In the years following World War II, Southern Baptists became aware that many of their pastors had only limited formal education for ministry. A denominational study committee reported in 1949 that less than one-third of Southern Baptist ministers had both college and seminary training. At that time, another third had not gone past high school. One of several recommendations from that committee called for the creation of a plan to benefit those "who cannot or, for any reason, do not attend some regular institution of learning." The presidents of Southern, Southwestern, and New Orleans seminaries responded in December 1950 by voting to establish the Seminary Extension Department.

R. Lee Gallman, an Alabama pastor, was elected the first director of the program. Seminary Extension officially began operation in the Mississippi Baptist Building on June 15, 1951. Developing seminary type courses was Gallman’s first task. Among those first courses were some on the Old and New Testaments, homiletics, and Christian doctrine. The first students were enrolled for correspondence study. Extension centers were set up within the first year, however, and by the fall of 1952 they were operating in at least six states. By the time Gallman resigned in 1960, more than 3,000 students were enrolled.

Although not a part of the Southern Baptist Seminaries themselves, Seminary Extension has received support from the Seminaries throughout its existence. In fact, more than 90 percent of its operating budget in the earliest years came from the sponsoring seminaries. Although Seminary Extension no longer receives monetary support from the seminaries, their support is present in other ways. The six Southern Baptist Convention seminary presidents constitute Seminary Extension’s governing board, and the chief academic officers from the six seminaries make up our academic council. Numerous faculty members from all of the seminaries have, and continue, to write Seminary Extension courses.

North Carolina pastor, Ralph A. Herring, became director in 1961, serving until 1968. Under his leadership the number of course offerings continued to expand, and in 1963 the offices were moved from Jackson, MS to Nashville, Tennessee, to the Southern Baptist Convention Building. Seminary Extension experienced continuous growth through the decade of the 1970s.

Raymond M. Rigdon became director in 1969. He concentrated on upgrading the quality of the courses while continuing to expand the curriculum. A major step during his administration was gaining accreditation for the correspondence program through the National Home Study Council, (now known as the Distance Education and Training Council). We have been accredited through DETC since 1972.

From 1981 to 1990, Seminary Extension was part of the Seminary External Education Division. A new Seminary Studies Department offered master’s level courses at up to seven sites around the country. Those off-campus programs were placed under the administration of individual seminaries in 1990, and the new department and division were dissolved.

Doran C. McCarty, a former faculty member at Midwestern Seminary, The Southern Baptist Seminary, and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, served as executive director of Seminary Extension from August 1, 1988 through December 31, 1996. Under his leadership, Seminary Extension expanded to about 450 centers and served over 6,000 students in the United States and abroad.

W. Edward Thiele, a professor from New Orleans Seminary, assumed the role of executive director on January 1, 1997. Under his leadership, Seminary Extension approached the new millennium, and its fiftieth anniversary, with a goal of reaching students through new methodologies, strategies, and delivery systems.

William E. Vinson, a professor at Southwestern Seminary and its Director of Undergraduate and Lay Theological Studies became the director in August 2001. He placed Seminary Extension on a sound financial footing and then used the vehicle to extend sound theological education around the world.

With the retirement of Dr. Vinson in May 2007, the Council of Seminary Presidents chose Randal A. Williams as Seminary Extension’s new director. His goal is to continue to offer the excellent theological education and ministry training that Southern Baptists have come to expect. To accomplish this goal, Seminary Extension is revising and repackaging its curriculum.

Tradition of Service 

Seminary Extension’s learning resources are rooted in a deep
reverence for the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God and the authoritative guide for human conduct. Seminary Extension’s interpretation of God’s Word is in keeping with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Its curriculum and resources grow out of the conviction that God expects Christians to search the Scriptures with open and inquiring minds in order to know and follow God’s will. Therefore, Seminary Extension designs its courses to assist Christians in the serious academic study of the Bible and its teachings in order that they may become effective in Christian ministry.