10 Affirmations of Our Common Life

William Jessup University 10 Affirmations of Our Common Life (08/11)
John Jackson, Ph.D.

1. God’s purpose for WJU through the Mission & Vision of the University is primary. My personal desires and wishes will not be my primary lens in decision making at WJU.

First, I think this affirmation presupposes that God has a purpose for William Jessup University; an assertion I heartily agree with! Knowing that God has a plan for us here makes everything we do part of His kingdom agenda. Recognizing that the Mission & Vision of the University are the primary lens through which to understand that purpose, helps me to order my thoughts and my actions. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get so busy I forget the “why” of what I’m doing. The Mission and Vision of the University help to center me on our understanding of God’s purpose for our life together.

Second, I have to admit the obvious…I HAVE PERSONAL DESIRES AND WISHES! Particularly for someone in my position with a presumption of lots of power and authority (more presumption and less reality to be honest!), it is an important discipline to ask whether I am making decisions, or being part of conversations that are best for the University, or are they primarily about my personal desires. Hopefully my personal desires and the University future are in alignment. That is certainly a prayer for us all! So how about you? Do you ever struggle with your personal desires and what might be best for the University? Is there anything in the wording of this affirmation that stirs up something in you?

2. We will be a praying team. We want to hear from God and not just do things for God.

So, here is the reality. The longer that you know me and the longer that I serve in leadership with our community here at Jessup, the more that you will learn about me. I think that most of that will be good. But, occasionally you will discover things about me that are not so good. Today is a time to learn about one of those things. It is an Achilles heel that I have battled for years. Here it is: Left to my own natural orientation, I will tend to choose doing, striving, action rather than being, listening, and responding. I’d rather get on with doing things FOR God than being sure that I have heard FROM God before I do something. Thankfully, both my Heavenly Father and my wife are gracious and disciplined to make sure we are listening to Him.

Prayer is a discipline for me. For whatever reason, I have to discipline myself to be in prayer groups, to spend concentrated time in prayer, and to maintain a heart connection with my Father. I pray all the time…literally! But often I have discovered that my praying is asking God to “bless” what I have already decided He wants me to do. Stop! Foul on the play. I’m learning. I’m listening more these days and trying to practice the rhythms of walking and listening to the Father.

So how does that translate for us here at WJU? I want to make sure that we have heard from Him about what He wants. Left to my own devices, I can make all kinds of strategic plans, develop all kinds of action and accountability steps, and produce lots of activity. All that may be required…but the FIRST THING is to check the condition of my own heart. Last week’s chapel teaching about the “soil of our soul” is a message God has spoken to my own heart a 1,000 times!

 

3. We will engage in difficult issues as a team with strong opinions but a Christ‐honoring, loving spirit; once we make decisions we will be united. We will confront reality, deal with problems and challenges, and be open about difficulties. Truth is our friend.

This is a hard affirmation for some people. I think I’ve tried to be honest each step on the way, so can I be honest about this one? I think I deal very well on this particular affirmation. I was raised in a home with some pretty opinionated people and I think I learned to keep “in tension” what I believed and what others around me believed. I learned to do more of that when I attended a college that had very strong views that were very different from my own. But, sadly, what I have sometimes learned in the Body of Christ is that we often are uncomfortable with telling each other what we think and believe. I keep thinking of Ephesians 4 which tells us to “speak the truth in love” and speak to build up, not tear down. Some Christ followers have taken that to mean we can never say the hard things to one another. I believe Scripture calls us to speak the truth, and do so in love. We, like Jesus, should be full of grace and truth…and notice the order of the words! Full of grace and truth.

Here is what I’m praying and hoping for at WJU. I’m praying and believing that we can have passionate, truthful, deeply committed Christ followers who lead out strong in our various areas of responsibility. I’m praying that we can learn to love, trust, and care for each other and even passionately disagree with each other on occasion. But we will keep our conflict or areas of disagreement focused on the issues and not on the persons, and once we make decisions, we will be united in Christ.   In my view, strong opinions and divergent perspectives are NOT an invitation to dis‐unity and disorder. Rather, a student in my SFG group recently said that unity and order go together and flow from each other…I like that!

Finally, I’m trusting that we will traffic in truth. Truth is our friend and we will not live in denial. We will trust the Lord, live in His freedom, and face the present and future with great hope and expectation. As we navigate through any obstacles and difficulties that come our way, we will “keep our eyes on the prize to which He has called us”. I am excited about how many Godly and faith filled people He has brought together on this team. I trust that you are enjoying your journey and part of the team as well.So…what do you think?

 

4.We will acknowledge our need for each other and trust in each other, willing to admit to weaknesses and mistakes. Building Trust through Truth will be a primary goal of our team.

