Category Archives: Vision

A Story Full of Hope: Marion Design Co.

“And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

A fascinating story has been unfolding over the last few years – a story full of hope.  I have asked my communications assistant, Jill Pederson, to capture this story so that I could share it with you….

“It began four years ago when our Art + Design Division combined design, interior design, art and social impact into a new degree called Design for Social Impact – an idea originally birthed by Professor Wendy Puffer.

Professor Herb Vincent Peterson and Teaching Fellow Luke Anspach joined the ranks of faculty at IWU – each adding key talents, knowledge and passion to the list of instructors guiding the Design for Social Impact students.

In 2015, one IWU design student who enrolled in a typography class with Peterson also took a journalism class to fulfill a needed English credit.  An assignment for this journalism class connected her to the Mayor of Marion where she learned of the city’s desire to re-brand itself.  However, the city had a significant challenge in that they had virtually zero resources.  This student carried the message of the city’s need back to Peterson, who knew that IWU could help.

Word spread about the “re-brand Marion” project.  Perhaps the most amazing of all was a group of 17 IWU students who refused to go home during the summer of 2016.  They felt called.  They wanted to use their talents to make a difference in this community.

Wendy Puffer, Marion Design Co. Co-Founder

Puffer explains, “We had a meeting in my living room.  We explained to them that we could not pay them.  We told them that we understood the importance of making money during the summer months.  We prayed as a group about what the Lord would have us do; not one student backed out.”

Peterson began searching for studio space where their sizeable team could land for the summer to do their branding work.  Their number one desire was to be in the heart of Marion.  Through a series of remarkable circumstances, less than one week after his first inquiry, Peterson was holding a freshly cut key to the vacant bank building across from the courthouse – a space they were given to use at zero cost for the summer.

The space was perfect.  It had the exact number of tables and chairs needed for every member of their team.  The county (current owner of the building) took care of utilities and maintenance needs.  The students and faculty worked for free.

“This became a hub for an incredible, immersive learning experience for 17 students and 4 faculty.  We became a ‘thing’ that needed a name.  Someone mentioned the name ‘Marion Design Co.’ and that was that,” explains Peterson. “Marion Design Co. was a project grown by faith.  God was at work because things that are not humanly possible were happening every day.  We finished each day that summer saying, ‘What a day!’  We were living it together.  Our faith was stretched.  Our students’ faith was stretched.  We were learning alongside one another.”

They describe difficult days in the bank.  Their branding research was not easy.  They held design thinking sessions where people came in with heavy burdens, heavy concerns for Marion.  People had stories they needed to tell.  Stories of racism, poverty and unemployment that spanned generations.  They also learned encouraging things and discovered strengths of this community. When things got especially challenging, they took retreat in the huge bank vault to read scripture and pray.

The bank became a sacred space, a neutral ground.  In time, as they listened to people, talked to people, the students and faculty who made up Marion Design Co. became representatives of the city of Marion.

The result was something none of them could have imagined – work for a lifetime.  The Marion Design Co. has become marketing agents for the city of Marion seeking to change the visual vernacular of this city.  They are helping to revive, empower and propel Marion to a brighter future.

Like an army of ants, the people of Marion Design Co. are marching out to serve on boards, committees and work on projects on a scale of which I am incapable of fully explaining in one blog.  They are re-branding storefronts, re-branding businesses and schools, producing radio spots, volunteering time, creating spaces for conversations and infusing hope into every place they go. They are slowly, but surely changing perceptions.

They have completed two notable projects:  the re-branding of the City of Marion and a complete re-design of the City of Marion website.  If you have not visited the new website, here is a link: Anyone who visits this website will see Marion through the eyes of people who care about their community.

“It is truly remarkable.  I just had a student tell me that he wanted to apply for a summer internship position with Marion Design Co. for this coming summer,” explains Anspach. “Just two years ago, all of this was just an idea.”  Anspach describes his joy in being a part of marrying design with passionate, creative college students and putting them to work in a community where they are genuinely making a difference.  As he explains, “To me, this is what it means to embody the gospel.”

The county has given Marion Design Co. permission to stay in the bank building until they have a buyer for this building.  I have a hunch that one day, Marion Design Co. will be forced to vacate so that a flourishing, successful business that sees an incredible opportunity in Marion can move in.

Our students and faculty have big, beautiful ideas for Marion, Indiana.  Do you?”

“Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things.” Vernor Vinge

Thrivent Financial Commits $5 Million to Ron Blue Institute at IWU

Indiana Wesleyan University announced a $5 million commitment by Thrivent Financial to the Ron Blue Institute for Financial Planning at IWU.

For more than 30 years, Ron Blue has elevated a Biblical view of financial stewardship and generosity. In 2012, Blue licensed his intellectual property to IWU to create the Ron Blue Institute. The Institute is positioned to move forward with plans that will help it change the way Christians think, act and communicate about financial stewardship.

Blue sees tremendous value in the partnership. “Thrivent Financial is one of the great stories in America over the last hundred-plus years. It’s a story that too few people know about, and I am so excited about partnering with Thrivent and Indiana Wesleyan University to bring a message of financial stewardship and generosity to thousands of churches and individuals who need to hear it.”

Funding from Thrivent Financial will allow the Institute to hire executive and academic leaders to begin fulfilling initiatives with Indiana Wesleyan and other universities, seminaries, schools, churches and professional financial planners.

“The wise use of money is one of the Bible’s most common themes,” says Dr. David Wright, president of Indiana Wesleyan University. “The Ron Blue Institute is dedicated to becoming a national center of research and teaching about Biblical principles for the use of money. A task of this magnitude requires strong partners. We are delighted to welcome the partnership of Thrivent Financial in this great work.”

Thrivent Financial will give $2 million to fund the operations of the Ron Blue Institute over the next four years, provide an initial gift of $1 million to the Institute’s endowment and match $2 million of additional giving to the endowment.

“Thrivent is excited to provide support for this transformational work,” according to Knut Olson, senior vice president at Thrivent Financial. “It’s an honor to be part of the effort to bring both academic research and rigor to an emerging field that educates financial professionals on biblical principles with respect to the use of money in our increasingly complex world. At Thrivent, our mission is to help our Christian members be wise with money and live generously. This gift allows us to help even more Christians have a healthy relationship with money and in turn, we anticipate it will help create a world where more individuals, families and communities thrive.”

Indiana Wesleyan University will match up to $5 million of giving from Thrivent Financial and other donors to the Institute’s endowment.

“The matching-gift opportunity Indiana Wesleyan University and Thrivent Financial have provided is tremendous,” says Brian Gardner, vice president at Indiana Wesleyan University. “We look forward to helping others leverage it.”

Thrivent Financial is a financial services organization that helps Christians be wise with money and live generously. As a membership organization, it offers its nearly 2.4 million member-owners a broad range of products, services and guidance from financial representatives nationwide. For more than a century Thrivent Financial has helped members make wise money choices that reflect their values while providing them opportunities to demonstrate their generosity where they live, work and worship. For more information, visit, or find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Is Marion a Dying City?

Someone recently posted an item on Facebook that called Marion a dying city.  That got my attention.  I’ve been around Marion since 1970.  Clearly Marion isn’t the same city it once was.  But is our city’s future really dimmer than our past?

This year my wife and I have hosted several dozen community leaders in our home on the Indiana Wesleyan University campus.  We’ve welcomed business, education and non-profit leaders, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, white and African-American leaders.

We enjoy a meal together, and then we talk about our aspirations for Marion.  These conversations reveal a lot of agreement.  We are all committed to Marion’s success.  We all hope for better days.  We all believe in Marion’s future.

But we all recognize we have a big job ahead of us.
IWU - City of Marion

Declining cities face daunting challenges.  When businesses and institutions close, people make less money and become more vulnerable.  In time, health and social problems rise.  Social cohesion breaks down.  Citizens become apathetic, withdrawn and antagonistic toward each other.

Home and business owners stop taking care of their properties.  Neighborhoods become less attractive.  With dwindling tax revenues city infrastructures deteriorate.  People drive to other communities to shop, eat out and entertain themselves.  Young families move away.  It becomes even harder to attract new residents and new businesses to the city.  Slowly, a city slips into decline.

Some cities never make it back.  A few do.  In his book, The Coming Jobs War, James Clifton (CEO of Gallup) outlines key steps cities take to climb out of decline.

Thriving cities have a plan.

First, they find local solutions.  Struggling cities often look elsewhere for help.  But no one cares about our city more than we do.  Smaller-scale solutions that promote local people, local businesses and local community organizations serve as the building blocks to longer-term solutions.  To revitalize our city we must own our future.  We must think local.

