Reflections from Seminary Students

Interview with Keith Hamilton, President of Alaska Christian College

March 30th, 2011 § 0 Comments

Seattle Pacific University and School of Theology alumnus (1984) Keith Hamilton graciously allowed us to interview him and hear the many ways in which God has led him toward his vocational ministry. The interview below documents Keith’s path as he pursued God’s calling in his life.

School of Theology: To begin, where did you grow up, and when did you first feel God’s call in your life?

Keith Hamilton, President of Alaska Christian College

Keith Hamilton: I spent my formative years from third grade through my time at Everett Community College in Lake Stevens, Washington, before transferring to SPU in 1982. I first felt God’s call to serve Him while attending SPU during my senior year.

With many options in front of me after graduation, I felt led to accept the call of a short-term mission to Mexico City, which lasted almost a year. The short transition between graduating from SPU and going to the mission field commenced my service in full-time ministry.

In what way did you feel God’s call in your senior year at SPU?

I knew that in my senior year at SPU God was calling me to full time ministry. Following graduation, I had a few opportunities to serve in Washington as a youth pastor or at a Christian camp.

However, there was a pull at my heart for the people in Mexico, because I have truly enjoyed serving them on short-term mission trips over the years. Instead of applying for positions in local ministries, I stepped out in faith and obedience by completing the necessary paperwork to open the process with Covenant World Mission to serve in Mexico City.

Through a series of miracles, God made it very clear that I was to leave the comfort of a local ministry position and follow His leading south. One such miracle was illustrated in my waiting for a letter from Africa to arrive. On the day I prayed it would arrive, after waiting 5 months to get a response from mentors of mine there, it arrived. It became clear that I was being sent to Mexico City without question after that experience.

What experiences did you encounter in Mexico City, and how did that trip serve as a foundation for a life in ministry?

I encountered wonderful young people who were very excited about a new life with Jesus and a new church we planted while there. I served as a youth pastor in three different church settings, both English and Spanish speaking. This year of my life gave me the passion to serve youth that has remained with me for 31 years as a youth pastor and now college president.

While in Mexico I knew two things:

1.       I needed to prepare myself educationally for full-time youth ministry and

2.       I was not called to return to Mexico as a full-time, career missionary.

I knew, instead, that God had called me to send others to Mexico and go myself when possible.

To date, I have led teams of more than 700 young people on week-long trips to Mexico and have served annually for the past 20 years as a leader, speaker, missionary, and support staff to others who serve permanently in Mexico.

This post-SPU experience was the foundation for my commitment and calling to pastor young people, to be passionate about mission outreach to specific people groups (such as the Eskimos I serve today), and to disciple everyone I come into contact with.

In what ways did the year in Mexico City give you the passion to serve youth for these last 31 years?

I realized that reaching youth through discipleship was my greatest contribution with the gifts the Lord has provided. What I was called to do in Mexico City was just that — to disciple youth so that they become fully committed followers of Jesus Christ.

I saw impoverished, Mexican youth as well as middle- and upper-class foreign students who all met in different youth groups I led to be discipled, one on one and in larger groups. My passion grew as I saw Christ lead many students into relationship with Him.

Could you tell me more about your time between Mexico City and Alaska? Did you spend some time discerning God’s next calling?

Since my experience in Mexico City, I knew that God was calling me toward full-time ministry to students. I began my preparation academically at Fuller Theological Seminary on the campus of SPU, and then moved to the Pasadena campus to get my master of divinity degree with a concentration in youth ministry. I also completed a year and a half of studies at North Park Theological Seminary in preparation for ordination with the Evangelical Covenant Church.

I entered my first full-time pastorate in Rocklin, California, as an associate pastor working with youth and then maintaining the same position in Arvada, Colorado. In both of these ministries — which spanned 12 years — I knew that my heart remained softened toward world mission. Yet I knew that I was called to stay in the U.S.

When the opportunity for planting Alaska Christian College came about, I knew that God was allowing me to retain both my call to mission and my call to youth ministry in the same location — Alaska! I am overwhelmed that God has provided such a great and rich experience in both the foreign mission field and the home mission field as I work with and serve primarily with Alaska native young people.

Could you tell me more about your mission outreach with the Eskimos you serve today?

