Central Baptist Theological Seminary has announced a “workforce reduction” in faculty and staff on its campus in Kansas City, Kan., citing longstanding financial concerns and a new teaching philosophy that emphasizes distance learning through remote campus sites across the United States.

A Thursday press release reported that the seminary’s board of directors in a meeting May 10-11 decided to “realign” resources to match a future vision of making theological education more accessible to second-career or bi-vocational ministers who cannot pack up and move to a campus several hundred miles away.

The press release did not say how many faculty or staff positions would be affected, but sources told EthicsDaily.com that four of the seminary’s 10 full-time faculty jobs will be eliminated. Decisions about which positions will be cut are expected by the end of the month.

“Workforce reduction has been a difficult path for us, but we believe it is necessary to align the school’s resources with its emerging vision,” Central President Molly Marshall said in a statement. “We are making every effort to treat our colleagues with compassion and respect as their positions are discontinued.”

Beginning this fall, Central Seminary will enter into partnerships with churches in Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Tennessee to offer theological education to students unable to attend classes in Kansas City.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Tennessee last week announced the first master-of-divinity classes to be offered this fall at First Baptist Church of Murfreesboro, Tenn. Two courses, taught by an adjunct Old Testament professor and First Baptist pastor Mike Smith, will be taught 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for three weekends.

Over the course of several years, all courses needed to complete a 75-hour master of divinity degree will be offered in Murfreesboro. But the “teaching church” strategy, developed over the past two years, also will reach out to lay people studying for personal enrichment rather than a professional degree.

Class members will communicate online with professors between class meetings. An online course in theological ethics is also planned during the fall semester.

“As we move forward into multi-site education, it is imperative that Central fully recognize its financial challenges and then realigns its human and physical resources to match the future vision,” said John Tyler, a former national moderator of CBF and chairman of the seminary’s business affairs division.

Marshall said individuals losing jobs will receive severance packages, including counseling and outplacement assistance.

Central Seminary enrolls about 100 students. Nearly half are women, and 47 percent are minorities or internationals.

Opening in 1902 with four faculty members and six students, the seminary for 50 years served both Southern and Northern Baptists in the Midwest. After several attempts to “take it over” as a Southern Baptist school—the term used in board minutes—the Southern Baptist Convention withdrew support in 1956 and two years later started its own seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary nearby in Kansas City, Mo.

Central Seminary is one of 10 theological schools related to American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. While it has always included students from a variety of denominations, it officially broadened its constituency base in 1995 by revising its mission statement to include “full support of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.”

The move was hailed as a return to the seminary’s roots as an “inclusive Baptist institution” and opened a new revenue stream for the often-struggling school.

The Atlanta-based CBF currently provides Central with about $163,000 a year in institutional funding–2.7 percent of the seminary budget–and another $25,000 in scholarships.

The CBF currently funds 14 theological schools. Citing “present financial constraints and a core commitment to preparing ministerial leaders for CBF partnering congregations,” a special Partnership Study Committee is recommending that the number of schools receiving institutional support from CBF be pared down to “up to six.”

An earlier draft set the number of “Identity Partner” schools at “three to five,” but was revised after an open-feedback period lasting until April 15.

Marshall, the seminary’s first woman president, was recently installed in a ceremony.

A professor of theology and spiritual formation who has taught at Central Seminary nine years, she was elected unanimously in November, succeeding former President Tom Clifton, who retired.

Thursday’s press release said the board in its recent meeting “enthusiastically endorsed” both Marshall’s leadership and her commitment to “making Central a multi-site seminary partnering with congregations in providing a progressive Baptist witness with ecumenical openness.”

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