A Journey with Danny Akin • Bible Recorder

Below, [SEBTS] President Danny Akins recounts his journey to growing faithfulness to the Great Commission and explains why he believes theological education is best done from the perspective of the Great Commission.

God called me into ministry on a mission trip, so there has always been a strong connection between missions and God’s call on my life.

Although I was saved at 10, I didn’t walk with him in surrender and obedience until I was 19. When I was 20, my church went on a mission trip to a Native American reservation in Sells, Arizona to share the gospel with the Tohono Oʼodham people. We were there for a week and did a vacation Bible school at First Baptist Church in Sells. We also traveled that week to organize backyard Bible clubs in a village a hundred miles away where there was no running water or electricity.

It was Monday night of that week, at an old fashion revival service, that God called me to the ministry. Since then, my own call to ministry has always been tied to bringing the gospel to the underserved and unreached.

Developing a Great Commission Vision

When I arrived in the Southeast in 2004, a series of divine bounties galvanized my resolve to see the Southeast become the major seminary of the Commission that it is today.

The first of those niceties came in 2006 during my second year as president of Southeastern. There was a couple here named Richard and Gina Headrick. Every year they went abroad to visit our 2+2 mission students. That year, Gina and Richard took Charlotte and me to six countries in 14 days. We have been to Tibet, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Nepal. As I traveled from country to country, the massive loss of the world gripped my heart. All of these countries are 2% or less evangelical and are dominated by the idolatry of Hinduism and the teachings of Buddhism. It was really overwhelming. The pervasive perdition of these countries was heartbreaking.

“As I traveled from country to country, the massive loss of the world gripped my heart.”

In God’s providence, the second such kindness was when he called two of my four sons to move overseas for a while. When Timothy, my youngest, was here in college, Zane Pratt, who was a missionary in Turkey, came to the chapel and shared that he had a post for a single man or a young couple. He needed a soccer coach to help him with his American style soccer team and with outreach in Istanbul. Tim came home one day and said, “Anna and I are going on a mission. So, Timothy went to Istanbul for more than two years.

Shortly after, Paul, my second youngest son, responded to a call to mission that had been growing in his heart for several years. He came to SEBTS with his wife Kari and entered our MDiv program in international missions. They ended up moving to Nairobi to work with Somali refugees. Timothy and Paul both reminded me later that I often told them when they were little, “As long as you serve Jesus, I don’t care what you do when you get older. So they both moved overseas to serve Jesus, and I couldn’t have been happier.

When your children and grandchildren move, you’ll often go places you probably wouldn’t otherwise. So we went to Istanbul several times, and we went to Nairobi before Paul and his family had to leave and were transferred to Jordan to work with Palestinian refugees. During these travels, I continued to witness the staggering loss of the world and to sense the need for an increased presence and witness of the gospel among the unreached. I realized that this is what our seminary should devote its heart to. Did this mean that every student at Southeastern should be a career missionary? No. However, I knew that each of our students should care deeply about our missionaries and the stunning loss of the world. All of our students must be Great Commission Christians.

The third bounty of the Lord—the Great Commission in Scripture—had always been before me, though during this season it gripped my heart with new sweetness and strengthened my resolve to uphold the Great Commission of King Jesus. If you accept Mark’s longer ending, the Great Commission is found in all four gospels and the book of Acts. It’s in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20 and Acts 1. If God says something once, it should be enough for us, and if He says it five times, we have to be very careful!

I realized that if the Great Commission matters to God, then it should matter to us too. So, I decided that we were going to be a Great Commission seminary, and by the goodness of God, the entire administration and faculty immediately locked themselves into this mission.

“I realized that if the Great Commission matters to God, then it should matter to us as well.”

When we attended our next leadership team retreat, we spent time refining Southeastern’s mission statement. After a day and a half, we agreed on something we thought people might remember – a mission statement that made it clear who we are: “Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission.” We realized that this is who we are, and it became our vision and our mission for the future.

The Importance of a Great Commission Vision

Over the past 45 years of ministry, I have learned that if you are a leader of the Great Commission, those who follow you and those you serve will be shaped by your heart. If you are a Great Commission pastor, your heart for missions will overflow to your people. I have also noticed that Great Commission churches are healthier than churches that do not prioritize the Great Commission in everything they do. If the Great Commission is the drumbeat in your church, you will almost certainly have a healthy church. You will have a church that gives, a church that serves, and a church that walks because they will orient their lives according to the Great Commission.

I believe Matthew 28:19-20 is Jesus’ final marching order not only for his 11 disciples but also for the Church – for us. Last words are lasting words. In each of the four gospels and acts, Jesus told us what was on his heart, so his great commission should also be on our hearts. We don’t have to wonder what we should give our life to because King Jesus has already commissioned us. If we are to take His Great Commission seriously, it cannot just be a secondary task for us. The Great Commission should permeate and guide everything we do. For the Southeast, this includes theological education.

“We don’t have to wonder what we should give our lives to because King Jesus has already commissioned us.”

Strikingly, the task of theological education is embedded in the very language of the Great Commission. What we primarily do at Southeastern is make disciples, teaching them to observe all that the Lord has commanded. It means teaching his word and helping our students think biblically and develop a Christian worldview. I believe that our students are better equipped to serve the Church and mobilize churches to fulfill the Great Commission because they think like Great Commission Christians in everything they do.

So how will you intentionally develop a vision of the Great Commission for your life? Are you ready to let the Great Commission guide everything you do? At the Southeast, we are training men and women to do just that – to surrender their lives to God’s mission in the world and to prepare for that mission with biblical, theological, and ministerial education. It would be our joy to partner with you and equip you to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission wherever God calls you.

To learn more about the Heartbeat of the Southeast Great Commission, visit our seminar website.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chad Burchett is a staff writer for the SEBTS Communications Office.)

Barry F. Howard