Forever Yes: My Spirit-Led Journey with Nazarene Higher Education

Forever Yes: My Spirit-Led Journey with Nazarene Higher Education

Two simple words: “yes, Lord,” launched a Spirit-filled, meaningful journey that is still unfolding.

It was at a Nazarene school that I answered the “control” question in my life. During my sophomore year at Trevecca Nazarene College (now University), something significant happened to me in one of the special services on campus. In a transforming encounter, the Triune God gripped my heart in a way I will never forget.

Following the evening service, I returned to my room to pray. I said to God, “If I am going to be a Christian, I want to be the best Christian I can. I don’t want to play games. I don’t want to go halfway. Here is my life.” That night, from the depths of my heart, I spoke a “forever yes” to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A biblical passage came to me during this spiritual encounter that continues to be my life verse: “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:25).

During my college years, I found my beautiful marriage partner for life, Anne—we are now approaching 57 years of marriage! I also learned how to study and developed an insatiable desire to learn. The classes taught by Drs. William Greathouse and John A. Knight, along with other godly professors, consumed me. I became a lifelong student. I was challenged to live a life of integrity and to begin a lifelong pursuit of Christian character development.

Continuing education encapsulated my life from the time of college graduation until I completed a doctoral program 12 years later. Each experience I had in those years prepared me for the next step in my journey—from the editorial work at the Nazarene Headquarters in Kansas City, to studying at Nazarene Theological Seminary, to pastoring on the Philadelphia District while pursuing additional graduate studies, to a four-year assignment at the European Nazarene Bible College. I then transitioned to a full-time faculty position at Bethany Nazarene College (now Southern Nazarene University) for two years.

These responsibilities equipped me for a five-year term as president of the Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary (APNTS) in Manila, Philippines. Lifelong lessons in tenacity were honed in Manila during the approximately four-year process of securing the Philippine government “recognition” of APNTS, the first graduate theological seminary in the Philippines not associated with a university.

While serving in Manila, I received a call from Dr. Harold Graves, Sr., chair of the board at Mount Vernon Nazarene College (now University), informing me of my election as president of MVNC. I told him of my recent recommitments to the global mission of the Church. I needed clarity from the Lord that my commitments could be reflected in leading a regional college in the United States. After three days of prayer and solitude, Anne and I accepted the assignment.

What a profound privilege it was to follow the Lord’s guidance for the institution during its transformation from college to university!

Following my retirement from Mount Vernon Nazarene University, I served as education commissioner and administrator of the International Board of Education (IBOE) for the Church of the Nazarene. Our denomination is blessed with a worldwide system of education. The Church of the Nazarene has over 50 colleges, universities, and seminaries on campuses and learning centers in 120 world areas, with resources linked together in a network of support and collaboration under the IBOE. Over 50,000 students are enrolled in these institutions, many of whom are preparing for Christian vocational ministry.

The International Board of Education functions as the global Church advocate for educational institutions in the denomination. The mission of the IBOE is to serve as a dynamic worldwide consortium of Nazarene universities, colleges, and seminaries to facilitate the mission of the Church of the Nazarene in making Christlike disciples and shaping leaders for local witness and global impact.

The IBOE mission is accomplished through networking, collaboration, and resourcing the IBOE schools, especially in regard to ministerial education; strengthening the schools through quality and missional reviews and developing stronger and more effective governing boards for the institutions; envisioning the future of higher education in the denomination; and assuring theological and doctrinal coherency throughout the system of Nazarene education.

Our education team at the Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kansas, together with the global regional educational coordinators, crafted a proposed vision statement as a starting point for discussions regarding a vision for Nazarene higher education. Nazarene higher education effectively equips students to: care deeply, study continually, think biblically, relate ethically, live gratefully, witness faithfully, lead strategically, and work competently.

Upon completion of my assignment as education commissioner, a profound sense of stewardship consumed me.

I felt compelled to pass on to a younger generation of emerging Christian leaders what had been so bountifully passed to me through the education, assignments, relationships, opportunities, and experiences I had in my tenure. The delight of traveling to various Nazarene institutions over the last few years has been wonderful. The joy of working alongside many of my former students who are now leaders in their districts, regions, and institutions cannot be adequately described.

Those two simple words I prayed so many years ago, “Yes, Lord,” have let me on a Spirit-filled, meaningful journey that is still unfolding.

Your faith journey may be different from mine. However, in your obedience, you will experience the same dimension of meaning and purpose through the faithfulness of our God.

My wife and I are rich in the way that counts. We’ve invested our lives in people — brothers and sisters in Christ who seek to understand what it means to be Christian in the context of where they live, lead, and work. What a worthy investment it is. The Spirit-led journey continues!

E. LeBron Fairbanks is former president of Mount Vernon Nazarene University and former education commissioner for the Church of the Nazarene.

Holiness Today, Jul/Aug 2019