A couple of days after the announcement that the deal to sell the property and buildings of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary had been completed, I was in San Francisco. Sunday afternoon I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, California for one more look at the campus before it is no longer there.
It was not the buildings I wanted to see. They are not that outstanding. I wanted to remember the experiences and the people I encountered in that place beginning more than 30 years ago. I wanted to think about the various presidents, faculty members, and students I have known who walked the halls and pathways.
Plus, as anyone who has ever been there knows, I wanted to get one more look from that vantage point of the majestic city of San Francisco. The view truly is to die for—or some other overstatement. It was a good view of the city that day. It was a little hazy, but we can assume this was of combination of clouds, fog, and marijuana smoke. It all depends on the time of day, weather conditions, and local celebrations.
The view is not as uncluttered as it once was. But that was before the seminary sold the hillside around it several decades ago for what I recall was $10 million. Now there are multi-million dollar residences there that block part of the view.
The Golden Gateway
Selling the current location for $85 million was absolutely the right thing for the seminary to do. It was a no-brainer. Golden Gate found itself in a position where the value of its location was so great, compared to its ability to raise financial support to fulfill its mission and vision, that selling was a great choice for its future.
I celebrate with them that facilities can be provided in San Francisco and the greater Los Angeles area for $35 million, and that $50 million can be added to their endowment. With theological education and ministry preparation happening closer to the grassroots of ministry practice, and with the phenomenal growth of distance learning, sitting on ridiculously expensive real estate makes no sense.
It has truly provided a golden gateway into their economic future. May they stay clearly focused on fulfilling their mission and vision.
They are not the only denominational and parachurch organization who has used the escalating value of their real estate to leverage their future. All around are denominational offices doing this, and parachurch organizations like the American Bible Society in New York City who have wrestled with the ethical issue of can they hold on to such valuable real estate when the proceeds from the sale would exponentially fund their mission and vision fulfillment.
The Rusted Exit
At the same time we must recognize that some Christian organizations sell their facilities because they have lost their way on the highway of mission and vision fulfillment. They are no longer sure of the vision God has for them. They are struggling for vitality and vibrancy using a programmatic approach that sees their organization as the client rather than those they serve as the client. Their existence in some cases is no longer relevant to the new generations of people they claim to serve.
These Christian organizations are seeing a loss of annual income, a downsizing of staff, and diminishing of loyalty to their movement. Their facilities become like the catacombs where periodically you come across a group of committed Christians seeking to be faithful in a time that faithfulness without effectiveness and innovation is inadequate.
They invested sacrificial contributions and bequests in building or retrofitting state-of-the-art facilities large enough for them to grow into in future years not realizing that the very soul of their organization would one day require them to sell these same facilities.
Their facilities and property are sold to help them survive. They too often pour the proceeds into trying to make what was not working to now work. It is insanity in practice. They may repeat the same cycle again.
One example of this for me personally is the South Carolina Baptist Convention for whom I worked for 14 years in various capacities. It was 20 years ago when we occupied our new facility as a tool for ministry with great promise. Now it sits only about half-full with the core ministries of this regional denominational organization. I choose not to blame anyone, but to only to say the gate is getting exceedingly rusty.
Do you know any of these? Perhaps they are you.