|President Smith's Inaugural Address|
Vision for Geneva College
Helen Keller once said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”
Ever since my arrival in June, people have asked me, “What is your vision for Geneva College?” Joel 2:28 says that old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions. My vision is still evolving, but I do have a dream. So I guess that officially makes me an “old man!”
As you know, I graduated from Geneva in 1980, and served on Geneva’s Board of Trustees from 1994-2004. I treasure my personal experiences at Geneva, first as a student, and then as a trustee. But I pray that Geneva will become even more than it has been—that in Jim Collins’ terms, Geneva will move from “Good to Great.” My dream is that Geneva College will be known for “setting the standard” in Christian education; that others will look to Geneva to see not only how Christian education, but education in general, should be done.
Let me reflect with you on Paul’s ministry in Ephesus to give you an idea of what I mean. When Paul first arrived in Ephesus, he taught in the synagogue for about three months. When resistance stiffened, he and the local converts moved to the School of Tyrannus, where he continued to teach, reasoning and persuading about the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ name was known. The text continues with the story of the sons of Sceva, Jewish exorcists who tried to cast out demons in the name of Jesus.
Extraordinary things were happening in Ephesus because of Paul’s ministry. Individuals’ lives were being transformed—spiritually and physically. The spiritual battle Paul speaks of in Ephesus 6 was joined. The word was getting out, and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.
Beyond individual transformation, the gospel was having an impact on people’s thinking and behavior. Under conviction of the Holy Spirit, those who had practiced magic repented, and did so dramatically. They brought together and destroyed what in today’s value may have amounted to millions of dollars worth of books and paraphernalia. Not only were individual lives being changed, social practices were beginning to change. The culture was feeling the impact of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The tradesmen and citizens of the city rushed into the city’s amphitheater and shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for about two hours!
Because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the religious and economic sectors were reeling. The silver trade was being eroded due to the drop in sales of images of Artemis. Demetrius, the shrewd silversmith, recognized that things were changing, not only in Ephesus, but across Asia. He was afraid of the economic impact of the change in religious practices; thus the riot in the theater.
In summary, because of the gospel, individual lives were being transformed. The religious, intellectual, and economic sectors were in an uproar. And the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. People knew that something was going on in Ephesus!
My dream is that people will know that something is going on at Geneva College! Specifically, my dream is that Geneva College will become known for “setting the standard” in Christian education—that people will look to Geneva to see not only how Christian education, but education in general, should be done … and that they will know to look to Geneva because they see the impact of the ministry through us, the way the gospel had impact in Ephesus.
As Doctor David Carson has documented in his history of the college, appropriately entitled Pro Christo Et Patria, Geneva has been committed to Christian education since it’s founding in 1848. It restated and clarified this commitment in the 1960s with the publication of our Foundational Concepts of Christian Education. From this document, I believe our purpose as an institution is clear:
“It is the purpose of Christian education to seek the realization of the potential of the individual as the image of God through development of God-given capacities. … The goal of Christian education is the development of mature students who, as individuals, have well-integrated personalities, and who, as well oriented members of society, are building the kingdom of God in the family, church, the nation, and the world.” In short, it is our purpose to call students to repentance and submission to Jesus Christ and prepare them to serve in whatever capacity He may call them to fulfill.
But I believe Geneva needs to be more than engaged in this endeavor. It needs to be at its forefront. In today’s post modern society, the need for Christian education has never been greater. Our graduates need to be like the sons of Issachar, whom the scriptures say “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1Ch 12:32)
What will they see?
So dream with me for a bit. By the year 2015, what will people who look to Geneva College see?
First, they will see a fully integrated curriculum that is centered on knowing God and His redemptive purpose in history. The debate between liberal arts and professional programs will be a thing of the past. (I almost said it would “history,” but then certain folks in our History department might want to study it!) We have tended to think of the liberal arts as focused on the development of the mind, in contrast to professional (and pre-professional_ education being focused on the development of particular skills, often in response to the needs and expectations of employers. I believe that to set these two in opposition to one another creates a false dichotomy. To argue by way of analogy, Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). James says, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Geneva’s curriculum, for all its students, will develop both knowledge and obedience … faith and works … theory and practice … a full-orbed understanding that all of life is to be lived out under the mediatorial kingship of Jesus Christ.
Second, those who look to Geneva will see an academic community routinely engaged in intellectual exploration—or, if I may borrow the phrase from Dr. Calvin Seerveld, “Christian theoretical reflection.” Our Foundational Concepts state, “God is the source of all truth …” and education is “…the exciting adventure of seeking to appropriate knowledge in all its various facets under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” But like the tension between liberal arts and professional education, knowledge cannot be appropriated until it is discovered. Thus, our faculty, together with our students, will be engaged in ongoing scholarship that informs not only our own curriculum, but also speaks to the broader academic community. Akin to Kuhn’s concept of “normal science,” we will be actively engaged in filling in the gaps in our understanding of how God’s Word speaks to and through our disciplines, recognizing the need for continuing reformation in response to new knowledge, new questions, and new challenges to the gospel.