We mainly serve Alaska’s rural Eskimo students coming from village Alaska. We serve a population that has seen many students fail in their attempts at the state university system. We provide a two-year, Christian, higher-education opportunity that allows them to progress toward a four-year degree while in a setting of Christian community that personally reaches each student’s academic and spiritual needs.

We have seen the transformation of students who have found Christ and been discipled in Him while at ACC. We are a mission college, which means that we do not turn students away because they cannot afford their first year of college. We raise support as a mission staff and two-thirds of our operational income arrives from donations. We are Alaska’s only Christian college reaching this population, and for 10 years have had the incredible privilege of watching students and their families — and, we pray, someday their villages — be transformed because of our students.

What led you to start a Christian college in Alaska?

While in Colorado, my wife and I had the opportunity to consider planting Covenant Bible College of La Merced, Ecuador. When that door closed, we knew that God was going to move us somewhere to serve, but we did not know where. Our calling was sure — serving youth, with a mission focus, doing discipleship.

When the opportunity came to interview to become the President of the ACC – what I jokingly referred to as the President of Nothing since we began with no freshmen, finances, faculty, or facility – I knew that Deb and I were possibly the ones God wanted to move to Alaska. While my heart is for discipleship, youth ministry, and mission, I had no idea that ultimately I would end up serving Native peoples and my wife would lead the counseling center on the campus of ACC.

Many people believe it was my vision to plant ACC. Actually, it was the native leaders of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Alaska who had the vision to reach this amazing group of young people forgotten by most of society. We were called to implement their vision, and for over 10 years now have seen transformation of lives and families — and someday, we pray, whole villages — because Christ has redeemed and built strong foundations through His Word taught at Alaska Christian College.

What kind of advice would you offer to current theology students about discerning and following the call of God on their lives?

Our God is a God of clarity and not confusion; our Lord is a Lord of order and not disorder. Knowing these promises from Scripture, students should trust Him when discerning their call through what is clear and orderly right in front of them, not the unknown.

For following God’s calling in their life, students should know that choosing the highest road of integrity is the only road to take as they lead by God’s power and through His Spirit.

I really appreciate your story. I enjoy hearing how God opens and closes doors and eventually leads families to fruitful vocations. How can students at SPU and in the School of Theology pray for your ministry?

Thanks for asking! For prayer requests, the biggest is that we are one year from receiving initial accreditation next February with a site visit next fall. This is critical for the future of our institution, and we are grateful for your prayers.

On Community

March 16th, 2011 § 0 Comments

Although apartments stack seemingly endlessly upon each other as urban density exponentially increases, life in the city can feel solitary. When your neighbors sign a one-year lease, is it worth taking the time to get to know them? Without intentionality, no readily apparent reason emerges for beginning a relationship with an apartment neighbor. Homeowners can dialogue with neighbors over fences, mowed lawns, and neighborhood softball tournaments. We apartment dwellers, on the other hand, don’t rely on our urban neighbors for sustenance, entertainment, or help. Instead, we drive to a store.

Photo by Peter Morgan

The American marketplace has replaced the American neighbor.

Outside the congested cities resides community life. In smaller areas, people lean on others to survive; they know each other’s business and the sense of self is defined more by the group than by the individual. This group is not a gathering of like-minded individuals around a hobby or passing fad; it is people helping people no matter the circumstances.

In Week 7 of Winter Quarter’s Lectio, Dr. David Nienhuis discusses the sermon on community in Matthew 18:

“Christian community is not a social club or a center for ‘worshiptainment,’ but a training ground for the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a place people go in order to submit to the training of a loving Coach who embraces us as we are and then uses our fellow community members to reshape us into the kind of people he calls us to be.”

Is your church experience more a gathering for a hobby or a necessity for the subsistence of yourself and others?

Book Review: Ecological Intelligence

March 9th, 2011 § 0 Comments

Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything, by Daniel Goleman (New York: Broadway Books, 2009. 288 pp)

As a psychologist, Daniel Goleman writes and lectures to students and working professionals on brain and behavioral sciences. Born in California in 1946, Goleman split his time as an undergraduate between Amherst College and the University of California at Berkeley, receiving a B.A. from Amherst in anthropology. Through a scholarship from the Ford Foundation, Goleman attended the clinical psychology program at Harvard and pursued doctoral research on meditation as an intervention in stress arousal. Goleman’s post-doctoral grant from the Social Science Research Council later became his first book, The Meditative Mind. Taking a job with Psychology Today, Goleman became interested in full-time writing, publishing articles with The New York Times and writing books, including the widely popular Emotional Intelligence. Goleman lives with his wife in Massachusetts.

