In 1501, Michelangelo began to sculpt the famous 17-foot statue of David, now housed in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. A mammoth piece of marble that had confounded two previous sculptors became his palette. Three years later, a timeless masterpiece emerged from this visionary artist, who claimed that the figures he created already existed within each block of marble. He simply removed the excess, so the figure could be released.
With a similar mindset, over the last 14 months I have given much thought to a different kind of vision—a vision of Azusa Pacific University moving forward into this new decade. A vision that I prayed would emerge from God’s Spirit and through the collective wisdom of significant stakeholders. A vision shared by the APU community that would provide a compelling roadmap for equipping a new generation of disciples and scholars to advance the work of God in the world.
Recognizing the significant growth and missional accomplishments of the first 111 years of the university, the Board of Trustees asked me in fall 2010 to lead a process that would create and declare a transformational Christ-centered vision. Over these many months, I held important conversations with faculty, staff, and administrators at APU and was privileged to sit with regional, national, and international leaders in higher education, the Church, public K–12 education, and government agencies, gaining an accurate picture of the current state of higher education, and within that group, the state of Christian colleges and universities. In short, the world of education faces significant uncertainty regarding funding and purpose, as well as unprecedented change accelerated by the application of technology and new learning platforms. Internally and externally, pressure to reconsider its faith-centered Christian mission and core values confronts Christian higher education.
Yet, through engaging conversations with many at the university, I found overwhelming support for our Christ-centered mission and our God First practices. In fact, I’ve realized through this last year of observation and assessment that Azusa Pacific University is more relevant and vitally important today than ever before to our communities, our nation, and our world. While significant challenges certainly face the Church, my national and international conversations confirmed that God is moving and active in our world today, and the need for a strong Christian university with international reach may be one of His most effective tools.
On an alumni trip to Israel this past summer with my wife, Gail, God blessed me with a vision. While traveling on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee, our APU tour stopped to consider a passage of Scripture from Matthew 5:14. Robert Mullins, Ph.D., a gifted professor from our School of Theology, read, “You are the light of the world, a city on a hill,” and pointed to the archeological ruins of Hippos. He explained that this ancient city sitting about 1,000 feet in elevation on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee would catch the evening rays of the setting sun. Built from gray granite and basalt rock, it literally glowed with reflective light and became the best example of a city on a hill for the Sermon on the Mount.
Today, we know through archeological excavation that several hundred years after Jesus spoke those words the majority of the population of Hippos converted to the Christian faith. Archeologists uncovered the remains of eight Christian churches dating from the 4th and 5th centuries. So significant was Hippos to the Christian Church of that area that the bishop resided there. It became more than just an illumination from the greatest sermon ever told; Hippos became a true illuminated city on a hill.
When I think about Azusa Pacific University’s history and consider our current identity, I believe we have the same opportunity this biblical city embraced to become a great Christian university for the glory of God and His redemptive work in the world. We will be a premier Christian university and a recognized leader in higher education, a city on a hill that reflects the life of Christ and shines the light of Truth.
With this as our vision for the next 10 years and with a sense of urgency surrounding known issues, threats, and opportunities ahead, we will focus our achievement on four primary areas.
We will nourish and advance our Christ-centered mission by submitting to the Lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture while wrestling with controversial ideas, difficult issues, and vexing questions. The university community will support, sustain, and affirm the APU identity, values, and ethos, and every student will be taught from an evangelical Christian worldview, developing their mind and shaping their character. We will continue to partner with and serve the Church in the redemptive work of God in the world, and develop disciples and scholars with intellectual and moral virtue, who are active locally, nationally, and globally, making a transformational impact on culture and society.
We will advance our academic reputation of excellence as experts in faith integration across every program and discipline by affirming, celebrating, and rewarding strong and effective teaching and instruction, and actively engaging the world in the exploration of God’s Truth through research and scholarship. Finally, as we advance God-honoring diversity and internationalization in teaching, we will become a preferred destination for gifted faculty and students.
We acknowledge that people (students, faculty, and staff) are created in the image of God and value them as the university’s most important resource. We will develop and maintain the highest standard of student (customer) service and strive to become an outstanding workplace that attracts, retains, and develops an intergenerational and diverse, world-class faculty, staff, and board, distinguished by their engagement with the APU mission. To accomplish this, we will implement intentional development of people at all levels, building capacity for excellence, both now and in the future, and develop effective and efficient systems, promoting a mission-focused community.
We will be a financially strong institution capable of fulfilling our mission with a capacity to grow and expand. A comprehensive campaign to support and advance our vision will build a foundation, while the continual development of innovative models for accessibility and affordability will lead to growth and financial stability. Responsible, comprehensive enrollment strategies and matching relevant academic programs with diverse student populations will result in an appropriate and resilient capital structure with a strong balance sheet.
At the annual Faculty/Staff Kickoff, where the first glimpse of this vision was revealed, I asked every university employee to reflect with me on how best to accomplish this endeavor. That morning, 1,200 full-time employees left the Felix Event Center with a key as a symbol of my request that they would allow God to work through them to be the key to strengthen and maintain our Christ-centered mission; promote academic excellence at every level to build a strong reputation; see members of the APU community as God does, remembering that all people matter to God and, therefore, matter to us; and finally, continue to be wise stewards of God’s resources at this university so that in 10 years we will enjoy a strong and sustaining financial foundation.
I now ask the same of the many APU friends reading this article. You, too, are absolutely strategic and represent a key God can use to accomplish this vision. Our current calendar year mirrors 2022. Ten years from now, on this date, I pray that our work together has accomplished this vision to powerfully advance God’s work in this world, surpassing our expectations and bringing glory and honor to Him.
Jon R. Wallace, DBA, became the 16th president of Azusa Pacific on November 27, 2000. His accomplishments over the last decade are vast and varied, but his passion remains focused: Uphold the institution’s motto of God First. Pursue the university’s Christ-centered mission. Advance this compelling vision in the decade to come as student advocate, thoughtful scholar, and committed disciple. firstname.lastname@example.org