Third, those who look to Geneva will see an array of co-curricular programs and activities consistent with the goal of developing mature students who are prepared to serve in the kingdom of God. We are whole people. Our God-given capacities go beyond the intellectual. From athletics to drama, dormitory to dining hall, our programs and activities will challenge students to a walk of discipleship. Where better to practice what is being learned in the classroom? Our students will understand that their Geneva experience is not simply preparation for “real life.” Rather, they will experience “real life” right here … but, “real life” lived with the understanding that all of life in this world is preparatory for life in the next.
Fourth, those who look to Geneva will see a grace-filled Christian community. Geneva is a college, not a church; our purpose is complementary rather than identical to that of the church. But Geneva is a community of believers who live and work together, and are therefore reflective of the body of Christ. In this community, our students will see, and hopefully experience personally, what it means to be called by God. They will see models of faithful living in the faculty and staff with whom they interact on a daily basis. Our faculty, staff, and administrators will experience supportive, collegial relationships that foster continued intellectual and personal development, and model for our students what it means to exhort one another to love and good deeds. Our interactions will be characterized by open communication, the truth spoken in love, and ongoing discussion of how to serve the mission of the institution effectively and efficiently. When conflicts arise—and in this sinful world they will—we will see confession, repentance, forgiveness, and restored relationships. Geneva will be a community in which we seek first the kingdom of God in all the relationships of life.
Fifth, those who look to Geneva College will see the impact of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our life as a community will be characterized by students, faculty, staff, and administrators, becoming more like Christ. As a result, we will experience both positive and negative consequences. Jesus said that as the world hated Him, it will also hate us. So I expect that we will face opposition as we speak to the culture around us. I hope, however, that it won't turn into a riot in Reeves Field!
Nevertheless, speak to the culture we must, and we can expect that as a result there will be resistance. For example, expect broader “academia” to attempt to belittle our scholarship—or worse, simply ignore it. On the other hand, Geneva will be perceived to be a good neighbor. Our institutional relationships in Beaver Falls, Beaver County, Western Pennsylvania, and beyond will be valued by those with whom we engage. We will be known for being fair and honest partners who keep our word, even if we swear to our own hurt. Finally, our graduates will be using the knowledge, skills, and character they acquired while here in kingdom service, in all walks of life. We will be celebrating stories of how God is using our alumni for His glory, and alumni and friends will be supporting us in prayer and with their finances because of the way God has used Geneva College in their lives.
What will it take?
That’s my dream. So what do we need to see the dream become reality? I believe a good deal of the foundation is already in place, but I also think there is work to do. I'm sorry if my next few points sound like they are coming from a business professor, but then again, I am a business professor! So drawing on some of the concepts developed by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last, here are some of the things I think we need to work on together:
First, we need to clarify our core ideology. Our Foundational Concepts of Christian Education provide a great start, and they give us a clear purpose. But all the Christian colleges represented here today have the same or very similar purposes. Why, then, should anyone look to Geneva? To clarify our core ideology, we need to identify our core values in addition to our primary purpose. Enduring great organizations are clear on their essential and enduring tenets—a small set of general guiding principles that guide how they will pursue their purpose. These are not to be confused with specific cultural or operating practices, nor are they to be comprised for financial gain or short-term expediency. I believe we need to clarify our core beliefs about how we will pursue our purpose. These beliefs must come before policies, practices, goals, or strategies. We can change any of the latter if they are seen to violate our fundamental beliefs. Importantly, based on my experiences and interactions on campus over the past four months, I believe that Geneva has a set of core values; we simply have not articulated them clearly. So the process of defining our core ideology must be one of discovery and clarification, not creation.
Second, we need to preserve the core while stimulating progress. Once clarified, our core ideology will provide continuity and stability. It will plant a relatively fixed stake in the ground that limits the possibilities and directions we will consider. It serves as a touch-point, if you will, for making decisions that are consistent with our reason for being. By its very nature, clarifying our core ideology is a conservative act. And this is appropriate. As documented by George Marsden in The Soul of the American University, many colleges that began as Christian schools have drifted from their moorings due to a lack of clarity on this point. But once our ideology is clear, we need to stimulate progress. Society is dynamic, and the arena into which Christian education speaks is constantly changing. Thus, we need to encourage change to new directions, new methods, and new strategies—in academic terms, new courses, majors, and programs; new pedagogies and delivery methods. We need constantly to be refining our goals and impelling movement toward them. We need to seek improvements in processes, reformation of our structures, and the live. Stimulating progress expands the number and variety of possibilities we can consider, including dramatic, radical, or even revolutionary changes in the way we do things … but always bound by our core ideology. Preserve the core AND stimulate progress.
