Word is quickly trickling out and it is now official that I am transitioning back to a full-time professor role at the end of the summer. This opportunity was completely unexpected! But after some prayer and reflection, it strongly felt like the right move. God has blessed me with such wonderful opportunities! In the Fall, I will return to the School of Theology and Ministry to resume teaching New Testament and a grab bag of other delightful courses on both the undergraduate and graduate level.
1. Almost six years ago, I was part of the "seed company" to start the first Wesleyan seminary. What a tremendous opportunity, to be the founding Dean of a denomination's first seminary! Not only that, but it has become the fastest growing seminary in the world! Apart from my children, it is truly the crowning achievement of my life thus far. We are waiting on the official count, but we believe we ended January with over 500 students!!!
I hope over the next few weeks to give my sense of the Seminary's story these last six years. When it began, I was charged to take the academic vision of an amazing team of dreamers and see it implemented into a concrete, week-by-week curriculum. We designed and put into electronic form an integrated, practical curriculum the world had never seen before. And it just gets better and better as the faculty continue to perfect it!
For the last five years, I have had the privilege of working with Wayne Schmidt, who has kept the innovation going beyond the curriculum into a set of expanding networks. That is truly one of his greatest gifts, to make connections and forge new relationships. My job was to be his "academic executive pastor," to see those new connections make their way into concrete academic form and to remove any academic obstacles with creative problem solving. That task was like cat-nip for me. We saw the creation of the first online, fully Spanish MDIV. We have seen unique partnerships develop with 12Stone® Church and others.
I was privileged to be the point person in hiring the first faculty of the Seminary. This is an amazing team, all of whom have superpowers. They have to be given credit for much of the growth of the Seminary. For example, Colleen Derr redesigned our MA in Children, Youth, and Family. More than anything else, it is our greatest current growth area. Another significant component of our growth is the Tom Benjamin connection, first forged by Wayne but overwhelmingly sustained by Kwasi Kena and Safiyah Fosua. Joanne Solis-Walker has tirelessly nurtured our Spanish MDIV program. These new venues are the secret to our growth. The whole faculty, though, are mavens in their own right, not least the one man marketing machine we know as Bob Whitesel.
2. So why go back to teaching and writing, you ask. Actually, I suspect this move is a no-brainer for those who know me. I have enjoyed being Dean immensely. I think I brought just the right creativity and flexibility needed for a Seminary that was not going to be academic business as usual. The task called for someone who wasn't an assembly line thinker or an accountant type, someone who could use a pencil to bolt in the landing gear before the plane lands or rewire a curriculum around multiple dead spots just in time to throw the switch. Again, that stuff has been like cat nip for me.
But as my good friend Steve Lennox says (the new President of Kingswood University BTW), just because you can do something doesn't mean you have to. When the opportunity to teach came up unexpectedly, it felt like the right thing to do for this next season. For one thing, there are few things that come more naturally to me than teaching undergraduates. Dean-ing was incredibly stimulating. Some days I felt like Dumbledore in Harry Potter zapping zombies all around with fire; other days I felt like Dumbledore pulling thoughts out of his head with a magic wand.
On the other hand, teaching undergraduate philosophy and New Testament is more like going to King's Island every day. It will be like going on sabbatical.
And you may not know it, but the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) isn't just undergraduate any more. Indeed, I'll be teaching Romans and Galatians to graduate students on campus in the Fall. It may seem a little strange, but one of the secrets to IWU's growth is that we don't get bureaucratically preoccupied with symmetry. President David Wright encourages things to grow where they are most naturally poised to grow. So the Seminary is doing a spectacular job focusing on practical ministry areas like church planting and church health. We even hope to have a DMin up and running by the summer of 2016 (with Bob Whitesel and Leadership in the first cohort).
At the same time, STM's five year KERN program goes into its first graduate year in the Fall. So Seminary students who live in the area will actually be able to take Bible electives with me even as soon as the Fall on the residential campus. Along with the Seminary, STM is also one of the most innovative parts of the university. So stay tuned for exciting things yet to come out of it! I am wondering if it may be poised to be a thought leader within the broader Wesleyan tradition in the way that the Seminary has already become a leader in the area of practical ministry.
3. Obviously there are mixed feelings here. I wish I could be everywhere. Suffice it to say that I will miss the cat nip of the Seminary. I predict it will pass 1000 in five years! It has much glory yet to come, and I hate to miss it! I am destined for Seminary envy!
But no melancholy allowed! I hope to continue doing some teaching for the Seminary. My head, heart, and hands remain open for service in any way I can help.
Who knows what the future holds? Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gifts and continued blessings! I will set my hand to the plow and to new innovations and opportunities yet to come.