Yesterday, at a meeting of the IWU Leadership Team, I offered this vision of the road ahead for Indiana Wesleyan University. I want to share it with you so that you will understand my heart for the future of our University.
A Call to Build a Truly Great Christian University
In recent weeks I’ve talked with many leaders from Indiana and across the country about the current state of higher education and about IWU. As I’ve asked God to help me formulate a vision for our future, I wanted to understand how others view the challenges we face. I also want to know how we look to those outside our university.
The answers have been interesting, instructive, and encouraging.
One CCCU President told me: “Whatever you do, please take care of IWU. We are all watching you.”
An Indianapolis businessman told us: “IWU was the only partner we thought of pursuing, because of your mission and your entrepreneurial approach.”
Ron Blue has said: “IWU is missional, professional, and entrepreneurial.”
We cannot live in the past. One of the greatest threats to the survival of a great organization is its past success.
We cannot live in the future. The future is not here yet. We must neither fear what the future may bring, nor fail to plan for the future we desire.
We must live in the present. What will we do with our present? What will we do with this moment in the life of Indiana Wesleyan University?
I am asking you today to join me in the task, under God’s providence, to create a truly great Christian university.
- The pursuit of greatness requires time – greatness is not achieved quickly.
- The pursuit of greatness requires extraordinary commitment – greatness is not achieved easily.
- The pursuit of greatness requires single-minded devotion – greatness is not achieved in passing.
- The pursuit of greatness requires a team – greatness is not achieved alone.
A Christian Community’s Touchstone of Greatness
Universities measure greatness in many ways. How should a Christ-centered university define greatness?
A “touchstone” was a smooth stone used to test the purity of gold and silver by the color of the streak made on the stone by the metal – the touchstone allowed the assayer to immediately see the true value of the metal.
A touchstone of greatness would be that thing against which we test all of our pursuits in order to see their true value.
It seems to me that a Christ-centered university that aspired to greatness would have to use Jesus’ measure of greatness. He said:
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant . . . just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26,28)
Here is Jesus’ measure of greatness. If you want to be great, you must serve greatly.
Thus, it seems to me that Christ-like service must be the touchstone of IWU’s greatness.
The Service That a Great Christian University Provides
What kind of service would a great Christian university provide?
A great Christian university would be a community known for the honest, rigorous, and winsome pursuit of truth grounded in the central story of God’s Word.
“From the very start, at the center of Christian faith was some version of the claim that God loved the sinful world and that Christ died for the ungodly, and that Christ’s followers must love their enemies no less than they love themselves. Love doesn’t mean agreement and approval; it means benevolence and beneficence . . . A combination of moral clarity that does not shy away from calling evil by its proper name and of deep compassion toward evildoers that is willing to sacrifice one’s own life on their behalf was one of the extraordinary features of early Christianity.” (Miroslav Volf)
A great Christian university would be a place where students (accomplished scholars and beginning undergrads alike) infuse the study of the arts, the sciences, business, health care, the humanities, economics, political science, education, with the moral vision and the selfless redeeming love of Jesus Christ.
A great Christian university would be a community fully dedicated to the gracious preparation of students for a lifetime of meaningful service in pursuit of God’s calling on their lives.
A great Christian university would dedicate itself to the task of raising up a generation of Christians who are what Gabe Lyons calls “restorers.”
“Provoked, not offended.
Creators, not critics.
Called, not employed.
Grounded, not distracted.
In community, not alone.
Civil, not divisive.
Countercultural, not ‘relevant.’”
“Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love. I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness.” (Gabe Lyons)
A great Christian university would be a place committed to cultivating the common good of communities by witnessing to and working for what is true, good, and noble in humanity and in human societies.