Third, we need to focus on “clock building” rather than “time telling.” Enduring great institutions are exactly that because their members, from the leadership down, focus on making the organization, rather than themselves, great. To me that sounds very much like what we are called to do by Jesus Christ: “…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). What does that look like in an academic setting? I think it means thinking about who we are to serve before ourselves. It means thinking about how we work together to accomplish our corporate purpose over our own individual or disciplinary interests. It means thinking about our general education goals before the specific curriculum, the overall curriculum before the major, the major before the specific curriculum, the overall curriculum before the major, the major before the specific course. I hope we will all be ambitious … but ambitious for the kingdom manifested in the institution above our own advancement. I am not downplaying the value of the individual! By no means! We need strong and thriving individuals to do our work. But I am saying that all here need to be thinking of building the kingdom at Geneva College before their own careers.
In Built to Last, Collins and Porras described characteristics of enduring great companies. In the companion book, Good to Great, Jim Collins described the characteristics of eleven firms that made the transition from being good companies to great companies. I'd like to borrow a few more points from this later volume.
First, Collins suggests that God-to-Great organizations need to elaborate on their core ideology to identify what he calls their Hedgehog concept. This concept is named for the hedgehog which, by doing one thing extremely well, always defeats the attacks of the stronger, faster, and wilier fox. To identify our hedgehog concept, we need to clearly answer three questions: What are we deeply passionate about? What can we be best in the world at? And what drives our economic engine? Importantly, a hedgehog concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, or a plan to be the best. Rather, it is an understanding of what we can be the best at. Doing what we are good at will only make us good; we need to be doing what we can be best at.
Again, based on four months on campus, I know there are things that folks here are passionate about. But I'm not sure we have honestly come to grips with what we can be best in the world at. And we certainly need a better understanding of our economic engine; I do not believe the price of tuition can be increased indefinitely! Like the identification of core values, this needs to be a discovery process … and I look forward to engaging with you on this agenda.
Let me pause for a moment, and say a word to members of our sister institutions. I am committed to helping Geneva identify and build on what we can be best in the world at. But this in no way means that we want to go it alone. Rather, the body of Christ is global and diverse. If Geneva is a hand, then we need to be the best hand we can be. And we expect to contribute to, work with, and benefit from, other members of the body in the broader sphere of Christian higher education.
Second, we need to develop a culture of discipline. Collins notes: “Everyone would like to be the best, but most organizations lack the discipline to figure out what egoless clarity that they can be best at and the will to do whatever it takes to turn that potential into reality.” We need to build a culture of self-discipline, focused on what can and will make Geneva great. I say this carefully; knowing that we are called to a life of obedience, rather than “greatness.” Jesus taught that greatness in His kingdom comes through service. So we need to determine how best we can serve.
Nevertheless, in the organizational setting, stewardship of what god has given us requires that we not consider “trying” good enough. Jesus tells us to count the cost of discipleship. Being great will require building a culture of self-disciplined people who take disciplined action that is consistent with whom we are. And it will require us to learn to exhort one another to love and good deeds … consistent with the purpose of Geneva College.
Third, moving from Good to Great takes sustained effort over time. Collins uses the analogy of a massive flywheel breaks through to driving force and seems to drive forward under its own power. People notice the results when the flywheel is spinning along merrily, often not realizing the work that went into getting it there. I like Collins’ analogy. However, I think I prefer the analogy of an ancient Greek or Roman trireme. These three decked warships were manned by close to 200 oarsmen, all needing to pull together to get the ship underway and accelerate until it reached cruising speed. To be effective, the trireme needed many hands working together, with someone calling cadence and someone at the helm. We need to be clear on our direction and pull together to get there.
Finally, “Good” is the enemy of “Great.” Collins says, “We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” But Jesus doesn't call us to be “good.” Rather, He says, “…you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). And He calls us to take upon our cross daily and follow Him. As individuals, we are constantly to become more and more like Christ, knowing that we will not achieve complete sanctification in this life. In like manner, the quest to make Geneva great will never end. Semper reformanda.
What I commit to …
So that’s my dream, and some of what I think it will take to make it a reality. I'm excited to be embarking on this journey with you, although still somewhat daunted by the magnitude of the task. Some of you have heard me say that I'm working on a list of things that only the President can do, with the expectation that if others can do it, it’s not my job. But this I commit to you, relying on God to grant me grace, wisdom and strength:
I will do my best to lead this institution toward this dream. I will work to develop the processes by which we will clarify our purpose and our values and translate them into measurable goals. I commit to open communication, building accountability, and fostering trust. I will work to remove stumbling blocks that prevent your doing great work, and will seek to empower you in any way I can. I will encourage Geneva to do what they can be best at, to the glory of Jesus Christ. Together may we establish a godly presence in the sphere of higher education.
What happened in Ephesus became known throughout Asia. I pray that what happens at Geneva will be known throughout the country and the world. Not because Geneva should be center stage! To the contrary! May the world look here and see Jesus Christ! May His work through us be evident … in the individual lives of our students, in the love that characterizes our community and in the impact we and our graduates have in all of the relationships of life.
Geneva College | 3200 College Ave., Beaver Falls, PA 15010