Published October 4, 2012
MILL VALLEY, CA — The 100-acre northern California campus of Golden Gate Seminary is located in one of the most picturesque and strategic settings imaginable. It is situated atop a hummock only seven miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge and overlooks the San Francisco Bay.
Southern Baptists’ westernmost seminary also has regional campuses in Brea in the Los Angeles area; Vancouver, WA; Scottsdale, AZ; and Centennial, CO, near Denver.
In a recent interview with The Index, President Jeff Iorg elaborated, “We need five campuses because the West is a big, diverse place. If you were to drive and visit all five of our campuses, you would cover 3,569 miles. If you made a similar trip to visit the five other SBC seminaries, you would only log 3,056 miles.”
Iorg sits down at his table at the Buckeye Roadhouse, a short drive away in Sausalito, and orders the slow-smoked spicy pork barbeque sandwich with a side of chipotle potato chips and cole slaw. He eats there so frequently that the waitresses don’t have to ask him what he wants.
In just 8 years Iorg has made Golden Gate a formidable force with a mission for shaping leaders who are expanding God’s kingdom around the world.
While Golden Gate may not be the first seminary that comes to mind for many Baptists in the eastern part of the country, it is making a significant difference in the West.
Golden Gate was established in 1944 when Southern Baptists were few and far between in the western part of the United States. In fact, 68 years ago there were only 76 Southern Baptist churches in California with only 5,200 members. Those churches baptized a total of 622 people and gave $8,800 to the Cooperative Program.
Today the state, which comprises most of the western seaboard, has 2,156 churches with approximately 500,000 members. Last year those churches gave $6.59 million to the CP. In the past decade they baptized 161,883 new believers.
While that statistical growth cannot be traced exclusively to the seminary, it is certain that it has been one of the most significant reasons for the increase in Southern Baptist advancement on the West Coast.
Iorg, who was installed as the seminary’s seventh president in 2004, has had a lot to do with the seminary’s growth and the expansion of Baptist causes in the West.
A Georgia native, Iorg moved to Texas at the age of 3, where he lived until after college. He is a graduate of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, TX; Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, MO; and Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
Iorg admitted, “I grew up in a family that was devastated by alcohol. I loved sports and had coaches that provided the stability I needed in my life.”
In one of his blogs Iorg explained, “Baseball reminds me of good times growing up. My earliest memories are playing at a field behind a large bakery. Oh, the aroma of freshly baked goodies!
“Somehow, subliminally, baseball brings back the best of my childhood. Making an all-star team, traveling to out-of-town games, and even my first – and only, so far – fistfight are among those important baseball memories.”
At the age of 12, Iorg prayed to receive Christ at the West Texas Regional Fair. Since that time the trajectory of his life has been to actively live out his faith. He has served as a staff pastor in Texas and a pastor in Missouri; he is the founding pastor of Greater Gresham Baptist Church in Gresham, OR and served as the executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention prior to joining the seminary.
Iorg quickly acknowledged that his wife, Ann, is his greatest asset in ministry and stated, “She does about 40 hours of volunteer work each week for the seminary and hosts about 50 events for the seminary family in the course of a year.”
Although his duties at the seminary are extremely demanding, he still makes time for baseball in two ways. First, he umpires baseball games. He has stated, “Some people play golf, hunt, or fish. I umpire baseball. I know it seems like a weird hobby, but I really enjoy it. Why? One person said, ‘You like to umpire because all week you serve God, but on Saturday, you get to play god.’
“Actually there are other reasons I enjoy umpiring. I like being outside. I enjoy being around young men – and the occasional young lady. It’s fun to see unusual plays and even outstanding plays by young athletes. When I do a good job, it gives the players a fair chance to compete and builds their love for the game.”
Second, Iorg is also the chaplain for the San Francisco Giants. He joyfully reminisced, “I had been involved in umpiring little league baseball games for 21 years, but when I came to California I felt like I was leaving all that behind. But soon after arriving in the Bay area I got a call from a Giants executive who recommended me to Baseball Chapel, the organization that provides ministry to professional baseball. They ultimately appointed me as the chaplain.
“After years of working in the youth baseball community, God gave me a chance to be the chaplain for the Giants. To me it was proof if you are faithful over small things, God will give you greater opportunities.”
As team chaplain Iorg leads a Bible study for the team as well as regular worship services. He also ministers to the team in times of crisis.