Patrick Lencioni, in the marvelous team building resource entitled “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, suggests that vulnerability based trust is the foundational basis of any healthy high performance team. I have over 30 years’ experience working in Christian ministries and have spent my entire life in church and ministry contexts. I am completely confident that what Lencioni suggests is accurate.   Teams that cannot trust cannot triumph. Some, upon hearing this, think that means we cannot disagree with each other. Well, I disagree with that! I think it means just the opposite. If we are going to learn to trust, we have to walk in truth. And walking in truth means we have to be honest with each other when our perspective or understanding of a subject is different from our team members. I remember Ruth Graham being asked if she ever disagreed with Billy. Her response? “Of course I do; if I never disagreed with him, then one of us would be unnecessary!” Vulnerability‐based trust means we can know we are getting honest and clear feedback on an issue from our team mates.

So what destroys vulnerability based trust? Often it is when we share a hard thing in an attacking and personalized way so that our focus is not on the issue or decision, but upon the people involved. Being willing to say the hard thing WITHOUT destroying persons is a key learned skill here. As we learn to build trust through truth, our teams will grow stronger. Those teams will become stronger not because they are UNIFORM, but because they are UNITED. Clarity of vision, trust in the team, and discipline of execution all create environments where we move forward together.I’d be interested in your thoughts on this. Is your particular team building trust through truth? How about your sense of Jessup as a whole?

 

5. We will assume the best of others. Philippians 2 will be our primary mindset in our relationships with other team members.

This affirmation follows from what I believe is a natural progression in the Body of Christ. Biblically speaking, we all know that we are part of a fallen creation. The sin nature and orientation all humanity has towards rebellion against God is a given (theologically and practically!). However, as women and men who have been redeemed and have come to know Christ, we are new creations. Therefore, we do not treat each other as though we were walking and leading in our sin nature. We treat one another as “in Christ”. We live out the new reality, even when some of our “old reality” rears its ugly and unredeemed head! So what does all this mean practically? It means we live like Jesus did. We are unwilling to grasp position and power, and are willing to humble ourselves and serve one another. We walk in the power of the Spirit and manifest the fruit of the Spirit so that we can build both a strong believing community and be a witness to the world. In fact, when Christians are divided, distrusting, and dismissive of one another, we negatively affect our witness in every dimension. Love builds up. The enemy “steals, kills, and destroys” (John 10:10). Here at WJU, our present and future will be experienced in full measure as we learn to love and serve one another in an environment that models Christlikeness. If you love me, you will challenge me when you see a behavior that is not like Jesus. Even if we are in disagreement, I will do my best to hear you and receive from you. I think we can commit to that together and build a Father glorifying, Jesus like, and Spirit empowered community.What do you think?

 

6. We will be a team that looks forward to our meetings together and other opportunities to work as a group. Our shared ministry at WJU is a calling, not just a “job.”

I’ve tried to be pretty transparent in most of these, so I’m going to keep with that trend until you beg me to stop. I grew up in California. I attended public schools. Does anybody else remember the SRA cards in English classes? Do you also remember being assigned to groups to do work? Which did you prefer? I have a confession to make. I ALWAYS preferred the assignments where I could work alone, work at my own speed, and finish as quickly as possible (there is a hint as to which speed I preferred!). I did NOT like group work and often found myself frustrated by it. Then, years later, I became a pastor. Guess what I discovered? Ministry (and life!) is about people. Relationships are at the center of EVERYTHING (yes I’m shouting!) worth doing in life. I’m 50 years of age as I write this. I’m still learning those lessons every week and every month. How about you? Are you a “fly solo” person or a “work together” kind of person? Even if you are a “fly solo” person, do you like celebrating wins with a team or sharing painful losses with people that matter?

Here at Jessup we are trying to build a culture where we look forward to building our future together. We recognize that sometimes our work is done alone (think about Accounting staff poring over a spreadsheet, or our Facilities Team doing a repair), but our work ALWAYS (shouting again, sorry) impacts the other people around us. So we learn to work well with each other. Often, learning to work well with others means we take the time to understand their personality, perspective, and their particular strengths they bring to the team. Ideally, we also recognize that we can always accomplish more for the glory of God when we work collaboratively. Why do we do all this? Because we recognize that what each one of us do at Jessup is so much bigger than any one of us and all of us. What we are doing at Jessup is a God-sized calling. WJU is a mission from God that we have agreed to participate in together as a team. We are called to this mission, not just employed here.

Honestly? I still enjoy doing a good share of my work alone where I can work hard, fast, and efficiently. But what I have learned over the years is that when I take my “solo” work and put it in the hands of a competent, passionate, and called team, our work becomes more effective for the glory of God. I’m still learning and growing in this area. How about you?

