DALLAS?In a nearly unanimous vote, members of First Baptist Church of Dallas voted on July 8 to end their 40-year ownership of Criswell College, paving the way for the school’s independence.
The vote followed the unanimous recommendation of the church’s deacons on June 16 and months of negotiations between leaders of the church and Criswell College, a four-year school with its own radio station, KCBI-FM in Dallas, KCRN (AM & FM) in San Angelo, Texas and KSYE-FM in southern Oklahoma.
Church members voted with raised hands after hearing from several leading figures among the church’s deacon body and the school’s trustee board, including pastor and current Criswell chancellor Robert Jeffress, who in quoting the school’s trustee chairman called the separation agreement a “win-win-win situation”?a win for the church and the school “but most importantly, it’s a win for the kingdom of God. That’s what we all want here.”
The fate of the radio station had been a “distraction” since talk of a proposed sale by the school became public several years ago, and “It’s time for all of that to come to an end,” Jeffress said, explaining that the station would be jointly owned by the church and school as the two members of a newly formed non-profit corporation.
After asking church members to “vote responsibly,” Jeffress said the separation would allow the school to get back to its primary task of “training men and women with a biblical worldview and training preachers,” and giving it an advantage in fundraising, while offering the church a “valuable and much-needed solution” to the burden of tending to the school.
Jeffress told church members the school’s governance had also become a distraction for the last three pastors, whose duties included serving as college chancellor alongside the school president.
Criswell trustee chairman Michael Deahl, a First Baptist deacon, said the separation would give the school its “best chance to reach the next level,” would enhance fundraising, would make it easier for the school to comply with its accrediting agency’s governance requirements, and it would relieve the school of operating the radio station.
Asked by a church member how the school planned to avoid drifting away like Harvard from its biblical roots, Deahl said trustees would be diligent in seeing that the articles of faith remain a requirement for trustees and faculty while receiving accountability from affiliation with the churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Deahl praised the deacon leaders and trustees who negotiated the agreement after what had been at times a tense relationship.
“I believe God has intervened in this process,” allowing it to be settled “in an amicable way” that will “honor the cause and name of Jesus Christ,” Deahl said.
The separation agreement creates a new, non-profit corporation with a 50-50 ownership split of radio station KCBI, which will be operated and managed by First Baptist. Criswell College will be a non-voting member of the corporation.
In turn, the agreement states the corporation will make a fixed annual contribution payment to the college. The college will retain all of its other assets. The ministry potential for KCBI is “unlimited” and would be enhanced by the church’s media ministry, Jeffress said.
The agreement also includes options for the church and school to buy out the other’s interest in the station after a set period of years.
The school’s new governance would take effect on Jan. 1.
The changes require approval from the Federal Communications Commission and the school’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Criswell College Interim President Lamar Cooper said last month after the trustees endorsed the plan: “I also am pleased that we have been able to accomplish this amicably, a