Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary since 2004, will retire by early summer 2020.
Marshall informed the board of trustees of her intentions at its meeting May 16.
Her tenure at the Shawnee, Kansas, school “has summoned every gift in my repertoire and required that I develop some new ones,” she said in a letter submitted to the board. “We have moved from near death to a vibrant mission that is the envy of many schools.”
Central was in a financial crisis when she was elected president in November 2004.
Marshall is the first woman to lead any Baptist seminary accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.
She served the seminary two years as a visiting professor of theology, spiritual formation and worship before becoming a professor with tenure in 1997. In May 2004 she was named Central’s acting academic dean, a position she held until her election as president.
The transition came during difficult times for Central. The seminary was beset with financial challenges and low enrollment in an era of decline for theological education, mainline churches and Christianity as a whole.
Marshall is credited with enacting a bold, and often painful, vision that included reducing faculty and staff and selling Central’s downtown property to relocate the campus.
But the seminary under Marshall’s guidance did more than subtract to survive. It added. Fundraising was improved and programs were created, including a Korean studies department, a women’s leadership initiative, urban ministries institute and a partnership with the Myanmar Institute of Theology.
Marshall also led the redesign of Central’s master of divinity program to accommodate students unable to commit three years for full-time study.
Central’s enrollment has grown from 100 in 2004 to about 430 last year, according to ATS figures.
“We have learned to embrace a narrative of resurrection,” Marshall told trustees in her retirement letter. “The paschal mystery is that through dying comes new life. Resurrection life always takes on new form, and Central knows that well.”
Marshall is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where she earned M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees. At Southern Seminary, she became the first female theology professor and associate dean. Although she was an inspiration for many women in Baptist life during her years at the seminary, she also became a target of conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention. She resigned under pressure in 1994.
According to a press release from Central, the search for a new president has already begun, with the hope for some overlapping time between Marshall and the new president. Following her retirement, Marshall will embark on a sabbatical through December 2020.
Board Chairman Bruce Morgan thanked Marshall for her service in remarks provided by the seminary. “We are fully aware of her tireless energy in expanding Central’s prominence as a center for preparation for Christian ministry,” he said.
Marshall, a featured columnist for Baptist News Global, is a member of Prairie Baptist Church, an ABCUSA congregation in Prairie Village, Kansas.