 

7. We will work to minimize “office politics” and maximize solutions, breaking down silos and building up our shared vision as a university community.

The whole notion of minimizing “office politics” and maximizing solutions is enticing to me. But, as you may have suspected, I am a “maximizer” when it comes to StrengthsFinder language. I’m always looking to be strategic, in alignment, and optimizing environments for Kingdom influence. I lean into change, believe that God can get us through anything, and relish the chance to climb the next hill. I do all that. Except when I don’t. Let me explain.

Every one of us has a particular “camera angle” (or paradigm) through which we see and experience the world.   We think we’re seeing this clearly. And we generally are. Except when we are not. That fundamental human tension, of our limited and occasionally short‐sighted perspectives on our lives and world, is why we need to be in relationship with people who love us and have the heart of God as their primary aligning tool. I need to know that people I’m working, living, and struggling with are heading in the same direction and for the same purposes as I am. Then, if I know we are in this together, and we have a common vision that comes from God, I can get through any short or long term difficulty we may have to face.

Silos, office politics, and self‐centeredness are all destructive to a family of God pursuing His agenda together. Here at William Jessup University, we have a Board of Trustees that is responsible to steward the legacy and vision of the University. I have the privilege of leading the University to a shared vision of the future that the Board affirms, our leadership teams of faculty and staff further, and those we serve are able to embrace. To that end, students and parents, churches and leaders, donors and community members all are part of our accountability group. We simply must refuse to engage in activities that the enemy can use to steal our future, kill our dreams, and destroy our unity (Ephesians 4:1‐3). We affirm that God has so much more for us than our limited perspectives can imagine. To that end, we move into the future He has for us with faith and confidence.Your thoughts on these matters?

 

8. We will lean in to innovation. Not every idea is a good idea, but we will develop an openness to be challenged by new and different thinking and encourage initiative.

As you know, I am new to the administrative world of higher education. Though I’ve been a consumer of higher education (personally and through my wife and children), and though I have taught in higher education, I have not previously been professionally involved in higher education administration. So, I’ve been somewhat nervous this first year or so to begin this task. Since leaders are learners, I knew I needed to make sure I had broad and deep knowledge of the subject of higher education administration. In the past 18 months, I have read close to 15 books, interviewed close to 30 University Presidents and attended several conferences. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the internal issues of Jessup, and the external issues in our culture and within higher education. I have some fairly well formed tentative conclusions. Want to hear one of my tentative conclusions? Good, because I was going to share it anyway (insert knowing smile here). It is that time honored quote from Pogo: “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us”.

A University is, presumably, a place where ideas can be considered, assessed, evaluated, understood, compared and contrasted, and ultimately accepted, refined or rejected. Here at William Jessup University, we stand in a particular stream that informs our process of thinking. We are committed to the Lordship of Christ, the Authority of Scripture, and the Unity of the Church. Those values ground us in a particular worldview. We are certainly open to challenges, and to robust dialogue. But in the end, we are clear that our worldview is established in Truth (yes, with a capital “T”…truth that is absolute, transcultural, and timeless), because our worldview is grounded in a Person (Jesus), not our brilliance or intellectual capacity. However, I don’t really see any of that line of thinking as the problem.

I think the reason that “we have met the enemy and the enemy is us” relates more to the fact that having done things a certain way over time, we (and all humans!) often assume that way is the only way. We have a natural tendency to enshrine method along with message (or sometimes above it!). Higher education is under siege in our generation. Technology, economic drivers, the failure of governmental role clarity and priorities, and a failure of mission between the family, church, and university have all conspired to make our current reality particularly challenging. However, rather than bemoan these contemporary pressures, we at Jessup have determined to turn the pressures into possibilities.

Here at Jessup, we are going to lean in to innovation. We will learn to understand, appreciate, evaluate, and accept, refine, or reject new ideas in keeping with our mission and vision. We are going to learn to encourage initiative and celebrate innovation. To be frank, I think we are still in a “training wheels” period on this value. But, we state it with clarity to lift up its importance. When I first started here, I remember saying to several employees, “I want to give you permission to dream again!” I think we went through a season where we stopped dreaming. Now, many of us are dreaming again, and “the future is as bright as the promises of God!” (Hudson Taylor).I want to keep learning and growing as a person and as a leader. I want Jessup to be a place of innovation and creativity. Your thoughts on the subject?

 

9. We will be as discerning and strategic as possible in everything we do. When we make mistakes in discernment or activity, we will quickly acknowledge our error, apply the lessons learned, and redirect our efforts and focus. We will be humble and full of grace.

