Our Nazarene universities are uniquely positioned to be a force for evangelism in the world.
Ministry comes in many forms. I grew up in a small Nazarene church in Florida. The only form of ministry that I experienced in those days was the ministry of the senior pastor. Through my education, my eyes were opened to a multiplicity of ministries. I left for college in the fall of 1970 to study for pastoral ministry. In fact, I became a senior pastor for two churches along the way, which meant preaching, leading, visiting, and envisioning ministry opportunities together. No one could have prepared me for the intellectual and spiritual treasures that awaited me at a Christian college.
Just before I left, my mother pulled me aside to tell me that I would meet people on campus like I had never known. Indeed, these professors became mentors and guides during my emerging adulthood.
The four years I spent at a Nazarene college changed my life forever and gave way to a new calling in my life.
A seminary professor suggested to me that God might be equipping me to teach theology. This watershed moment excited and surprised me. Years later, I received my doctorate and began teaching at a Nazarene college.
Now, after thirty-five years and thousands of students, I look back with genuine gratitude at the measure of grace that has been shown to me through students and colleagues. I have lived my life and raised my family on Nazarene campuses surrounded by professors devoted to the mind and heart. It is difficult to imagine a more abundant life.
The Heart of the Calling
My calling to teach depended upon two integrated passions. First was the love of my area of study. Theology captured my intellectual energies and filled my days with unspeakable satisfaction. Even as I write these words, I am humbled to think that God and the Church of the Nazarene provided me the opportunity to read and study theology.
Second, the love for my students defined my calling. It has been a privilege to introduce and expand the Christian faith to students. It has not gotten old. This vocation has always been about more than transferring knowledge. One of the great joys of college teaching has been the opportunity to provide counsel to young adults who must navigate the treacherous waters of life. The calling to teach is predicated on the love of my discipline (theology) and my students.
During my years of graduate study, I set my mind upon the idea of writing and engaging my colleagues in careful consideration of Wesleyan-Holiness theology. Those who continued on that path inspire me and offer hope to energize the church toward a vital faith. Yet, God began to reveal a slightly different direction for my own life.
Midway through my first year of teaching, I was appointed the chair of my department. Teaching schedules, accreditation, recruitment of faculty, interaction with constituents, addressing conflict, and other activities began to take more and more of my time. This path unfolded as a result of listening to the voice of my community—the university community. The capacity to provide leadership has, by the grace of God, strengthened the areas where I have served.
The Call to Lead
I read an essay several years ago that suggested that we cannot do everything we want—and that is a good thing. Community helps a person discern specific direction, identify gifts and graces, and provides opportunities for service. The places that I have served in the Church of the Nazarene have been small enough to provide space for the disciplined care of the whole person. Some are called to leadership by and for the community.
Nothing has surprised me more than the opportunity to lead, and I have found great fulfillment in the various roles that have opened before me. The privilege of pointing the way forward and encouraging others to join in the journey and embrace the educational mission is the solemn responsibility of leadership. Nazarene higher education depends upon men and women who have vision, discipline, and a passion to lead, but Christian leadership is ultimately about service.
Demonstrating confidence is also important for leadership. This often includes the capacity to believe for those who may doubt until the light emerges. Believing in the mission, in the people, and in the substance of Christian higher education is a key aspect of my calling.
A Christian university exists to engage students (and increasingly re-engaging older adults) in defining and living a vocation. A quality education teaches a language that points the way in a sometimes dark world. The Christian faith requires communities of memory and reflection that our universities provide. Because of this, our universities are uniquely positioned to be a force for evangelism in the world. Students come under the influence of our universities with questions that can only be answered through the resources found therein. This means that light and hope arise through the work accomplished by the vocation of Christian higher education.
The Gift of Christian Higher Education
Nazarene higher education is a ministry of the Church of the Nazarene. We have the privilege of pointing students to the reality of God. The gift of a Christian education is offered in the shallow world of secularism as a rich world of grace. Nazarene higher education teaches students to hear the scripture in all its depth.
Our education is an exercise of prevenient grace.
God speaks His grace in many ways across the disciplines in a manner that those involved in Nazarene higher education understand and can develop. Works of mercy and works of piety are joined through a Christian education that embraces the hand and the heart, along with the head and the spirit. Along with this comes the calling to lean into life with a message of transformation and healing.
My years of leadership in Christian higher education have led me to experience the joy of students who have been forever changed and freed to live redemptively in a broken world. Conflict, misunderstanding, and genuine evil confront all of us in the course of life. Perhaps Nazarene higher education can envision a better way through the practice of forgiveness.
My community has been and will always be the professors, staff, administration, trustees, and students of Nazarene higher education. I thank God every time I think of the men and women who have reached into my life through this channel. Important opportunities for ministry arise every day as I lead one of our universities. Could it be that in these days God will change the world with the love of Christ through the labors of our universities? Lord may it be so!
Henry W. Spaulding II is president of Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2018