From logistical issues to relational ones, the General Secretary is a vital role in the Church of the Nazarene.
Recently, Holiness Today (HT) sat down with David Wilson (DW), General Secretary for the Church of the Nazarene. Wilson served as both a district superintendent and a pastor before coming into his current role of General Secretary, and he is now in his twelfth year at this position. He will retire from this role on March 1, 2019.
HT: What is the role of the General Secretary’s office in the Church of the Nazarene?
DW: The General Secretary is a complex position. The Manual states that the General Secretary is responsible for all aspects of General Assembly and General Board meetings, including everything from logistics, legislation, organizing the meetings and events, planning the schedule, arranging housing for delegates, taking care of registration, and more.
Our office also takes all the changes that are put in place at General Assembly to the Manual Editing Committee, and we make sure the Manual is edited and distributed every quadrennium.
Anything related to the polity of the church falls under the General Secretary’s responsibility.
HT: I know you spent many years as a pastor. How has your pastoral mindset/experience impacted your role as General Secretary?
DW: I was a pastor for 23 years, and while General Secretary is a very task-oriented job, I am a very relational person. For whatever reason, in this season of the Church of the Nazarene, God wanted someone with a pastoral mindset. Everything we do in my office is for the purpose of serving the local church, so it helps to have someone who has spent a lot of time in local churches.
HT: What is the most challenging part of your job?
DW: I would say the legal aspects are the hardest. We are part of a very litigious society, so people always seem ready to take things to court. We are fortunate to have a legal counsel (Michael Thompson) who is a great resource, but the responsibility ultimately falls on me.
HT: Has anything surprised you over the course of your career?
DW: I wouldn’t say anything has surprised me necessarily, but there has been something that has been reinforced over the years: people are people. Even Spirit-filled people are still human beings with thoughts, feelings, desires, and needs. We are all people.
Sometimes we allow those thoughts, feelings, and desires to get in the way of what the Spirit wants to do, but it is vitally important to remember that we are all people. Even the best person in the world can have a bad day. I always work to keep that in mind—patience and understanding are key to my role.
HT: What is the importance of having a Nazarene Manual and updating it regularly?
DW: The Manual is a unifying document for the Church of the Nazarene, and it provides a framework for the church on all levels. You can go into a Nazarene church anywhere in the world, and while the culture may look different, the basic structure will be the same.
We must make changes periodically to keep the Manual relevant in a fast-changing culture, but it remains a unifying framework for our church.
HT: What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
DW: I was a high school English teacher and football coach in south Florida before I went to seminary. My undergraduate degree was in education; my dream was to teach and coach at the university level.
HT: Did you play any sports growing up? What are some of your other hobbies?
DW: Yes, I played four sports in high school. In college, because Olivet didn’t have a football team, I played baseball there.
Now, I love to walk and read. I’m also a lifelong Ohio State Buckeyes fan!
HT: What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
DW: I’ll give you two—the first one is Paris. After our General Board meeting in Amsterdam in 2016, the members of our staff went to Paris. One of our own staff members who had lived in Paris for 12 years was our tour guide; it was a wonderful trip.
The second is Israel, which I had the opportunity to travel to recently. I’ve lost count of how many countries I’ve traveled to (probably 35-40), but I have enjoyed every place I’ve been. I love people, and I have loved getting to know people in every part of the world.
HT: Do you like to read? Who are some of your favorite authors?
DW: I love to read. For non-fiction, I love John Grisham. I’m a big presidential history buff, so for history, I like to read Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough. Spiritual formation authors I enjoy are Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, and Gordon MacDonald; and N. T. Wright for theological material.
HT: What is one piece of advice that has impacted your life?
DW: It’s not necessarily advice, but there is a saying that has stayed with me:
Friendship that insists on agreement on all things is not worth the name. Friendship, to be real, must ever sustain the weight of one’s differences, however sharp they may be.—Mahatma Gandhi
As someone who puts a lot of stock in relationships, I try to remind people when things get contentious that an area of disagreement, whatever it is, doesn’t have to divide us. There are no two people the same; even Spirit-led people won’t see eye-to-eye on everything. We have to learn to be patient and loving with each other.
I have lived and led by two guiding principles since I stepped into this role:
- You’d be surprised how much can be accomplished when you don’t care who gets the credit.
- It is not just important what we do in our work, but also how we do it—how we treat people in the process.
How we treat people in the process of getting the job done is very important to me.
That means treating people with courtesy, respect, and dignity. I try to live this out in little ways every day, like trying to not be late (showing respect for other people’s time), giving my full attention when I’m speaking with someone, and not allowing my often busy schedule to make someone else feel less important.
It’s easy to get into the routine of the day-to-day, but I have worked intentionally with my team at being happy and developing an atmosphere of happiness.
Holiness Today, Jul/Aug 2018
This interview was conducted by Jordan Eigsti, assistant editor of Holiness Today, and edited by the Holiness Today team.