I think this affirmation describes two sides of a coin. The first side relates to the notion of discernment and strategy. Here at Jessup we are committed to discerning God’s will for us. We do not want to do things “for” God, we want to do things we have heard “from” God. That is a careful journey (and I’ve personally been wrong MANY times on that account) that we take together in a community of leaders and family members. As the Apostle Paul said in Philippians, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b‐14). We are committed to being part of the work of God towards His future. We lean in to innovation (Affirmation #8) and we commit ourselves to seizing the future. Yes, we “see through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13), but we step forward by faith. The future we see and seize and we do so with discernment and strategic focus.

However, let’s face it. Sometimes we are just wrong. We either didn’t hear God clearly, got our own motivations and desires mixed into the equation, or as leaders we refused to pay attention to the wisdom and counsel of others. What do you do when that happens? What do you do when you were wrong in your decisions? In my view, the best way to handle that is to be full of grace and truth. Admit (y)our mistakes, ask for forgiveness, learn from the experience, and move ahead. If we are the kind of family that I think we are, we will learn to forgive each other and we will grow better together.   That kind of grace and learning should be happening at all levels of our University, but should be particularly abundant in the first few levels of employment. We will never embrace innovation and the future if we have a fear of failure. Failure is not fatal! In fact, we not only need the freedom to fail, we must embrace the reality that our human condition guarantees failure! When we do fail, we acknowledge it, learn from it, and receive forgiveness from our University family.

Many years ago people would ask me if it was harder to lead a larger organization than a smaller one. My answer was no. In fact, as the leader of a larger organization, my job was substantially “less” (or narrower in scope) than when we were just starting out. Except in one area. As the leader of a larger organization, every decision of mine affected more people and the future in bigger ways than in a smaller setting. I knew (and know!) as the leader of a larger organization that every decision has to be prayerfully and carefully made to insure that we are in the center of His will for us. The impact of my choices is bigger than ever. For that, I must remain in a position of humility and dependence upon Him each day.

What do you think? Are you being discerning and strategic in your decisions? Are you able to acknowledge failure and receive forgiveness, learn, and move forward? How are we doing as a University family?

 

10. We will respect one another as team members and hold each other to high standards of Biblical accountability at every level.

If Jessup really is a place where transformation occurs, then we must be vigilant to manifest and incarnate the life of Jesus, the One who transforms. We realize that transformation is not in our power and strength (if it is, then it will be temporary and shallow; “wood, hay, and stubble” type of activity), but rather the transformation we long for is empowered by the Holy Spirit in right relationship with the Father through the grace of the Son. Yes, I just went a little theological on you. No apologies here. Our experience in the Restoration Movement is helpful here. Back in the 1800’s, the Restoration Movement was founded as a Unity Movement. Tired of the factions and the dissensions over seemingly endless doctrinal disputes, believers gathered at Cane Ridge Kentucky to experience the Lord in a fresh way and “restore” New Testament Christianity; revival broke out and gave birth to many streams of the modern evangelical, charismatic, and Pentecostal movements. I’m summarizing greatly here, but the modern legacy of that movement has been our focus on the Lordship of Christ, the Authority of the Scripture, and the Unity of the Church. Those have been our “roots” and continue to be our “call” in the Body of Christ today.

I will often describe this season of our life as “Jessup 3.0”; the 3rd major era in William Jessup University beginning roughly in 2009. So what does that mean for those of us who are called to lead and serve here at Jessup 3.0? It means we respect each other for our calling and gifts. It means we operate in an environment where who we are matters (even when nobody is looking!) and what we do matters. It means that no matter where you are on the organizational chart, your walk with God matters. It means that if we are going to have a campus where we are “Thriving Spiritually”, each one of us must take responsibility for our intimacy with God, our witness to the world, and our relationships with one another. These are challenges that seem so basic at first glance. On the other hand, as someone who has served in Christian ministry settings for all my adult life, I can tell you that the challenges are real and tangible! Being a Christ follower in a Christian organization sometimes seems harder than being truly Christian in a more secular setting.

How do we hold each other accountable to high Biblical standards? It seems to me that each one of us must begin with our own personal walk, then consider our relationships with our family and friends, and be engaged in a thriving and vital local church. As we are rooted and growing, we can then covenant with one another not to be legalistic, but to be encouraging each other towards Biblical righteousness. As we recently discovered through our Best Christian Workplace Inventory, we who work at Jessup are passionate about our calling to ministry in our respective jobs. I’m praying that we continue to be passionate about our roles, and equally committed to walking faithfully with Jesus in the everyday “warp and woof” of life here in Jessup 3.0. What are your thoughts on mutual respect and Biblical accountability in our life together?

 
*Many thanks to President Corey and Biola University for use of material which formed the initial foundation of these 10 affirmations.