90%

Money, the most awkward subject in church. Some pastors decide to forgo any mention of it for fear of molding the sermon into a money grab; others discuss money constantly, reminding their parishioners of tithing as a duty to God. In both instances, the debate resides around the tithe, typically understood as a charitable contribution of 10% of all income.

But what about the other 90%?

Setting aside debates about whether a tithe ought to be the standard or a minimum, Christians all too often utilize the remaining funds in the marketplace without much thought about the biological, ecological, and social ramifications of their purchases.

Naturally, many Christian leaders would shy away from exerting control over a congregation’s finances. But I am not proposing that a pastor give his or her flock a list of what to buy. Instead, I believe it is important that Christians be reminded that what they purchase counts. Each item in the shopping cart represents a vote for that product.

Whether or not we want to admit it, Christians buy products from some pretty nasty companies. Luckily, though, many virtuous companies do exist — companies that are selling good products for health, society, and the globe that have been produced in humane ways. If Christians consider purchasing in this manner, it is possible that they can add further change to the world in addition to charitable donations.

Hidden Impacts

With these ideas in mind, Daniel Goleman’s book Ecological Intelligence discusses the importance of knowing the effects concerning the things we buy. If you realized that buying the cheaper pair of shoes not only meant that you continue to promote child slavery but also that you are wearing a product that leaks toxic chemicals into the air, wouldn’t you think twice about purchasing the product?

Of course, Ecological Intelligence focuses primarily on the environmental side effects of the things we buy. Yet Goleman also expands his spotlight to uncover the hidden impacts on health, the environment, and society as a whole.

Radical Transparency

Goleman suggests that consumers demand radical transparency in the market place. As it stands, a disconnect lies between consumer and producer. We don’t know exactly where food, clothing, and toys come from. With subsidies imparted through big-business lobbying, the open market is not actually open. Thus, business finds means by which to hide certain health, environmental, and societal costs.

Source: Roadside Pictures

Radical transparency, on the other hand, suggests that business lifts the veil off its operations and supply chain. Under this scenario, a consumer is capable of rationally deciding the best product, based on open information. Goleman adds,

For companies, radical transparency can create a vibrant new competitive playing ground, one where doing the right thing also means doing better (82).

The current cultural climate around the globe offers a ripe scenario for this sort of transparency. More specifically, social networking allows almost instantaneous communication between extensive populations. If a business ethically falters in this environment, word will spread quickly. Moreover, websites such as www.goodguide.com supply customers with a smart-phone application, providing power in the hands of consumers to obtain a better sense of companies and products.

It seems to me that most Christians would seek to do good in the world when presented an opportunity to do so. Ecological Intelligence offers practical ways in which people can navigate the health, environmental, and societal factors of purchasing products. The Christian Church is a beacon for the poor and disinherited. Many Christians give generously to charity and mission organizations. But we can do so much more! Our groceries, clothing suppliers, and houses give us further opportunities to choose the best products for our own health, the environment, and society.

Book Review: Why Business Matters to God

March 2nd, 2011 § 0 Comments

Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed)

By Jeff Van Duzer (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010. 206 pp)

Jeff Van Duzer is the dean of Seattle Pacific University’s School of Business and Economics. Previously, he practiced law for more than 20 years with a large international law firm concentrating in commercial transactions and environmental law. Van Duzer received his J.D. from Yale Law School. He writes and speaks frequently in both church and professional settings.

Separate Spheres, Like the Sun and Moon

In most home, work, and church settings, a clear disconnect exists between Christianity and business. In general, the average Christian relegates his or her faith to the personal sphere. Beliefs and practices resulting from Christian tradition are channeled primarily within the family with the purpose of creating moral individuals and healthy relationships.

When an application of faith to business is pursued, one of two extreme postures is typically taken: Christians understand the business world to be in conflict with the life of faith, thereby pursuing their work lives independent of their spiritual lives. Or, they see little or no moral tension between economic and spiritual pursuits, resulting in “business as usual” with no resulting changes in actions or outlook.

The pulpit, similarly, avoids mingling these two topics. Apart from rhetoric encouraging parishioners to live Monday through Friday in an identical manner to Sunday, pastors rarely mention the theological merit of work. For this reason and certainly many more, numerous Christians value business for its instrumental contributions to “morally elevated” occupations such as church, missionary, and nonprofit work.

