Faithfulness to Mission: Working Together for Greater Kingdom Impact

On January 26, 2022, I sat with the APU Board of Trustees for what turned out to be my final interview in the presidential search process. It was more than a 12-hour day, and we all came prepared with our final round of questions. By midafternoon, having talked through the many complexities of leading a faith-based organization with hundreds of employees and thousands of students, we dove into a topic near and dear to my heart—faithfulness to mission. I wanted to probe core aspects of APU’s institutional identity and APU’s resolve to stand its ground amidst the tumult facing all of Christian higher education.

My heart was filled when trustee after trustee talked about APU’s mission and their strong conviction as a board to hold firm to our time-honored identity as a Christ-centered university. We unpacked the challenges of the last several years and talked about what will be required of APU moving forward amidst the strong headwinds and adverse threats to religious liberty. I sought confirmation that APU’s Board of Trustees had the conviction to remain missionally faithful, come what may. Our conversation affirmed the board’s unwavering commitment and confirmed my deep desire to join a Spirit-led leadership team that was truly on mission.

The history of higher education is replete with colleges and universities founded on Judeo-Christian principles that no longer resemble their former selves. Longitudinal studies of several of these institutions show a specific moment in time when a singular decision was made, seemingly insignificant, that threw them off course. It’s like a ship’s captain whose navigation plan is off by just one degree…they miss their final destination by hundreds and hundreds of miles. Unfortunately, this has been the demise of far too many faith-based institutions that have compromised mission for financial exigency or some other perceived benefit. It’s been said that the coming years will be tough for Christian colleges and universities—many will crumble financially or cave missionally.

As one who has served in Christian higher education for more than three decades, I agree that the pressures facing us are great. But I’m reminded of the supremacy of God and His clear instructions in Proverbs 4:25-27 to “keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust” (The Message).

In my study of APU’s history this past summer, I came upon the meeting minutes from March 12, 1900, when a small band of women and men were gathered in uptown Whittier, California, believing that Los Angeles desperately needed a training school “to provide thorough instruction in the Bible…[and to] give practical training in all that pertains to home and foreign mission work…[with the] power to engage in evangelism and the raising up of new work for the Kingdom of Christ…to do all and everything necessary for the promotion of the Kingdom of Christ on the face of the world.”

The founders of the Training School for Christian Workers (now Azusa Pacific University) had as their singular focus a school that was fixed on training and equipping women and men to become agents of the Gospel for the expansion of God’s Kingdom. Embedded in those meeting minutes were the newly minted Articles of Faith that grounded the Training School, biblically and theologically. My heart was filled when I compared the original Articles of Faith with the Articles of Faith guiding APU today, underscoring our 123-year history of faithfulness to mission.

September 22, 2022, marked my first official APU Board of Trustees meeting, and it was important to me that we continue our conversation about missional faithfulness and specifically the role of the president in keeping APU aligned on its core mission and purpose.

I shared with the Board of Trustees that this year I will begin working with our leadership team to identify the institutional pillars that must be in place for a Christ-centered university to be found faithful. Some of these include having a clear mission statement and missional alignment across the leadership team, including the board, the administration, and the faculty and staff. Faithfulness to mission includes providing deep theological training through the required undergraduate Bible curriculum, and resourcing the Office of Faith Integration. It also requires clear hiring practices and making sure that curricular and cocurricular programming provides opportunity for students to flourish spiritually.

The overarching question I’m asking this year is, what would have to be true for a Christian university to be found faithful, and where is APU on this continuum? Then, where is APU strong, what needs shoring up, what should we stop doing, what should we start doing, and how will we measure effectiveness? These are fundamental inquiries, ones that will require discernment and wisdom from God. But I can’t think of a better set of questions as we work together to position APU for even greater Kingdom impact.

For APU to stay on mission, we must take Jesus’ command in John 15:5 seriously—to “abide in Him.” As Jesus was preparing His disciples for His impending sacrificial death on the cross, He reminded them of their calling and mission, emphasizing the importance of their absolute dependence on Him. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (NIV).

As APU’s 18th president, I want nothing more than for APU to be missionally faithful. In my first few months on the job, I’ve encountered countless APU faculty, staff, and students who are “abiding,” with a shared passion to see this institution used by God to impact lives in order to transform our culture with graduates who are on mission for God.

Even before stepping into this leadership role, God put the word REVIVAL on my heart and it’s only grown in intensity. Alongside me, there are many faculty, staff, and students who are also praying regularly that the Spirit of God will fall afresh on this community. As Azusa Pacific University “abides in Him,” and as we stand firm on mission amidst the cultural, social, and financial pressures facing all of Christ-centered higher education, I believe the Spirit of God will flood this place, and that God will use APU in even more profound ways to accomplish His purposes. These are exciting days at Azusa Pacific University. God is on the move!