Higher Education: Impediment or Empowerment?

Higher Education: Impediment or Empowerment?

Higher education does not impede mission; rather, it empowers mission.

I remember Joe. He was zealous for Christ and had a passion for the lost. We talked just a few weeks before I left for my freshman year at Eastern Nazarene College. I was excited to start a Bachelor’s degree in religion in response to the call to preach I had accepted a couple years prior. Joe was less excited: “Why would I go and spend four years studying when there are people who are dying and need Jesus right now?”

Implicit in Joe’s question was his belief in a false choice: you can either be concerned about evangelizing the lost or you can be concerned about education, and to choose one is to exclude the other. Joe’s criticism caught me flat-footed. I don’t remember what I stammered in response, but if he were here today, I would tell Joe: “Because I care about the lost, it’s important that I be equipped as a pastor to disciple people from various walks of life. That equipping requires higher education.”

Impediment or Empowerment?

Besides Joe’s concern, a related question emerges: Is higher education an impediment to mission or an empowerment for mission? By its nature, the university encourages deeper reflection. Some fear that in sending their children to university—even a Christian university—their children will abandon the faith. After all, won’t they lose their faith if they are allowed to entertain doubts? Yet part of making faith our own is sorting through our beliefs, heating them in the crucible of careful reflection, burning off the dross, and keeping the gold.

What emerges is a stronger faith, one robust enough to answer critics. At their best, Nazarene universities provide a safe atmosphere where inquiring minds consider no line of inquiry out-of-bounds, since all truth is God’s truth.

Anselm called this sacred task “faith seeking understanding.”

Likewise, at the front of the chapel of Northwest Nazarene University, Charles Wesley’s wise words are emblazoned: “Unite the two so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.” Dean Bertha Munro of Eastern Nazarene College would have agreed. In response to some who discouraged higher learning, she memorably advised: “There is no conflict between the best of education and the best of the Christian religion.” Anselm, Wesley, and Munro echo the call of Jesus Himself, to love God not only with all our heart, soul, and strength, but also with all our mind (Mark 12:30).

Mission propels us into every nook and cranny of culture, shining light into dark places. When we’ve had a chance to systematically examine our faith—to walk through the valley of doubt and reach the other side, to climb in confidence once again up the slopes of faith—we’re better equipped to answer a cynical and incredulous culture. In this way, far from impeding mission, higher education empowers it. 

Africa Nazarene University: Empowerment for Mission

Africa Nazarene University (Nairobi, Kenya) is one of the educational institutions in the Church of the Nazarene where women and men called to vocational ministry are empowered. Let’s get acquainted with two students in the online Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) program in the School of Religion and Christian Ministry.

Joy is a district licensed minister serving as one of the pastors at the University Church of the Nazarene. In September 2016, Joy—a new student—stopped by my office to introduce herself. God had already told her that it was time for her and her family to transition from the church they were attending to one where she would be encouraged as a woman to answer her call to ordained ministry.

When I asked about her church situation, she mentioned they were looking. The Lord prompted me to say: “Please come visit us at University Church.” Joy took the invitation as God’s clear signal. She and her family came the next Sunday, and they’ve never left. Besides helping with preaching as part of the pastoral team, Pastor Joy gives leadership to women’s ministry, intercessory prayer, compassionate ministry, and is a member of the team that teaches the adult Sunday School class.

Reflecting on her ministerial studies at ANU, Joy admits: “When I came into the program, I came in with an attitude. I wondered: ‘What new thing can they possibly teach me?’ I had read the Bible, and I thought I knew it all. But in my Old Testament class, I quickly learned that I knew nothing. The Lord pulled me down off my high horse.” She thanks God for all that she has since learned about servant leadership. Joy has become like a big sister to many other young students in the program, encouraging them in their journey.

One of those young students is Chalè. From Malawi, Chalè is the youngest of nine children. His late father was a Nazarene pastor, but it wasn’t until he was 12 years old at a youth conference that Chalè gave his life to Christ. At age 15, he received a call to preach. He notes: “Many people think that anything that is printed and that has the name of God in it is true. But ANU has given me tools to help discern good theology from poisonous theology.” He also credits his prior Diploma in Theology studies at Nazarene Theological College of Central Africa (NTCCA), which prepared him for success at ANU.

God has used Africa Nazarene University to teach Chalè many things. “I didn’t really know how to relate to people from other cultures. But being here at ANU, I’ve met and interacted with people from different cultures, and that has helped me a lot.” Chalè believes that God is calling him to missionary service. One summer, he joined a team to evangelize among the Xhosa people of South Africa. In recognition of his missionary aspirations, Chalè has been awarded the Charles R. Gailey scholarship. Dr. Gailey would approve of Chalè’s growing competency in Swahili, which, besides English, is one of the two official languages in Kenya. During chapel, he sings in the worship team, using both languages.

Chalè tributes ANU with giving him a hunger for learning. One of his favorite quotes is from H.B. Charles, Jr., who insists: “A passion to preach, without a burden to study, is a desire to perform.” Pray for this young man who loves the Lord as he prepares for the cross-cultural ministry that God will entrust to him.

Two Strong Arms: Education and Evangelism

Former Education Commissioner Jerry Lambert often observed: “Education and evangelism are the two strong arms of the Body of Christ.” The stories of Joy and Chalè are just two of many that underscore what we have long known in the Church of the Nazarene: Higher education does not impede mission; rather, it empowers mission. Take some time today to pray for the Nazarene University near you, that God will continue to make our institutions of higher learning transformational places where students are equipped to effectively fulfill the Lord’s calling upon their lives.

Gregory Crofford is Dean of the School of Religion and Christian Ministry at Africa Nazarene University in Nairobi, Kenya.

Holiness Today, Jul/Aug 2019