The Peril of Institutional Drift


Dear Friend of BCS,

Everyone knows about institutional drift these days. We have all
seen too many examples of Christian organizations and ministries that have compromised their beliefs and practices in order to accommodate cultural changes and trends. Sometimes it is done intentionally and willfully; at other times it is either unintentional
or done grudgingly. Either way, the changes occur, and they are usually long-lasting and very difficult to reverse once enacted.

I’m convinced that no ministry organization ever starts out with the idea that it will drift over time. The beginning phase of any ministry is one filled with passionate vision for accomplishing a call that the Lord has laid on the hearts of an individual or group for a specific goal. There is little chance in those formative years that mission drift will occur. That usually comes years later and likely after changes in leadership. The founders of a ministry rarely lose track of the original vision. However it happens, it’s rare for a ministry organization to hold fast to its founding principles and beliefs over several generations.

From the very conception of Bethlehem College & Seminary, we have been cognizant of this reality of institutional drift. From the beginning we have sought the Lord’s wisdom on how to build into our structure, and policies, and practices– elements which will help us stay the course, keep on mission, and fulfill our original vision. It won’t be easy nor is there a surefire way of preventing institutional drift. But we do believe we can make it more challenging for those who would like to change the beliefs and mission of this school.

Two of our key strategies for helping prevent potential drift have to do with elders. First, we are a ministry that has been founded out of Bethlehem Baptist Church by the authority of the Council of Elders. Even though we are a separate legal entity (501c3), we have structured the school so that it is under the ultimate authority of the church’s elder council. The elders have the authority to both appoint and remove members from the Bethlehem College & Seminary Board of Trustees. Our prayer, then, is that the church’s elder council will serve as an accountability partner in keeping watch over the long term trajectory of the school. It will help us fight the likely future struggle against drift.

Another key strategy is in the makeup of our own board of trustees. While most colleges and seminaries populate their boards with alumni, church leaders, and businessmen and women, we have mandated that all of our trustees must be elder qualified. That is, even if they aren’t presently or never have been an elder in a church, they must meet the biblical qualifications for elders as outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. Regardless of their vocation, our trustees must meet this qualification. What this does is ensure that our trustees are men of the Word whose theological and doctrinal thinking permeates every aspect of life and work and ministry.

Will these measures, in combination with other strategies we’ve put into place, prevent Bethlehem College & Seminary from future institutional drift? I can’t promise that because only the Lord knows that future. I can, however, promise that we will work diligently to both fulfill our God-given mission and to preserve it for future generations as well.

May the Lord help us stay faithful to his calling until Jesus returns in glory.

Ever grateful for your prayers and partnership,

Tim Tomlinson
President, Bethlehem College & Seminary

Prayer Requests

  1. Please pray for our faculty and staff as we participate in the Desiring God National Conference this weekend. This is important exposure for us regarding prospective students as well as potential financial partners. Pray that the Lord would direct us during these days.
  2. Please pray for our Fall Preview Day this Thursday, September 25th. This is our single most important event for attracting students to our school. We have 60+ people attending this
    event—our largest attendance yet. Pray that the Lord would help us help them as they consider their college and seminary choice in the coming months.
  3. Please continue to pray for our preparations for the accreditation visit. As you may remember, we are hosting a formal evaluation team from the Association for Biblical Higher Education from October 8-10. Their visit will determine whether or not we will receive accreditation status.
  4. We ask for your continued prayers for our finances. Please don’t grow weary of such prayers. The Lord intends for us to pray for such things faithfully and diligently as it is the means by which he accomplishes many of his grand purposes.