Differentiation - Biblical Higher EducationLanding the plane …

This is the 10th and final post in a series than began with “Anchoring Against Mission Drift.” I have been observing that mission drift is a peculiar vulnerability of biblical higher education institutions. Mission drift can and does occur when historic commitments are abandoned or eroded. It can also occur in more subtle ways, ways to which institutions like ours seem to me to be more especially vulnerable.

We are engaging in mission drift when we fail to recognize and adapt to major shifts emerging within our contemporary cultural and historical circumstances. I believe many of the shifts we are presently experiencing are of tectonic proportions. The North American church has moved from the majority in the middle of culture to a minority on the margins of culture. The predominant patterns of ministry calling and preparation are changing from pre-service to in-service. The erroneous conflation of ministry vocation with church occupation calls for curricular revision in which attention to what motivates, constitutes, and validates our programs of study is paramount. The shape and composition of North America’s population offers both a practical and spiritual opportunity for those who have ears to hear. An emerging generation is turned off by transactional superficiality and tuned in to transformational engagement. Meanwhile, North America’s higher educational enterprise lists and lurches in reflexive response to disruptive demands as it gulps the elixir touting education as a primary engine of personal economic success and collective economic security.

The upside of being counter-cultural

I believe the future belongs to those colleges that correctly interpret and exploit the opportunities corresponding to the challenges we face instead of cowering and cursing the changes. Let us not lose sight of nor squander our unprecedented opportunity to highlight distinctive aspects of biblical higher education even as we embrace innovation and emulate best higher educational practices. How might we be both current and counter-cultural? Consider the following biblical higher differentiation strategies:

  • The unprecedented contemporary assault of and access to information and the intellectual and moral ascendancy of secularization demands that faculty are equipped and proficient for helping students develop discernment through comprehensive understanding of the grand biblical redemption narrative and capacity to apply biblical/theological reasoning to the competing narratives of our time. It has never been more true: education that marginalizes the Bible cannot be meaningfully Christian.
  • The purposes and benefits of postsecondary education have more to do with personal transformation than mere accumulation of competencies, and gaining a God-centered sense of personal vocation is more satisfying and enduring than self-serving preparation for a professional occupation.
  • Societal flourishing is rooted in a morally virtuous, relationally covenantal, and wisely compassionate citizenry, not in mere technological proficiency or economic prosperity.

Different is better

I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with colleagues over four decades that went something like this: [Name] college has introduced (feature/program); we need to do the same or we are going to be at a disadvantage or, worse, actually “inferior” in some way. How can I say this loudly enough for you to hear? Similarity is not a formula for survival, let alone success. Are the emerging cultural, church and higher education differences driving you toward drift — or toward differentiation? Isn’t it time you had a board, faculty, stakeholder conversation about this?


Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …


What do MOOCs and Zombies have in common? 

Have MOOCs flamed out? Signing up thousands for a massive open online course (MOOC) is easy. Turns out completion and marketable credit are much more elusive. So much for disruption, right? “Not so fast,” says Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun. Here is news about his latest effort to deliver marketable technology credentials at a fraction of the cost of conventional higher education. Don’t think this can’t happen in ministry education. We better pay attention.

You can never get enough C.S. Lewis

Take a look at these creatively illustrated recordings of some of the late C.S. Lewis’ many insightful radio essays. Not only are they personally entertaining and edifying, I’m thinking you might find them useful as instructional resources.