Business as Service

Van Duzer questions these assumptions in Why Business Matters to God. While value certainly exists in the contributions business makes to the nonprofit sector, Van Duzer contends that business in and of itself contains intrinsic value.

Leaning theologically on the Reformed rubric of God’s activity in the world — creation, fall, redemption, and New Creation — as well as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic work in Christ and Culture, Van Duzer suggests a new framework in which to imagine business. He recommends supplanting the generally accepted business practice of maximizing shareholder value with a “business-as-service model,” which he contends is more closely aligned with God’s purposes for economic enterprise.

What is the “business-as-service model?” Van Duzer defines it simply when he writes, “The purpose of business is still to serve in two key aspects: (1) to serve the community by providing goods and services that will enable the community to flourish, and (2) to serve employees by providing them with opportunities to express at least a portion of their God-given identity through meaningful and creative work” (114).

In a certain sense, Van Duzer’s business-as-service model resides within the realm of ideas reacting against the dominant view of maximizing shareholder value such as stakeholder theory, social entrepreneurship, conscious capitalism, and creative capitalism; and on top of new ownership structures, like the B Corporation, that facilitate a legal framework from which to pursue multiple bottom lines. More importantly, though, Van Duzer’s position re-imagines business through a practical theological lens.

The Messy Middle

Whether business models itself in service or shareholder value, it operates in what Van Duzer calls the “messy middle,” a state on the theological timeline between the resurrected Jesus and the promises of glorified perfection yet to come. The Jewish and Christian scriptures promise a perfect, future city that exhibits all that God originally intended for humanity. Yet brokenness keeps us from fulfilling these promises in our current time and context. For Christians, a perfect application of the “business-as-service model,” therefore, is impossible until the full Shalom in Jesus’ return is made manifest.

Although work is currently tainted by the fall, it presents Christians in the business world with the opportunity to exercise both creative and redemptive work. God first illustrated the calling of humanity to engage in creative work through the naming of the animals by Adam. Similarly, business people in modern times engage in creative work when they develop new software, begin an entrepreneurial venture, or engage in other additive ventures.

Intermingled and as equally important, business also focuses on fixing and restoring that which is fractured, a necessary measure because of the full import of the fall. While the “messy middle” hinders the full realization of a perfected business-as-service model, redemptive and creative work offers Christian business people a navigable compass in our less-than-perfect world.

God’s Economy: The Household

Theologically speaking, Van Duzer’s business model emphasizes the community over the individual. Typically, when managing decisions, the modern business person applies a self-interested ethic often under the umbrella of consequentialism. Authors such as Milton Friedman continue to cite — perhaps incorrectly — Adam Smith’s invisible hand as the root of all actions in the free market.

Business as service, on the other hand, stresses the importance of other people. In this way, business serves the economy, or better translated: the household. Just as the triune God exists not as an individual but as three persons in relational community, so too business exists in relational community with the rest of the economy and with other important, mediating institutions of culture.

Theologian, M. Douglas Meeks writes in God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and the Political Economy,

“All the persons of the triune community have their own characteristics and their own tasks. Yet they are constituted as persons precisely by their relationships with other persons of the community. The same should be said for human economic community. There is in reality no such thing as a radically individual and isolated human being. We are what we are as a result of being constituted by our relationships with other members of the communities in which we live. All social goods are given to us communally.”

A theologically minded Christian in the marketplace must remember that his or her actions affect the local community and the global community. Where self-interested or narrowly focused decisions directed toward increasing shareholder wealth often neglect other stakeholders, the business-as-service framework offers an important and theologically grounded foundation to serve the broader community.

Why Business Matters to God

God created work and declared that it was good. Why Business Matters to God contends with the schismatic notion that business and Christian practices reside in divergent spheres.

Where the popular ideologies suggest that the positive nature of business subsists in its instrumental value — its capability in funding work that actually matters — Jeff Van Duzer asserts that business, when understood as service to the global community, maintains intrinsic value — significance by its created purpose to both create and restore a hurting world.

Whether your occupation involves managing a large company or you just recently entered the job world, this book is a must-read for those interested in the relationship between Scripture, work, and business.

Originally published at http://www.spu.edu/depts/sbe/cib/.

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