Visionaries offer us dreams with wings. They help us envision a potential future and the shape it could take with imagination, creativity and wisdom. Rockbridge Seminary exists in part because of the visionary capacity from our cofounder, Dr. Daryl Eldridge. His spiritual leadership, ingenuity and ability to see what could be has shaped Rockbridge from the ground up. Dr. Eldridge has impacted thousands of lives and pioneered changes to help transform ministry education to meet the needs of today’s churches.

This week our Board of Trustees and administration dedicated the class “Transformational Discipleship in a Digital Age” to Dr. Eldridge in honor of his faithful service and leadership as Rockbridge’s first president. The stories and dedication that follow are a small portion of the unforgettable mark Dr. Eldridge has made on our seminary. His story and legacy will forever be a part of our history.

“Transformational Discipleship in a Digital Age” is Dedicated to President Emeritus Dr. Daryl R. Eldridge

Dr. Daryl R. Eldridge is the cofounder and first president of Rockbridge Seminary. He found his greatest calling and purpose in creating and leading Rockbridge to serve the many men and women in ministry who wanted to attend seminary without leaving their ministry field.

Daryl was playing basketball and completing a double major in chemistry and biology at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, when his plans to become a physician were nudged in a new direction. It was 1971, and Daryl was active in the church his parents attended. Someone at church heard his baritone voice and asked him to join their gospel quartet. Daryl found himself drawn to the ministry opportunities this brought him, and soon he was traveling with a revival team as their soloist. His call to ministry grew gradually as he received encouragement from people in the churches where he sang and
spoke, urging him to consider a full-time ministry path. In 1972 at the age of 21 he accepted a position as minister of youth and music at First Baptist Church in Branson, Missouri, thereby beginning a life in service.

In 1973 he graduated from college, married Carole Ruth Compton, and became the minister of education and youth at Boulevard Baptist in Springfield. As soon as Carole graduated from nursing school in 1975, they headed to Fort Worth so Daryl could get a master’s degree in religious education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which he completed in 1977. While at seminary Daryl was asked to become a teaching assistant for Dr. Leroy Ford, a leading Southern Baptist educator. Dr. Ford urged Daryl to obtain his doctorate, and with this encouragement he stayed in school until he received
his Ph.D. in 1985. One of the lessons Daryl carried forward from this was the importance of encouraging others along their path, and he applied the practice of encouragement to thousands of students over the years to come.

From 1977-1980, Daryl served as minister of education and youth at Parkview Baptist in Arlington, TX. Their daughter Melinda was born there in 1978. Daryl was called in 1980 to serve as minister of education at Tate Springs Baptist Church in south Arlington. He served there until 1984, during a time of tremendous growth at Tate Springs. Their son Mark was born there in 1982.

The next step in Daryl’s journey was a major career change that eventually led to Rockbridge. In 1984, before he had finished his PhD, he was asked to consider joining the faculty at Southwestern. While he was excited for his new role and loved teaching, he knew he also needed to stay in church ministry. He was both a church practitioner and a teacher at his core. Over his years as faculty at Southwestern, he served as an interim minister of education in a steady succession of three churches in the Fort Worth area.

Daryl also traveled and taught globally, living with his family and teaching at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zambia in southern Africa for a year from 1989-1990, helping the seminary become accredited. He led conferences in Uzbekistan, Portugal, and Kenya, at Oxford University in England, and in many places in the U.S. A textbook he wrote and edited in 1995, The Teaching Ministry of the Church, remains a foundational resource in the field of educational ministries today. He
contributed to numerous books in the field, wrote extensively on church growth and discipleship for Lifeway, and served as associate editor for Baker Academic’s Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education.

1998, now firmly established as a respected academician, Daryl was asked to become the dean of the School of Religious Education at Southwestern. Under his leadership, the school changed its name to
the School of Educational Ministries, reflecting its broad range of ministry education in areas such as counseling, social work, and the arts as well as traditional church work. Daryl’s vision for seminary was
deeply practical, rooted in the day-to-day needs of the church, and this resonated with those seeking ministry training. During Daryl’s tenure as dean, the school became the largest of its kind in the world.

In 2003 Daryl decided the time had come to do something he had been thinking about for several years. He believed that a different kind of seminary education was needed. He wanted to take ministry education to the churches and their ministers instead of asking ministers to leave their churches and homes to cloister at a far-off brick-and-mortar school. Online education was becoming a viable option to fulfill that goal, but at the time the major accreditors of theological education did not allow schools to offer fully online learning. Whatever he did would have to be outside the currently accepted avenues for ministry training. He traveled to California to connect with Saddleback Church about his ideas, believing that Saddleback’s model of the five purposes of the Church would be the best model for educating ministers. The team at Saddleback said, “You need to meet with Sam Simmons.” When Daryl and Sam met, they knew instantly that God was doing something new. Daryl resigned as Southwestern’s dean and took a position at Second Baptist Church in Springfield as minister of spiritual development. The church knew about his vision and agreed to support him in working on it while he was on their staff.

The rest of Daryl’s story is the history of Rockbridge. Along the journey to Rockbridge’s inception, growth, and establishment he was helped by many people who shared a vision for practical ministry education that provided development in the five purposes of the Church and did not require ministers to leave the ministry field. Dr. Eldridge and his supporters exhibited transformational discipleship in a digital age at its best, and the result has impacted thousands of lives and changed ministry education to meet the needs of today’s churches. Rockbridge Seminary owes its existence to this transformational leadership, and those who shape the future will be those who can lead themselves
and others to step out of comfort and into transformation.


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