About Ed Pickel

Ed Pickel is the director of admission and student services for Belhaven University's Chattanooga and Dalton campuses.

The Paradox of Cultural Engagement

Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 5:13-14, calls his followers to be salt and light in the circumstances to which he has called us. We are to flavor, preserve, and illuminate our families, communities, and workplaces – to imitate, as much as possible, characteristics of his kingdom in our various spheres of influence. On the other hand, the apostle Paul writes that we are not to be conformed to this present world, but to be separate from it (Romans 12:2).

At the surface, the idea of cultural engagement as described in the gospel of Matthew seems to be at odds with the concept of separation from the world as presented by Paul in Romans 12. How can I be salt and light to the culture in which God has placed me and be separate from it at the same time?

Those who are called to follow Christ and who want to make a difference in this world will wrestle with this apparent paradox. The way we approach the issue of cultural engagement will ultimately impact how we carry our Christ’s great commission, so our conclusions are of extreme importance. Will we approach our culture as an entity created and loved by God (but in need of redemption) or as something to occasionally encounter but mostly retreat from in order to enhance our own personal holiness? Is it one or the other or somehow both?

The answers to these questions are not simple and, in reality, represent, for the serious Christian, an ongoing exploration. In Romans 12:2, Paul labels this inquiry a “renewing of your mind” (New English Translation). So, rather than defining separation from the culture as embracing a list of restrictions, Paul defines it as an intellectual process that leads to our discovery of God’s will for our lives (verse 2) – what it’s like for us, in our particular circumstances, to engage our culture for Christ and his kingdom.

Although there are many ways to renew one’s mind in preparation for kingdom service, university studies provide a depth and richness perhaps not found in other venues. At Belhaven University, regardless of one’s area of study (there are many from which to choose), the exploration of how a biblical worldview informs the ways in which we engage God’s world is of primary importance, especially for non-traditional adult students who are deeply entrench in family, community, and career. As stated on our website, our programs “are taught from a Christian worldview perspective and are guided by the mission to prepare students academically and spiritually to serve Christ Jesus in their careers, in human relationships, and in the world of ideas.” At Belhaven, our students learn of Christ and how to apply his teachings holistically to a culture in need of biblical flavor and illumination – to “approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.”

 

 

Walking In

Two weeks ago, we were packing up our campus – preparing for the following day: moving day! I’ve never met anyone who likes to move. Given the choice between moving and having a root canal, I’ll take the root canal – gladly. However, the prospect that moving to a bright and shiny new facility would allow us to better serve our students was motivation enough. We were pumped and ready to pack. Just as we thought we couldn’t be more motivated, Joe walked in.

Joe is always walking in. Each evening when he walks into our campus, his hardy greetings seem to electrify the place. Joe walks into each office – into my office. Whatever is wrong with the day always gets a little better when Joe walks in.

As a non-traditional student, Joe is older than many of his millennial and Gen X classmates. As his instructor, I quickly found that Joe brought a lot of wisdom to the classroom and wasn’t shy to share it with us! Much has been written about generational differences these days. When Joe walked into my classroom, it became evident that there are more similarities than differences between us – that we’re all ultimately searching for the same things in life – confirmation that our lives matter: a sense of purpose.

We didn’t ask for student volunteers to help us prepare for the move, but, as I mentioned previously, Joe walked in – a May, 2016 graduate of Belhaven University (BS in Management) and newly enrolled graduate student (Master of Science in Leadership). We talked, laughed, packed, and all shared a meal together. A day that we had not looked forward to suddenly became a very good day.

The day after we packed for the move, Joe had a massive stroke. As of this writing, he is not doing well. Please pray for Joe. We don’t know if he will ever walk into our campus again – only God knows. A family member wrote the following: Joe was very proud of his work at Belhaven and learning with your organization gave him a great sense of purpose…thank you for that.

Of all the things that adult degree programs do for their students (better pay, opportunities for promotions, etc.), providing a student with “a great sense of purpose” represents our highest calling. Joe, and the adult students he represents, reminds us that amidst the discussion of career goals and academic planning, a much deeper longing motivates students when they walk through our doors.

