As Chad Welch and Kevin Cox crossed the stage of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SEBTS) Binkley Chapel, they celebrated not only a personal accomplishment but a monumental milestone in the life of the seminary as the first two graduates from the Hunt Scholars Program.
Kevin Cox, left, and Chad Welch, right, are the first two graduates to come out of Southeastern Seminary’s Hunt Scholars Program, which began in 2015 as a way for those called to the pastorate to receive both their B.A. and M.Div. in as little as five years.
“This program allows hardworking students to maximize both their time and finances,” said SEBTS President Danny Akin. “But even more importantly, it provides a very intensive five-year program of sequential studies that prepares them well for the ministry. My hopes for this program have really exceeded my expectations.”
The Hunt Scholars Program began in 2015, allowing students to receive their bachelor of arts and master of divinity in pastoral ministry in as little as five years. Since its inception, the Hunt Scholars Program has exceeded its enrollment projections each year and has doubled in size in the last academic year.
“I’m elated! I pray every student sensing God’s call to pastoral ministry will look at this program at SEBTS. I could not hope for a better seminary, faculty or program,” said Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, Ga. for 32 years and senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board.
The program allows for students like Welch and Cox to learn under exemplary professors who have extensive experience in pastoral ministry in the local church.
Chad Welch remembers his call to ministry clearly after the death of his grandfather in 2013. Anxious about the eulogy he was asked to deliver at the funeral, he distinctly remembered that the moment he stood up to speak “was the most comfortable, relaxing feeling I’d ever experienced.” From that moment on, Welch resolved to follow Christ in the same way his grandfather did.
As Welch read scripture daily, he found himself inescapably experiencing God’s confirming call on his life in numerous ways.
“Every single day for four weeks I prayed with a different excuse and every single day I’d have that excuse [addressed] in scripture the next day,” Welch said.
As Welch realized that his call truly was from the Lord, he contacted his longtime friend, Matt Capps, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, N.C. Capps encouraged him to look into enrolling in the Hunt Scholars Program.
Kevin Cox heard the call to ministry as a teenager but ignored it for many years. After graduating high school and attending trade school, Cox went straight to work. It wasn’t until many years later at a men’s retreat that Cox committed to follow through with the call God had placed on his life as a boy. With that call, he knew he would need to go back to school for training. That’s when his brother-in-law told him about the Hunt Scholars Program. Cox remembers being hesitant about what job prospects would look like graduating from SEBTS at 53, but he stepped out in faith and enrolled, along with Welch, as one of the first students in the Hunt Scholars Program.
“For me, it was just that confirmation of what I ran away from in my teenage years,” said Cox, who lives in Maryland with his wife of 32 years.
One of the most valuable aspects of the Hunt Scholars Program for both Welch and Cox has been through the pastoral ministry enhancement course, which connects students and pastors through roundtable discussions. These discussions take place with the other Hunt Scholars over breakfast, allowing for them to ask questions and hear the pastor’s transparency on successes, failures and struggles he has experienced through his years of ministry. In the 2018-19 academic year, students had the chance to hear from pastors Crawford Loritts, Vance Pitman, David Platt and Bryan Chapell and many others.
Cox believed his calling is to full-time vocational ministry, which he hopes to pursue after graduation.
In addition to serving in a local church and looking for new ministry opportunities, Welch hopes to continue pushing his app, CrossTalk, into new outlets, including K-Love and the Billy Graham Chaplain’s Rapid Response Team. The app helps people grow in their faith, share the gospel and connect people to a church they can call home.
For both Cox and Welch, the Hunt Scholars Program is worth the time and effort and has shaped them relationally, academically and spiritually.
“We are thrilled that our Hunt Scholars Program has produced its first graduates,” said Scott Pace, director of the Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership and the Johnny Hunt chair of biblical preaching.
“These pastors are tangible expressions of God’s faithfulness to SEBTS and they embody the godly character, spiritual giftedness, and ministerial skills that our program is designed to cultivate and develop.”