Second, good, meaningful jobs are a primary foundation for a thriving city.  People need good jobs as outlets for their creativity and as the means to secure their families’ well-being.  Gallup’s research shows that in order to attract good companies and great jobs the whole city must “wage a war for jobs.”

The truth is, Marion is competing against other communities for good jobs.  We love it when our Marion Giants win a tough basketball game.  We must be just as passionate about Marion’s ability to win good jobs for our community.

Third, the city’s efforts must be aligned.  Declining cities are fragmented cities.  They have fewer organizations that encourage inclusive discussions and collaborative solutions.  Declining cities struggle to identify a shared vision for the future.  Hope dissipates and cynicism rises.

Soon, people forget how much they need each other, how much an enjoyable, attractive city is created by the many small ways that citizens invest in each other and in their neighborhoods.  Cities that climb out of decline find ways to align all of their strategies and efforts toward recreating attractive, hopeful, vibrant communities.

Thriving cities work as a team.  Together they take pride in their properties.  They improve their schools.  They support local businesses.  They encourage and support great local non-profit organizations.

Thriving cities have community leaders and elected officials who are forward thinking, who work together to create a comprehensive plan for the future, then to do the hard work to pursue that plan relentlessly.

I don’t believe Marion is a dying city.  With a good plan and hard work our city’s future can be even brighter than our past.

A Living Hope

presidentshouseOne of my goals for the Christmas break was to spend more time in reading, reflection, and prayer. The frenetic pace we keep makes it hard for me to find as much time as I’d like for quiet reflection and prayer.

Heading into the break, I felt that I needed more time to reflect on this journey that we began six months ago.  Thankfully the break was restful and invigorating.  I hope it was for you too.

Towards the end of the break I had one of those special experiences where it seems that God speaks so clearly to your mind it is as though you are having a chat over a cup of coffee.  One morning as I was sitting quietly in reflection, thinking about the various challenges that lie before us, a verse emerged in my mind as clearly as though God had spoken it to me audibly.

“In [God’s] great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope” (I Peter 1:3)

I had not been reading I Peter.  For several months now I’ve been reading Matthew, immersing myself again in the life and words of Jesus.  I hadn’t been consciously thinking about the need for hope either.  For the most part, I was thinking about the work of IWU and the awesome calling God has given Helen and me to serve as the presidential couple for this great community.

But as I sat quietly turning my thoughts over in God’s presence here was a truth breaking into my reverie like the first rays of the morning sun.  The truth stole across my spirit, warming my heart.

I have given you new birth into a living hope – a living hope.

Harvest_moon_(1)My soul’s hunger for hope seems strongest in those dark moments in the middle of the night when I wrestle with some question or challenge, when my mind will not settle and the dark fingers of fear encircle my heart. My brother calls these his “3:30 in the morning thoughts.”

Or sometimes after reading Facebook posts I feel the need for hope. Sometimes Facebook seems like a land populated by prophets of doom and purveyors of criticism. I hope against hope that what I read there really isn’t representative of the society in which we live.

It seems we have more information, and less wisdom, than any previous generation.

Activists of all kinds threaten to use the weapons of public censure, financial ruin, and legal constraint to force acceptance of their agenda.

We have more ways to communicate with each other than ever before.  But it seems we have lost the art of open and honest discourse. Our communication only hardens our convictions.  We have forgotten how to use genuine communication to forge bonds of respectful and magnanimous community among neighbors.

Meanwhile, long-standing fissures between races, religions, and political persuasions threaten to break into yawning chasms. We seem to have become a society adept at turning our differences into causes for resentment and hatred.

In this environment perhaps we need to throw open the windows of our hearts to the sweet breezes and life-giving rays of hope.

I was intrigued about this message of hope, so I went looking for more insight.

Charles Snyder was a clinical psychologist who helped to pioneer the field of positive psychology, specializing in the way that people experience hope.  Here are some of the lessons he learned.  (C. R. Snyder (2002) Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind, Psychological Inquiry: An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, 13:4, 249-275, DOI: 10.1207/S15327965PLI1304_01.)

Hope makes all of life better.

bettingersquareHope seems to be one of life’s generative forces.  “Higher hope,” says Snyder, “consistently is related to better outcomes in academics, athletics, physical health, psychological adjustment, and psychotherapy.”

Hope is an action, not an emotion.

Emotions may attend hope or despair.  But hope is an action we take in the face of life’s challenges.

Hope has three parts. 

First, hope has a goal, something out on the horizon to which we aspire, a circumstance of well-being that we desire, a vision of a better world.