I don’t think it’s an accident that adult students find purpose in programs like ours. The Christian worldview component has something to do with that for sure. There’s also the people component – the faculty, staff, and fellow students. We’re family, and its “family” that motivates a student to show up, to hang out, to walk into our offices –and ultimately into our lives. For this, we should be grateful.

 

 

Ed Pickel – Chattanooga/Dalton Campus

You Go Daddy!

The Chattanooga campus of Belhaven University will hold its graduation ceremony next Thursday evening. Two Decembers ago, I wrote about a child who yelled “Yay Daddy” when his father walked across the stage to receive his associate degree. Although I’m sure that the child was simply caught up in the excitement of seeing his dad momentarily elevated above the crowd, it struck me that there may be something more to that temporary interlude in our ceremony than appears on the surface. Here’s what I wrote two years ago:
• The words “Yay Daddy” coming from an adult student’s child confirm that the hard work and sacrifice that goes into earning a college degree has been worth it. Someone who loves and looks up to the graduate has uttered the ultimate confirmation.

• The words “Yay Daddy” indicate that the child recognizes graduation as a major accomplishment in his parent’s life. He sees that his dad’s hard work is recognized and makes the connection between diligence, perseverance, and reward. These are vital connections for the child’s future success in school and in the workplace.

• Finally, the words “Yay Daddy” mean that the child, more than likely, will be a college graduate himself. Research indicates that children of college graduates are more likely to be college graduates themselves. Our kids are watching. They see Mom or Dad writing a paper, reading a book, or preparing a presentation. Children see the value in education only to the extent that their parents model its value.

What’s interesting this year is that our “daddy” is graduating again – this time for his bachelor degree. So, what does his latest accomplish teach us about this dad and what might his son learn from it? Here’s an additional thought:

• The words “Yay Daddy” now become “Go Daddy.” This little boy’s father doesn’t stop after completing one educational milestone. He keeps on going! It’s now evident that he sees the importance of life-long learning. In our current economy and certainly as we move into the future, we must keep on learning as our resources and vision allow. As important as it is for this child to learn (through the example of his father) the value of education, it is at least equally important for him to learn the value of persistence in education. It will take a life-long learner to succeed in his brave new world.

I’m not sure what words the children of our graduates will utter at graduation this coming Thursday evening. I’m sure they’ll be restless about ten minutes into the ceremony, and before long, it goes without saying that some cries and other sounds of discontent will begin to compete with the speakers and musicians. So, TJ, in case your little man is asleep or otherwise distracted when your name is called this year, from all of us at Belhaven University, You Go Daddy! Graduate classes begin in January.

Ed Pickel
Belhaven University

The Transformational Nature of Adult Higher Education

In his book Center Church, Tim Keller describes several models of cultural engagement or descriptions of the various ways that we Christians view culture and our role in it. Keller writes that the transformationalist model “engages culture largely through an emphasis on Christians pursuing their vocations from a Christian worldview and thereby changing culture.”
I believe that Christian adult higher education is transformational and, for those of us who work in this field, Keller’s words should be encouraging. As we teach Christian worldview in the classroom and, as staff, model it in our interactions with students, we are impacting people who will, in turn, impact their workplaces, homes, places of worship, and communities with a biblically-informed transformational perspective.
Jesus describes his followers as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. These are powerful metaphors that instruct believers to flavor, preserve, and give direction to the world that God loves and is in the process of redeeming. This is the encouraging work of Christian adult higher education – to be salt and light to our students and to provide an educational experience that prepares them for that role in their various spheres of influence. The encouragement for our students is that your diligent work in the classroom is preparing you to be a participant in God’s kingdom vision for the world…His people “pursuing their vocations from a Christian worldview and thereby changing culture.”

