Once, while grabbing a quick lunch with faculty members in our dining commons, I had to leave the group abruptly to attend a meeting. “I need to run—to go do what I do,” I said. A long-term professor responded, “We’re not sure what it is you do, but we’re sure glad we don’t have to do it.”
Phil Ryken has insightfully articulated the delicate balance between the global demands faced by a Christian university presidency and the endless “to do” list that frames a president’s days. While most around us clearly see the activity—for example, some research reports that college presidents participate in 50 encounters daily, with numerous averaging 7 minutes each—not as many people “see” the high calling of our role. I am thankful for Dr. Ryken’s clear “job description” that encompasses both the conduct and the calling of our position. This wonderfully encouraging theology is the “wind beneath our wings” that pushes us as we navigate fast-paced days and long weeks filled with a diverse set of demands.
The leadership model of Christ as prophet, priest, and king captures the whole of the interrelatedness of Christian university presidential responsibility. And as we grow in Christ, I pray all of us in this role continue to deepen our commitment to each of these three priorities demanded by our unique leadership responsibility.
During my 28 years as a CCCU president, I have seen many presidential colleagues come and go with varying degrees of success. Typically, those who have found balance among the three responsibilities of prophet, priest, and king have made a lasting impact on their institutions. In contrast, some new presidents are elected because they exhibit exceptional strength in one of the three areas (capturing the imagination of presidential search committees), but are lacking in the other two priorities of our work. While their immediate impact is often significant and brings about welcome change, their long-term leadership always struggles. I encourage boards to search for presidents who have found personal balance among all three demands of Christian university leadership. Even if a candidate is not extraordinary in the single aspect that appears to answer a campus’s immediate needs, the candidate’s balance will carry them forward to success.
Following this biblical design, none of us can lead in perfect balance among the three strengths Jesus modeled for us. So, in areas where we do not possess robust strengths, we need to be especially attentive—by purposefully and personally learning and growing. Furthermore, in areas of limitation, we need to bring others around us who can stand in the gap. I often share with my campus administrators that only Jesus lived out the perfect balance of GRACE/LAW. Thus, we all need awareness of which side we favor and a willingness to team up with those who lean the other direction—together we can find better balance in our decisions. I am a “grace-focused leader,” so I know that for specific problems, I must consult with others on my team who are more “law-focused leaders” to gain their perspective before making a decision. Insights from those who see situations differently, but have the same godly desires, always make the right choice clearer.
The technical side of the presidency is ever changing and increasingly complex, but this theology of prophet, priest, and king is our constant in a shifting organizational and cultural context. Within the demands of these three arenas, I would add, however, that our responsibility as “judge” has grown exponentially in the current extremely delicate environment of Christian higher education. With the wide array of perspectives on and around a campus, more often than not the president is left alone to “see the whole,” and must weigh far less than ideal options in making complex, intricate decisions.
For Christian university presidents, the issues have become more nuanced, alternatives more layered, voices of insight and criticism rowdier, impact of decisions more far-reaching, and the cost of even a single misstep more enormous. Big decisions clearly demand our judgment, but often the scatter of smaller, detailed issues—not carefully considered—plant seeds that grow into the most complex future challenges. Threaded through the roles of prophet, priest, and king is an ongoing demand for Christian university presidents to hold with care the responsibility to be thoughtful, insightful, and prayerful judges.
I believe the Christian university presidency is the single most intriguing calling in the world—working alongside gifted faculty, engaging idealistic students, partnering with alumni and friends in a vision with sweeping consequences, while daily dealing with a full range of interesting challenges from curriculum to football. But more than ever, presidents need to be people of prayer, and they desperately need others praying for them. I am thankful for the faculty, staff, and students who pray for me regularly—their prayers, God’s grace, and our mission make it a joy and privilege to come to the office every day.