Second, hope sees a pathway leading from our present circumstance to our desired goal.

Third, hope generates the willpower to take the pathway, to surmount the obstacles that stand in the way of our desired goal.

Optimism believes the future will be better than the present.  Hope goes to work to make it so.

Hope is nurtured in community.

jeremysharpWe learn worthy goals by listening to the wisdom of our community.  We see which pathways lead to genuine well-being by following the guidance of trusted advisors.  We find the will to travel our pathways of hope from the encouragement of those who love us.

Snyder found that “children who are raised in an environment that lacks boundaries, consistency, and support are at risk for not learning hopeful thinking.” These features of healthy community teach us to live hopefully.

The lives of hopeful persons are “flavored with friendliness, happiness, and confidence.”  Conversely, low-hope persons frequently draw from “reservoirs of negative and passive feelings.”

As followers of Jesus, are we just another interest group, pressing our claims on our neighbors?

You have been born again into a living hope – a living hope.

This is my aspiration for myself and for our IWU community this year.  I pray that in this fascinating, inspiring, confusing, and sometimes heartbreaking world, we will be the people of a living hope, spreading the sweet breezes and heartwarming rays of the living hope that is ours in Christ Jesus.

A Structure That Frees Our Best Ideas


Last week I read a stunning quote.  A Gallup/Inside Higher Ed survey asked Chief Financial Officers about the future viability of their institutions.  The result:

“Only a quarter of business officers express strong confidence in their colleges’ financial models over five years, and fewer still over a decade.”

Now there’s a line that will get a new president’s attention.

Unfortunately, the news only got worse the farther I read.

“The survey also asked business officers to gauge the financial sustainability of various sectors of higher education. They expressed the most confidence in the long-term prospects of elite private universities (84 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the institutions have a sustainable model), wealthy private liberal arts colleges (67 percent) and public flagship universities (62 percent), followed closely by community colleges (51 percent).  Three other sets of institutions trailed badly: non-flagship public universities (26 percent), for-profit colleges (21 percent), and non-elite private colleges (17 percent).” (Inside Higher Ed)

Just so the connection is crystal clear: Indiana Wesleyan University is a non-elite private university with a business model that draws heavily from some aspects of the for-profit sector.

IWU sits squarely in the two sectors of higher education that very few university CFOs expect to survive over the next decade.

For those of us who have participated in IWU’s spectacular rise over the last two decades, this news is hard to take seriously.  To be sure, in many ways, IWU is well situated to take on the challenges that may come our way.

STOCK trackBut we dare not ignore the warning signs in today’s environment.  The world is changing around us.  The circumstances in which we charged to the top of table of Christian colleges and universities have changed.  The social, economic, and policy landscapes of today bear scant resemblance to those in which our university grew large.  We must ask ourselves some hard questions.

Are we still the same community with a passion for its mission, and a zest for nimble, creative, innovative engagement with the people we serve?

Are we willing to learn what it means to be this kind of institution in today’s drastically altered environment?

Four Institutional Responses

We must respond to the challenges of this day in four ways.

First, we must passionately own our mission and our vision of success. 

Second, we must embrace a culture of innovation and creativity. 

Third, we must create an administrative structure that frees our best ideas to emerge.

Fourth, we must exercise rigorous discipline in financial matters. 

Principles of Empowered Organizations

As I try to face the challenges of these days realistically my confidence in IWU’s future is not shaken.  We have a stellar community of faculty, staff, and administrators who are passionately committed to the mission of serving students.

I believe with every fiber of my being that empowered organizations united around a common purpose have the best chance to thrive in uncertain times.  Thus, I believe one of my paramount duties as President is to shape an administrative structure that empowers the people of IWU to dream, create, and achieve our greatest ideas.

We are working to create an administrative structure that is lean, focused, empowered, and committed to quality, innovation and growth. This structure must have these characteristics.

chapelblog2Unified leadership of our two primary administrative units

We struggle to name these units.  In the past they were the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the College of Adult and Professional Studies (CAPS).  But we now have six principal academic units.  For now I’ve adopted the terms “Residential Education” and “Non-Residential Education” to name these two great wings of our university.  Our administrative structure must provide unified, focused, and empowered administrative leadership for each of these units.

Accountability for commonly agreed upon goals

The administrative leaders of Residential and Non-Residential Education will be accountable for commonly agreed upon goals.  These goals will include measures of student success, programmatic quality, enrollment growth, and financial performance.