Traveling On The Sea In Ships

I was recently introduced to Psalm 107 – a Psalm of restoration and hope if there ever was one. In a nutshell, the psalm is divided into sections, each describing a sequence of (1) brokenness, (2) a calling out to God, and (3) deliverance by God. I was especially drawn to verses 23-32, partly because of what I feel is its application to working adults (and, therefore, our students), and partly because of what it teaches regarding suffering.
For all of our students, life happens while they are pursuing their degrees. For some of them, life happens with a vengeance – a child develops a terminal illness, a job is lost, a spouse leaves for “greener pastures” with little notice and no real explanation. I could go on and on. So, with that context, here’s Psalm 107: 23-32 (NLT):
Some traveled on the sea in ships,
and carried cargo over the vast waters.
24 They witnessed the acts of the LORD,
his amazing feats on the deep water.
25 He gave the order for a windstorm,
and it stirred up the waves of the sea.
26 They reached up to the sky,
then dropped into the depths.
The sailors’ strength left them because the danger was so great.
27 They swayed and staggered like a drunk,
and all their skill proved ineffective.
28 They cried out to the LORD in their distress;
he delivered them from their troubles.
29 He calmed the storm,
and the waves grew silent.
30 The sailors rejoiced because the waves grew quiet,
and he led them to the harbor they desired.
31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his loyal love,
and for the amazing things he has done for people!
An adult student is trying to make a better life for herself and her family by going back to school (carrying a cargo over the vast waters). As she makes her way through her coursework, she begins to see the goodness of God in her life (witness his amazing feats) as what she thought was not doable for her (returning to college) now seems doable. But then, things change. Severe trials enter her life. God gives the order for a windstorm and it blows incessantly (It’s interesting that God ordered the trials. Read How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson to begin to wade through that one). She mentions her need for prayer in class and to campus staff. She cries to the Lord in her trouble, and He delivers her from her distress. The noise of the storm quietens (or maybe God’s comforting voice becomes louder), things settle down a bit, and she realizes that, even though the skies may still be cloudy, God has brought her to her to a place of calm waters.
The beauty of the adult Christian higher education community is the privilege to walk with our students in their difficult times. It’s not that the whole process of returning to college one huge trial. As a former adult student, there is joy in the journey – much joy! But, life happens. And when it happens to a student who has added college to an already busy life, things can get really complicated. As education professionals and followers of Christ, it’s our calling to steady our students when they “sway and stagger” and rejoice with them when they reach “the harbor they desired.”

Listen to Their Stories: Reaching the Hearts of Adult Learners

One of the core issues in adult education is the extent to which traditional students differ from adult students. It is a marketing issue in that we have to identify and understand the differences in order to package our message in a meaningful and relevant way. It is more complex than buying ads on the right radio stations or getting them in strategically targeted publications. We have to understand the subtle nuances that characterize both traditional and adult learners in order to reach their emotions or, perhaps more descriptive, their hearts. The extent to which traditional students differ from adult students is also a student services issue in that both groups represent different sets of life circumstances that we must understand in order to meet the needs of our students while they are with us and, ultimately, retain them through to graduation.

Here’s a proposed axiom that, for me anyway, describes the core difference between traditional students and adults and that may provide a framework that could drive our marketing and student services activities: Traditional students function in a “present” that is interpreted by the future; adult students function in a “present” that is interpreted by the past. As an adult education professional, here’s how this reality might inform what we do in reaching and retaining adult students:

·         Realizing that the past informs adults’ decisions to return to (and stay in) college, those who work in the admission and student services functions must listen to our students’ stories. For adult learners, these stories usually center on a crisis such as divorce, loss of a job, being passed over for a promotion, or some other type of loss in their lives. By taking the time to encourage discussion of the things that drive our students to us, we will reach their hearts and position ourselves to affect their lives.

·         Classroom experiences should be designed as safe places to discuss our student’s stories. At Christian institutions such as Belhaven, this can be done during a period of biblical reflection and prayer. As is true in our admission and student services processes, this type of discussion should be proactively encouraged by the instructor – realizing that this type of openness can set the stage for more productive curricular discussion later in the class. In addition, typical adult life circumstances could be intentionally woven into a lesson plan – discussing the effect of a personal crisis (divorce, for example) on one’s ability to lead in the workplace.

Ultimately, by making prospective or current students’ “stories” a priority in our discussions with them, they will perceive an environment that is emotionally safe and attractive, and we will have reached the seat of every adult’s decision making processes – the heart.