When Buster Posey caught Tim Lincecum’s final strike in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series to hurdle the Giants over the Texas Rangers, Iorg was rejoicing with the rest of the maddening crowd in San Francisco. And he received a World Series ring right along with Posey, Lincecum, and Edgar Renteria, who broke a scoreless duel with the Rangers in that final game by hitting a three-run homer in the seventh inning.
Iorg believes that Christians need to have a ministry outside the walls of the church. His ministry to the professional baseball team in San Francisco gives him an opportunity to touch the lives of men who have a unique platform whereby they, in turn, can influence millions of others.
Iorg’s ministry to the Giants is a microcosm of his passion for Christian service and his desire to make Golden Gate the most effective seminary possible. He commented, “We want to focus on delivering theological education and leadership development in the western United States with an online educational component that will make us more of a global seminary.”
Golden Gate currently has an enrollment of more than 2,000 students, with nearly half of them in a Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD) program. This educational outreach program provides quality, Bible-based ministry training in geographically convenient and contextualized settings.
Don Beall, the CLD director for Golden Gate, exclaimed, “We currently have 66 CLD centers in 19 states in multiple languages. These centers provide classes at a post-high-school level in order to train effective Christian leaders for the churches of many people groups so that there may be a culturally relevant church for every people group in the country.
“Several of these centers offer classes in more than one language. Redwood Empire Baptist Association in the North San Francisco Bay area is a center that has multiple teaching sites and currently offers classes in three languages: English, Spanish, and Swahili.
“Southern Nevada Baptist Association in Las Vegas, NV offers classes in the city and in small towns many miles from Las Vegas. A few years ago a 75-year-old woman had her husband drive her twice a week from Laughlin to Las Vegas so she could complete her two Golden Gate diplomas.”
Leaders from the Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada (the accrediting agency) have called Golden Gate the most multicultural seminary in the nation.
Iorg remarked, “If a young man or woman is looking for a seminary education in a missions setting in a non-Christian environment Golden Gate may be the place for them to continue their education.”
Meredith Brunson, a recent graduate from Garner, NC, provided the perfect illustration for Iorg’s comments. She testified, “I felt God calling me to missions as a young teenager and pursued that calling by going to seminary. My decision to enroll at Golden Gate wasn’t a hard one to make.
“I loved the atmosphere, the personal connection with professors and ministry opportunities in the area. I knew if I was studying missions, I wanted to be in a place that desperately needed to hear about Jesus. Golden Gate isn’t a comfortable place to go to seminary. It is challenging living in a place where only three percent of the population claims to be Christian.
“It is far from home. Living expenses are higher, but it was worth it, because of the transformation God did in my life in my two years there. God has taught me how to cling to Him more than ever before. I learned just as much out of the classroom as I did in the classroom.”
Brunson continued, “My professors invested in me by inviting me into their homes or taking me to coffee. Dr. Iorg was so helpful in giving me godly counsel as I sought where God would have me go after seminary. I graduated with a degree in missiology in May.
“I am currently serving as associate director of International Baptist Ministries in Honolulu, HI. I am so glad I chose Golden Gate. It took me out of my comfort zone, challenged me, and truly equipped me for ministry. I left with deep friendships and a sense of confidence that I have been well prepared.”
Janai Powell is another student who extols the blessings and benefits of Golden Gate. She stated, “I was saved at an early age and called by God to long-term service in East Asia. My heart has been overflowing with His love for these people ever since. I feel as though my entire life has been focused on some form of training for this great passion.
“Through the influence of some professors and friends in college, God directed my thoughts towards a master’s degree and ultimately towards Golden Gate Seminary. The location of the seminary is one of the top reasons I believe God led me here. The many Asian people groups living so close to campus is an amazing outreach opportunity for me to apply directly what I am learning in seminary out into the field. I see the faculty and staff as good Christian role models and several of them have also served in Asia.
“Even many of my classmates share the same love for Asia as I do and have become a great source of encouragement to me. I have already formed wonderful bonds of friendship in this very home-like atmosphere.
“By being willing to learn and also serve here at Golden Gate, I truly have been given a golden opportunity to grow in His grace.”
Iorg concluded his remarks by saying, “We are extremely grateful for the Cooperative Program. We really depend on it. From the human perspective, there is no human explanation for what has happened here apart from the Cooperative Program. The CP has helped us to become the ninth largest seminary in the nation out of 240 accredited seminaries.”
It appears that the Giants may be headed for another World Series and from all appearances Iorg is helping GGBTS become a “World Series Champion” seminary.
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