Chairperson Werner, distinguished guests, Briercrest family, friends, faculty, staff, board, students, and to my own family – thank you for your presence here. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your prayers. You must know how deeply humbled and highly honoured I am with the unique privilege and incredible stewardship of becoming the sixth president of this wonderful trilogy of schools.
Already you will have observed some symbolism at work. As we entered you will have noticed that I was framed by our last three presidents. I stand on the shoulders of these remarkable leaders and pillars of the faith, and I thank them for their sacrifice, wisdom, and faithfulness to the cause of Christ and to the advancement of the impact of Briercrest in Canada and in our world. I have very high regard for each of these three presidents. Dr. John Barkman was one of my cherished teachers. Dr. Paul Magnus has provided some critical leadership and ministry counsel at various junctures of my life. Dr. Dwayne Uglem has passed the baton to me – a baton of institutional health and structure that has positioned us so strategically for the next leg of the journey.
Further, you will notice how I have been preceded by men and women of deep devotion and competency. I am not alone. I do not serve alone. I am in partnership with a cadre of followers of Jesus who have brought their best to these schools and with whom I share the responsibility of our mission. Today, I publically pledge to discharge the duties of my role as president with dependence on God, with a commitment to his Holy Word, and with a love for the people He purposes to bring into the orbit of my life.
I must express appreciation to some of you who have profoundly shaped my life. I have an incredible wife who loves me and has been immensely instrumental in my life. She grounds me; she discerns for me; she is my best friend. Thank you to my children – my daughter Breanna, my son Matthew, and my son-in-law Jonathan, whom I love so dearly and whose very presence today energizes me beyond their imagination. Thank you also to my wider family who are here today. I also wish to express gratitude to two men who have modeled servant leadership before me. You have heard from Rev. Jack Hannah, my pastor, my mentor, my friend. My thankfulness is beyond words for his role in my life. And, I must centre out one more individual – Charles Wells, my father-in-law – a man who exemplified what it meant to be a loving husband and caring father. This was role modeling that intersected my life and was used by God in overwhelmingly meaningful ways. Thank you Charles.
Thank you to all of you for coming to this installation service. Now, our American friends refer to this as an inauguration; however, here in Canada it is an installation. Some of your children perhaps misheard or misread the invitation and wondered why you were coming to my insulation service. Well, given the enduring winters of Saskatchewan, this could also be an insulation service. Friends from our church in Burlington sent me off with thick wool socks and numerous pairs of long underwear.
The decision to serve as Briercrest’s president was the hardest decision that Linda and I have made in 20 years. While our love for our church was deep, God began to stir things up inside of us. We fasted, we prayed, we engaged in lengthy conversations, and in the end, a sense of conviction descended, and both Linda and I knew this is where God wanted us to serve. The thought of being a part of the shaping of the next generation of leaders and influencers in our world inspired me, but we needed a sense that this was from God, and God granted this.
And so, today, we share these same moments in this place, seeking God for what he would have us to do. What do we see as we imagine our future?
The Apostle Paul fills us with expectancy and anticipation when he says to the Ephesian believers, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20, 21, NIV).
What do we see? What do we envision? What do we believe Jesus is calling us to? As we reflect on our mission; the reason or purpose for our existence, we remind ourselves afresh that Briercrest College and Seminary is a community of rigorous learning that calls students to seek the kingdom of God, to be shaped profoundly by the scriptures, and to be formed spiritually and intellectually for lives of service. Our mission remains essentially unchanged since our birth in 1935, and while we cherish a rich legacy, we continue to find ourselves in a refining process; maturing as a Christ-centered institution of higher learning. Historically, higher education was grounded in the belief that God is the source of wisdom and we herald that conviction. But our mission is never complete. Our mission is ongoing. Our commitments to the great commandment, the great commission and to the unique role we have as an educational institution gets us out of bed in the morning. However, our mission is an abstraction. It answers “why”, but does not describe “what?”
And so I ask again, “What do we see?” When a painter looks at a blank canvas, she looks at it with vision. When an architect looks at a piece of land, he begins to imagine…that’s vision. When a sculptor has a block of marble in his studio, vision is birthed. Michelangelo said: “In every block of marble I see a statue; see it as plainly as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls which imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to other eyes, as mine already see it.”
And so today we have Michelangelo’s David…(Show Power Point Slide)
That is vision. Art critics tell us that this work is consistent with the Renaissance practice of depicting its subjects in a calm stance just prior to action. Specifically here, David is in that moment between conscious choice and conscious action when he was readying himself to defy Goliath.