Stewardship

Those of us in adult higher education know, for the most part, why adults decide to return to college. We hear the reasons several times a day, and we repeat them as we engage prospective students in dialogue about returning to college. Adults are typically looking to get a better job, set themselves up for a promotion, make more money, be an example to their kids, and finish what they started. There’s nothing wrong with this list. These are all noble reasons for continuing one’s education. However, as someone who attempts to incorporate a biblical worldview into his thinking, I would like to make an addition to the list. Adults should pursue a college education because God requires that we be stewards of what he has given us. Let me explain.

In Genesis 1:28, God tells his human creation that they are to have dominion over all that he has created. This was to include the physical environment and, as it developed over time, the social-cultural environment. God expects us to be stewards or caretakers over all of his creation and, as a result of the fall, to partner with him in its restoration. We cannot be effective stewards of God’s creation unless we are constantly learning about it. This requires us to become lifelong learners. Our adult students at Belhaven learn about God’s physical creation in their biology classes. They not only learn to marvel at God’s awesome majesty as it’s revealed in creation; they learn ways to become more responsible stewards of what he has made. Our students learn about the socio-cultural environment in sociology and psychology classes, and that responsibilities in these areas involve, among other things, being our brother’s keeper. Adult students learn to be stewards of the business environment in their business and leadership classes as they learn the importance of engaging in “business by The Book.”

In a way, our typical list of reasons for adults returning to school are at best pragmatic, and if we’re not careful in how we present them, perhaps a bit self-centered. We need to balance them with biblical-centered reasons for life-long learning that are focused on stewardship. 

So, I have a proposal for those of us whose work is to make adult education attractive to prospective students. We should acknowledge that pragmatic reasons for returning to college are important. Better jobs, promotions, and increases in income are all important potential outcomes to prospective students who have current and future needs that can be met by earning their degrees. However, a biblical worldview requires us to go deeper and acknowledge that education is a tool that allows us to learn more about the creation that God requires us to steward. An undergraduate or graduate degree earned as a developing caretaker of God’s creation provides a pathway to effective participation in his kingdom work.

Yay Daddy!

Last Friday evening, our Chattanooga-Dalton campus held its 2013 graduation ceremony. I had the privilege of sitting with our faculty – second row from the front. From that vantage point, I could see everything that was happening on the platform. However, it wasn’t so much what was happening on the platform that captured my attention; it was what I was hearing behind mebabies crying, a graduate sitting directly behind me “amening” the commencement speaker; occasional laughter; someone softly echoing the benediction as the service drew to a close – “the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.” So much energy, so much excitement! It was a wonderful moment.

The most thought provoking voice, however, didn’t originate from a graduate or a baby, but was from what seemed to be a young child – maybe five or six years old. As one of our graduates walked across the platform to receive his diploma, I heard a forceful “Yay Daddy!” A subdued laughter slowly began to make its way across our warm, cozy, venue. An adult college graduate who had worked hard for months balancing work, family, and school heard the words “Yay Daddy” from his child. In the world of adult education, no words could be more profound. Here’s why

·        The words “Yay Daddy” coming from an adult student’s child confirm that the hard work and sacrifice that goes into earning a college degree has been worth it. Someone who loves and looks up to the graduate has uttered the ultimate confirmation. 

·         The words “Yay Daddy” indicate that the child recognizes graduation as a major accomplishment in his parent’s life. He sees that his dad’s hard work is recognized and makes the connection between diligence, perseverance, and reward. These are vital connections for the child’s future success in school and in the workplace.

·         Finally, the words “Yay Daddy” mean that the child, more than likely, will be a college graduate himself. Research indicates that children of college graduates are more likely to be college graduates themselves. Our kids are watching. They see Mom or Dad writing a paper, reading a book, or preparing a presentation. Children see the value in education only to the extent that their parents model its value.

As the bagpiper led us out of the auditorium at the end of the service, I imagined the “Yay Daddy” child being held snuggly by his mother – maybe even asleep by now. What a fortunate little guy to have such a daddy.

Probably the most gratifying aspect of working in adult education is knowing that we work year round to create “Yay Daddy” moments at graduation. We look forward to next December! But this morning, we still find ourselves reliving Friday evening. To all of the class of 2013, the staff and faculty of Belhaven University offer a heartfelt “Yay Daddy” (and “Yay Mommy” as well).  