Delegated responsibility and authority

The administrative leaders of Residential and Non-Residential Education will hold both responsibility and authority to guide their units within the frameworks of our mission, institutional policies, and legal requirements.  They will have full authority to operate their units within these frameworks so as to achieve the goals on which we have agreed.

Embedded operational departments within the units they serve

Centralizing some administrative functions can promote efficiency and yield economies of scale.  But centralized administrative functions also are prone to two opposite problems.  In some cases they may add costs that are not directly tied to the student-serving programs they are meant to support.  In other cases they may be starved for resources because their needs aren’t visible enough to those who lead student-serving programs.  We can combat these problems by ensure close connections between administrative offices and the programs they serve.

Limited central administrative layer 

Some administrative functions must be centralized because they serve the whole university.  But we must keep this layer as lean as possible.

IWU Structural Vision

Before we look at an organizational chart that depicts this structure I think it helps to get a particular picture in our minds.  Here is a simple graphic of the work that lies at the heart of IWU.

Structural Chart[3]

At the heart of IWU are the programs that help our students achieve the learning and developmental outcomes we espouse – development in character, scholarship, and leadership.

Over the last two weeks I’ve spent about 14 hours listening to over 100 members of our staff talk about IWU.  I am about halfway through my Listening Tour.

It has already become abundantly clear to me that all of us at IWU see ourselves as integrally involved in helping students succeed.  From housekeepers to business office staff, every department has told me they celebrate the contributions they make to the lives of our students.  In one way or another, we all work to achieve the outcomes we desire for our students.

Most directly, these outcomes are fostered through the collaborative work of three crucial areas – Academics, Chapel/Chaplaincy, and Student Development.

This graphic depicts the centrality of these three areas, served and supported by the two administrative Cabinets, which are in turn served by the administrative framework provided by the President’s Executive Council.

IWU Administrative Structure Chart

With that picture in mind, here is the organizational chart of the administrative structure I am asking us to work together to implement.

Framework Chart

This chart represents our first step towards an administrative structure that embodies the principles of focused, empowered, creative, nimble leadership.

Academic Governance

It is important to note one thing the chart cannot adequately show.  The university’s academic units still report directly to the Provost and from there to the President.  Thus the academic governance system does not change in this structure.

Representatives of the principal academic units are placed in the structure according to the administrative services that their students require.

Two Primary Changes

There are two primary changes reflected in this structure.  The first is the creation of the two Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer positions.

I am delighted that Keith Newman has agreed to serve as the Chief Executive Officer for Residential Education, and Audrey Hahn has agreed to serve as Chief Executive Officer for Non-Residential Education.  These are supremely skillful, experienced administrators who are deeply committed to the mission of IWU.

The second change reflected here is the creation of the two Cabinets that will give oversight to Residential and Non-Residential Education.

Leadership Councils

We work best when we talk to each other often.  This structure will be enacted through the following five leadership groups that will meet together regularly.

Click here for more details on the leadership councils.

Where Do We Go From Here

What I have described here is a beginning framework.  From here we must work together to move from this conceptual map to an actualized reality.  This will take our best efforts of ingenuity, discussion, and idea-sharing.  I welcome and invite those discussions.

Steven Mintz, a professor of history and executive director of the University of Texas system’s Institute for Transformational Learning, recently detailed 15 innovations shaping the current higher education revolution.  Here is his broad assessment of what is needed.

“Colleges must become more nimble, entrepreneurial, student-focused, and accountable for what students learn.” (Steven Mintz, Chronicle of Higher Education)

I believe this describes the institution that IWU has always been.  We are called to take this identity forward so that our best ideas will shape the future we hope to achieve.

IWU’s Culture of Innovation and Creativity


Today we have the power and the responsibility to create the institutional culture that IWU must have to thrive over the next decade.

At our recent Leadership Team meeting I shared my reflections on a presidential vision for IWU’s future. I love visioning.  But vision alone is insufficient.  Vision requires the creation of an effective institutional culture and structure.

These are the most turbulent and uncertain circumstances American higher education has faced in several generations.  In recent years IWU has responded to this climate of social uncertainty, financial challenge, and external threat by making careful budget cuts.

This work is not pleasant.  In fact, cost cutting is hard on any institutional community.  But it is a necessary and healthy response to times of financial challenge.

Institutions that use challenging times to become more efficient and more focused often find that challenges make them stronger.