IWU is called to make the world a better place by preparing students, faculty, and staff to live out the truths and the example of Jesus Christ in this world. Everything we do at IWU is built on the foundation of God’s truth as revealed in creation, in Scripture, and in Jesus Christ. Our aspiration is not for Christianity to recapture a place of dominating power in this world. Instead, at IWU we seek to prepare women and men to live in this world as the sign and portent of a different world – a world in which God’s reign is welcomed, in which righteousness and fairness prevail, in which grace and mercy bless human relationships with peace, in which truth, ingenuity, and beauty are the greatest expressions of human creativity. As we do this, God will use us to make the world a better place.
Six Organizational Commitments I Ask of the IWU Community
If that is the service to which we should aspire, I ask you to make these six organizational commitments as a framework for the service we provide.
The Presence of Christ – IWU is a Christ-centered academic community. If this means anything more than words on our website, it means that Jesus is in the middle of all that we do. My greatest aspiration for IWU is that it will continue to be a community marked by the genuine presence of Jesus Christ on our Marion campus, at our regional centers, and in our online classrooms. The spiritual life of our university must be our highest priority.
The Priority of Student Success – IWU was transformed and grew to be what it is today because it took the almost unprecedented step of putting the needs and interests of students at the heart of the institution. Today one of the greatest challenges that we must accept and master is the challenge to make an IWU education accessible and affordable. We will find creative, innovative, and appropriate ways to meet this challenge. We will continue to make our education affordable, prepare our students with excellence, help them find places of service, and support them as they pursue their callings.
The Practice of Excellence – In order to serve students with distinction IWU must maintain an uncompromising commitment to excellence. This will mean excellence in the selection and care of our people, in our scholarship and teaching, in the services we offer, in our physical and digital infrastructures, and in the use of our financial resources.
The Principle of Engagement – IWU is called to the mission of making the world a better place by preparing students in character, scholarship, and leadership. We believe that the world will become a truly better place when Jesus Christ is known and loved in this world, and when Biblical principles of truth, goodness, and righteousness are brought to bear on the great challenges of our time. Therefore at its heart, IWU must be a community committed to the principle of engagement with the world around us. We will not withdraw into our own Christian communities. Instead we will prepare our students to go into the world as winsome ambassadors for Jesus Christ in their various disciplines and professions.
The Priority of Relationships – IWU has reached the point in its development where we cannot become a truly great Christian university without building a much larger network of friends and supporters. One of my highest priorities will be to build stronger networks of friends who believe in and support our mission through prayer, influence, and financial resources.
The Power of a Global Focus – IWU has always had an open heart and a spirit willing to serve those most needy, and to go where the needs are greatest. Today we live in a highly interconnected world. Further, there is a great need for high quality Christian higher education all around the world. One of my passions is to lead IWU to become a diverse and global learning community in which world leaders, regardless of their ethnicity or nationality, will be prepared to make the world a better place in the name and spirit of Christ.
Five Development Priorities
Finally, I would ask us to focus on five practical development priorities. In the coming months we must:
- Transform the pattern of student accessibility and affordability
- Refocus on providing exceptional care for our students
- Reestablish a pattern of enrollment growth
- Complete our Health Sciences Initiative
- Become a diverse and global learning community
With these reflections, let me return to where I began.
We cannot live in the past. One of the greatest threats to our future might be the greatness of our past.
We cannot live in the future. We must neither fear what the future may bring, nor fail to plan for the future we desire.
We must live in the present. What will we do with this moment that belongs to us?
I ask us today to commit ourselves to the task, under God’s leadership and provision, of making Indiana Wesleyan University a truly great Christian university.
Henry Ward Beecher, a great preacher in America’s past, said something that I believe puts this Christ-like greatness into perspective.
“Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.” (Henry Ward Beecher)
My dream for Indiana Wesleyan University is that our touchstone of greatness will not be merely our great size, our great buildings, our financial strength, or even our reputation.
Our touchstone of greatness must be the one that Jesus gave us. Whoever wants to be great, must serve.
May God help us to make Indiana Wesleyan University a Christ centered academic community whose faculty, staff, administrators, and students help to make this world a better place.