Praying for God’s Will

The most amazing thing about knowing God is, well, knowing God. The fact that we can know the One who created the universe more intimately than a spouse, sibling, or closest friend is a truth that would utterly transform us if we took the time to grasp it. Equally amazing is the idea that this God who runs the universe and orders the affairs of the entire world has a plan for each individual that belongs to him. As one who came to faith in the 70’s, I remember vividly Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws…especially that God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.

How do those of us who work in adult education communicate this truth to our students? Until recently, it’s been my erroneous assumption that adult students come to our campus already knowing God’s will for their lives. They are, after all, adults. At this point in their lives, they should have the faith, spouse, and vocation categories of God’s will pretty much nailed down, shouldn’t they?

 Maybe, but I think there’s another level of God’s will to which I haven’t given much thought until running across a prayer that the apostle Paul offered incessantly for the believers in his life…that they “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9110, ESV). It seems to me that, at least in this portion of scripture, Paul takes more of a micro view of God’s will. He wants his friends to discern God’s will at such a level that it makes a difference in their daily footsteps with the Lord, right down to “bearing fruit in every good work.”

 I don’t want to minimize the importance of prayer for such important aspects of one’s life as faith, vocation, and who one marries. These potentially fragile categories of God’s will merit much prayer. What I’ve concluded, however, is that God’s will also takes place on a daily basis. What is God’s plan for our students today? What will they face? What kind of fruit-bearing work will they enjoy? In what ways will they learn about God?

 Those of us who work and teach on Belhaven’s adult campuses have been given remarkable opportunities to be involved in the lives of our students. Even more remarkable is the awesome responsibility to pray for them. Within the grandeur of God’s sweeping plans for them, let’s don’t forget to pray as Paul did – that God will give our students knowledge of his will in their walks today… that today’s works will bear fruit and they will know God better at the day’s end.

December Graduation

Last Thursday evening, I was privileged to read Psalm 8 at our Chattanooga Adult and Graduate Studies campus graduation. This psalm offers a beautiful study in contrasts – the majestic God (Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth) presented as “mindful” of a seemingly insignificant creation (What is man that you are mindful of him?). In addition, this scripture reminds us that this majestic God has given us a role (dominion) in His creation. Majesty, significance, dominion…what wonderful words to speak to graduates and their families.

I wasn’t sure that I would like a December graduation. I’ve always associated graduation with the bright colors and sweet fragrances of spring. Spring represents new life – kind of like graduation. I could find no graduation analogies in the deep darkness of winter, until…

I walked into the church. The contrast between the darkness on the outside and the warm soft light of Christmas on the inside was overwhelming! Candles in the windows, garland on the banisters, happy voices glad to be inside out of the dark cold. The warmest, brightest, greenest day in spring would pale in comparison to this scene. I found myself not wanting to leave the church. If spring graduation is a sending out, surely December graduation is a gathering in. The reality, I suppose, is that graduation is a wonderful event whenever it is experienced, but I’m definitely a December convert.

Graduates leave, you know. That’s the purpose of the university experience. They come to go. So, last Thursday evening, after gathering them in, we sent them away. For me, it’s a great comfort knowing that we’re sending them away equipped. Our graduates are adult learners who are poised to make a difference in their work organizations, communities, churches, and families. Not only have we exposed them to rigorous academics, they now have a clearer picture of what a Christian worldview is and how to apply it in everyday life.

Does that matter? Indeed it does. The graduates who left the bright warmth of the church on Thursday evening found themselves facing a cold, dark world in which a gunman murdered the most innocent and defenseless among us. Much like what happened after 911, our graduates will find themselves responding to questions from their coworkers, neighbors, and, of course, families. They will find a world whose view of life and God has been shaken to the core. Who better or more prepared to help others through this difficult time than our graduates? Our world needs the comfort and direction that a biblical worldview offers…our world needs our graduates.

So, if you’re a graduate reading this post, congratulations! One journey is over, and another is beginning. May you find purpose in the significance and purpose that God has given you, and may you wrap yourself in the warmth of the majesty of our great God (remember, it’s cold outside).