. And we thank you Southern Baptists for standing with us, giving through the Cooperative Program and praying for us, and most of all, for sending us your students.”
Gateway, Iorg noted, has been referred to as “the most multi-cultural and multi-racial seminary in North America.”
“What does that mean?” he asked. “It means we are a diverse community that demonstrates the unifying power of the gospel every day. Gateway has current employees who are African American, Mexican, Romanian, Chinese, Korean, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Australian, Zambian, Taiwanese and Anglo.”
And this past semester, Iorg noted, the seminary taught master-level classes in English, Korean and Mandarin.
‘The nations are in our classrooms’
“The nations of the world are sitting in our classrooms and our learning centers every week,” he said. “And this is not new for us. Our Anglo student population has been less than 50% of our student body for more than 25 years. And because of this diversity, Gateway has been addressing racial issues and the global problem of racism for decades.”
Regarding racism, Iorg shared he recently wrote a report to Gateway’s trustees that highlighted how Gateway offers adequate tools throughout their curriculum — biblical, theological and missiological tools — to address the global problem of racism.
“After hearing that statement,” Iorg noted, “a minority trustee affirmed the accuracy of my observations and asked if the seminary could produce a document describing how the faculty accomplishes this throughout the curriculum, rather than through one class or department.”
Gateway’s faculty responded to the request, Iorg said, with pages of examples of how they address racism and racial issues throughout their curriculum — “from biblical studies to theology to church history to counseling to spiritual formation and early childhood development and every discipline in between.”
“These are not aspirational goals at Gateway,” he said, “but are a core of what our faculty has been doing the past 20 years.” Iorg shared, “For me, this commitment to addressing racism has been very personal.” He shared that he recently became the first Anglo elder at Mount Zion Baptist Church, a 199-year-old African American congregation.
“Ann teaches Sunday school, I preach a few times a year, and it’s been a lifechanging experience to build leadership credibility in a church where we are learning new ways as white minority members within a majority black congregation,” he said. “My relationships with the leaders at Mount Zion have become a profound source of spiritual strength for me.”
“Southern Baptists, Gateway Seminary is a daily demonstration of the power of the gospel to unify people from a wide variety of cultural and racial perspectives,” he told messengers. “We invite you to visit us next year [for the SBC annual meeting] when you come to Anaheim and see this remarkable thing that God has done in creating Gateway Seminary — your seminary in the west.”
That afternoon, at the seminary’s alumni luncheon Mandie Stallings described continually encountering hurting people who were struggling with abuse, death and other emotional pain. Feeling ill-equipped to counsel them, Stallings felt called to seek out her masters in Christian counseling at Gateway Seminary.
The former IMB Journeyman missionary kicked off the seminary’s luncheon Wednesday with a student testimony. The luncheon was held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Nashville.
“I finished my term overseas and I felt the Lord really close that door for me and leading me to follow him in a different way,” said Stallings, who also is an enrollment specialist at the seminary. Stallings had been resistant to becoming a “seminary student,” but God changed her heart when she took a staff position at Gateway.
“As soon as I started that application for the job, the Lord just completely changed my heart again to say this is the plan I have for you,” she said, “to finally get that education in counseling that you so often feel ill-equipped in.”
“Taking that leap of faith to move to California, it brought me such growth in my life,” said Stallings, noting she plans to start her counseling internship this year.
Due to a tightened schedule for seminary presidents in the day’s main SBC session, Iorg shared more highlights during the luncheon. In addition to the celebration of their 10,000 graduate Yoon Sagong, which Iorg reported on, he also shared about the seminary’s 10.85% increase in enrollment during the pandemic. He noted a 6.75% increase in credit hours enrolled.
Iorg credited the increases to improvements with educational technology centers, faculty training and the success of online programs and converting from a standard curriculum to an all-video access curriculum.
Gateway’s online program increased by more than 16% during the pandemic and is a key part to the overarching increases, Iorg said. He also pointed to recent efforts to grow their D.Min. program from 225 to 300 candidates.
“The surge is happening,” said Iorg, who said Gateway is now offering their D.Min. program by video access in places like Singapore and Taiwan and also offering master level courses in Hong Kong.
Iorg shared about the loss of beloved professor Lisa Hoff who died suddenly last year from complications to knee surgery. Hoff served as the director of the Kim school of Global Missions and as associate professor of intercultural studies.
“It left a hole in our hearts,” Iorg said. “I’ve been at the seminary 17 years and this is the first time that I’ve ever walked through the building doing pastoral ministry with people just sitting at their desks sobbing. It was a very emotional time for us.”
In response to Hoff’s death, the seminary decided to purchase her home, car and other items to “memorialize her as a permanent part of the seminary” by creating a second missionary-in-residence called the Lisa Hoff House.
“This is ultimately going to be a $400,000 investment by the seminary and many have given to this because of their love for Lisa,” he noted. “But this is one of those times when I told the board this is money if we spend it we’ll never miss it. If we don’t spend it, God will see to it we never get it in the first place. There’s just sometimes you do what’s right and that’s what we’re doing.”
Iorg also shared about the seminary recently going through a challenging ATS reaccreditation process.
“Not only was it complicated by COVID-19, but ATS in 2020 adopted an entirely new set of accreditation standards,” he said. “The problem was we were handed the new standards in the midst of COVID-19 while we were in the middle of our three-year reaccreditation study.”
In response, the seminary’s faculty decided to “reboot” and write their report to the new standards. “We were given the option of staying with the old but we went with the new,” he said. “We were one of the first seminaries in the first group to actually write a report about the new standards and under the direction of those new guidelines.”
The seminary went through the full process, submitting their report, and the visit from the visitation committee. And the results: “The visitation committee is recommending full 10-year reaccreditation with no reservations or no notations for Gateway Seminary, and that my friends, is the Gold Standard,” Iorg said.
Distinguished alumni awards
During the luncheon event, Gateway also presented distinguished alumni awards to three recipients:
- Gary Floyd was honored for his 26 years of coordinating disaster relief work with the Northwest Baptist Convention. In 2019 when he retired, Floyd also received the Laddie Adams Service Award for a lifetime of service in disaster relief.
- Charles Grant was honored for his years of church service and work with Lifeway Christian Resources. This year he was named executive director for African American relationships, ministry, and mobilization for the SBC’s Executive Committee.
- Mitch Martin was honored for his years of ministry which included leading the Northwest Baptist Convention among other ministry leadership opportunities with the Utah Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, Lifeway, the Midsouth Baptist Association in Memphis and as founder and leader of the Century Associations Network.
During the luncheon, Iorg also shared various updates on recently announced staff retirements, new hires and the finalized sale of the Brea campus, which caps off the seminary’s relocation to a new campus in Ontario, Calif. in 2016.
“These are good times to be at Gateway Seminary,” Iorg said. “They are good because God has blessed us financially. They are good because God has blessed us with enrollment. They are good because while we always have challenges at our school, we enjoy relative harmony in our work.”