But now we must ask, beyond cost cutting, how can we create the kind of institutional culture that IWU will need to achieve the vision of becoming a truly great Christian university?

To put this as simply as I know how:

The more creative, innovative, and service-minded IWU’s institutional culture becomes, the more prepared we will be to achieve our vision in these unstable and challenging times. 

The most important aspect of our culture must always be our passionate embrace of being a Christ-centered and prayerful community.

cheerBut next to this, the most important work we must do is to cultivate a culture of innovation and creativity.  These traits must be embedded in a decision-making structure that is rigorously devoted to quality and efficiency, while also being empowering and nimble.

Business guru Tom Peters called him the founder of the world’s first trillion dollar company. You’ve heard of his company but you might not have heard of him. At the height of his success he retired from business and began tending a 200 acre farm on the Pacific coast near Silicon Valley.

His name is Dee Hock.  He founded VISA, the credit card network.

Hock coined the terms “chaord” and “chaordic” by combining two concepts that may not seem to go together: chaos and order.  Hock used this new term to describe organizations that allow great freedom for creativity and innovation, while remaining faithful to a central purpose and principles.  In profoundly unstable and unpredictable times, he believed, these are the organizations that thrive.

“Purpose and principle, clearly understood and articulated, and commonly shared, are the genetic code of any healthy organization.  To the degree that you hold purpose and principles in common among you, you can dispense with command and control.  People will know how to behave in accordance with them, and they’ll do it in thousands of unimaginable, creative ways. The organization will become a vital, living set of beliefs.” (Dee Hock, founder of VISA)

This is my aspiration for IWU.  I hope that we will become a community united around purpose and principle.  I hope that our mission and our vision to become a truly great Christian university by embracing Christ-like service will become our genetic code.

hodsonYears ago I observed the practical truth of a principle that Tom Peters articulated. He and a partner studied organizations that sustained excellence and growth in uncertain and challenging conditions.  He wrote,

“After 50 (combined) years of watching organizations thrive and shrivel, [he and his co-researcher] held to one, and only on, basic belief: To loosen the reins, to allow a thousand flowers to bloom and a hundred schools contend, is the best way to sustain vigor in perilous, gyrating times.” (Tom Peters)

Arie de Geus created an interesting metaphor for this institutional culture.

“Low tolerance (for variety) is efficient, but it requires a strong set of hierarchical controls in order to minimize the use of resources.  And it needs a stable world. It’s a little like pruning roses. You decide to prune your roses short or long. If you prune long–if you are tolerant–you will certainly not be the best performer in the industry with the highest return on investment. You may not have this year’s largest roses. But you have considerably increased the chances that you will have roses every year. Tolerant pruning . . . gradually renews the plant over time and is more effective in a world you cannot control. I may not have the biggest roses, but I always have roses.” (Arie de Geus, former strategist, Royal Dutch Shell)

“De Geus . . . examined a handful of businesses that have thrived over the very long haul.  And he finds that the key to their success is relatively loose reins. The long term top performers may not have been No. 1 in a given year or decade. But, decades in and decades out, they [have exceeded] the competition.  Call it true decentralization or let 1000 roses bloom.” (Tom Peters)

guyclassroomIn recent weeks, many of you have told me that you fear IWU now has an internal climate of uncertainty and timidity.  This does not surprise me.  We have come through challenging times.

But we must face this truth squarely.  If we allow this period of uncertainty and challenge to create among us a culture of uncertainty, tentativeness, and fear, we will be headed in exactly the wrong direction.

Together we must lead IWU to become a different kind of organization. We must recapture our zest for creativity, innovation, and growth.

I have asked the key faculty, administrative, and staff Leadership Team of IWU to commit ourselves to the task of creating an institutional culture that is:

  • Fanatically committed to the purpose and principles that define who we are,
  • Constantly seeking innovation and creativity in pursuit of that purpose,
  • Addicted to planning but not afraid to try new things, to reinvent ourselves, to launch out into uncharted waters in order to become a truly great Christian university.

Next week, I would like to describe for you the broad outlines of the administrative structure I have asked our administrative team to put in place.

I will also talk about the work that we need to do together to flesh out that structure, and to create the culture that will allow IWU to thrive in uncertain times.

Reflections on a Vision for IWU’s Future


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

worshipcropUniversities 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

columbusWhat 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.”

health sciences constructionRestorers are:
“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

Lexington-3If 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.

wyattFive 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.