So, what do we see? What will be our vision? What is the picture of our preferred reality? What do we think God wants to do in us and through us? As I have listened to our board, to our faculty, to our staff, and to our students – and as I have reflected on why God has brought me here, and sought God in prayer, I offer this aspiration…that our calling is “to inspire a movement of leaders who will equip the church and engage our world”
What does this mean? Well, we want to inspire our students with a love for learning and with a love for Biblical truth. We want our students to take that learning and translate it into action. We want to inspire them to be leaders; influencers in their world for the purposes of Christ. We do not want to graduate spectators of the culture shaping initiatives of others. We do not want alumni to serve as observers in the rapidly changing and turbulent world of the church, marketplace, government, law, medicine, the arts, or education. We want to inspire and unleash servant leaders who lead like Jesus; leaders who demonstrate virtue, love, compassion, character, moral courage, creativity, and wisdom. I pray that the inspiration catalyzed will erupt into a movement fueled by the Holy Spirit and by the power of passion.
Where will their leadership take them? It should take them, first, and always to the church. We envision leaders, alumni, and graduates who have a love for the church and who are committed to equipping the church. The Biblical word which we have translated “equip” is so much richer than our English word captures. William Barclay offers tremendous insight when he observes that this word carries the concept of putting in order, restoring, mending, or healing. Training and discipline is also in view. “This word’s military usage speaks of fully furnishing an army. Its civic usage speaks of pacifying a city, which is torn by factions. Its medical usage speaks of setting a broken bone or putting a joint back into place. The basic idea of the word is that of putting a thing into the condition in which it ought to be.” We want to produce leaders who love the church, want to serve the church, and have the skills to equip the church as lay leaders; teachers, elders and deacons, and as competent vocational leaders; pastors, youth pastors, worship pastors, counsellors, and administrators. We are partnering with the church because we believe that the church is the agency of God’s presence and activity in our world. The church is the messenger of grace, liberty, forgiveness, hope, and reconciliation with God. We have no greater partnership. We have no greater message.
However, we also want to inspire our students; our graduates; our alumni to engage our world. I know everyone talks about changing our world and I think that too often this is abstract rhetoric which sounds moving, but is rarely fleshed out. Engaging our world means we do not run from the world. Engagement does not mean we try to emulate or mimic the world. Engagement means we seek to, as James Davison Hunter says, become a “faithful presence” in the world. We want to be in at the dinner tables of friends, at the corporate tables in the marketplace, at the decision making tables of government, at the research tables of medicine and science, and at the creative tables of culture shaping arts. Engagement will inevitably lead to influence and influence leads to change. God has changed us; God has reconciled us. And we want to be citizens of our world and agents of change and reconciliation in our world. We want to bring value to our world. We want to be on the problem solving side of things. We want our research to bring advancement and progress. We want our professionals to set new standards of ethics and of efficiencies and of quality. We want to bring compassion, creativity, imagination, and integrity to whatever context our graduates are placed in, and so advance the message of hope and redemption.
“To inspire a movement of leaders who will equip the church and engage our world” That is a vision I can see. That is a picture of a preferred future we can aspire to.
So, indulge me further for a moment with this visual. Its 2020 and Briercrest is a flourishing High School that is highly respected for its values based secondary school education that exceptionally prepares students for University. Briercrest is a sought after University where our graduates are valued for their outstanding leadership in the church. Our graduates are sought after by institutions because of their integrity, their work ethic, and their competencies. Briercrest is a trusted Seminary that denominational leaders look to for advanced leadership positions and where churches of all sizes send their pastoral staff for professional development.
Its 2020 and we have just come through a major multi-year stewardship campaign and we are wisely managing our resources in ways that address our present and long term initiatives (and you will hear more about that campaign in the coming months. This is a place worthy of your giving.).
Thus, Briercrest is a place where our students live and grow on a beautiful, well equipped campus and they interact with highly committed faculty and staff. Students find themselves inspired in their walk with God and in their commitment to being Great Commission agents of change in our world. But the focus is still beyond this campus. It is on the vision; it is on the difference we make in our world.
And the students that fill this room today will be a part of that vision. We all will be a part of that vision:
“to inspire a movement of leaders who equip the church and engage our world” because the church needs leaders and because our land is arid and porous and very much in need of the kind of spiritual, servant leaders we will educate and inspire.
This is our vision; this is our calling; this is what we pray God will do in and through us to the glory of his name.