The Mission of Nazarene Higher Education

The Mission of Nazarene Higher Education

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Recently, Holiness Today (HT) sat down with Dr. Dan Copp (DC), education commissioner and global clergy development director for the Church of the Nazarene, to discuss the importance of the mission of Nazarene higher education throughout the world.

HT: How does Nazarene higher education connect with the overall mission of the Church of the Nazarene?

DC: The Church of the Nazarene and our International Board of Education (IBOE) presently works with 51 colleges, seminaries, and universities providing education in over 120 world areas and enrolling nearly 52,000 students. Too often we make the mistake of separating the work of our schools and the work of our Church, as if Nazarene higher education is simply an “add on” to the mission. However, our history, along with the statements in the Manual and by the Board of General Superintendents, make clear that our institutions of higher education are central to the mission of the Church.

They are the Church expressed in educating and forming people to further the kingdom of God and to provide tools to help us all to more faithfully participate in God’s mission of transformation in the world. This is why our emphasis upon both higher education and continuing education is an important part of the mission of the Church.  

HT: How does higher education work in conjunction with the other entities of the Church?

DC: There is a graphic we often use to help envision our work together as educators, pastors, and district leaders. It is three circles that are labeled “local church,” “district,” and “IBOE School,” representing the synergistic partnership described in our polity. In the center of the overlapping circles are the people we are privileged to come alongside to help steward God’s calling on their lives. This simple graphic represents the importance of our working together in the formation of Kingdom leaders.  

We are at our best in equipping disciples when our schools, local churches, and districts are partnering together well in this work. This is most visible in our approach to the preparation of clergy and it is a reason why the General Board and the Board of General Superintendents combined the offices of global education and clergy development.

However, Nazarene higher education is not just about preparing clergy. As I travel to all of our global schools, I see and hear transformation stories not only involving those called to vocational ministry (pastors, etc.), but also of women and men who have been equipped in our nursing schools, business schools, and other disciplines.

HT: Could you share one of those stories with our readers?

DC: A story I have been sharing recently took place at a graduation of our nursing students at Southern Africa Nazarene University (SANU) in Eswatini. As I sat on the platform watching the graduates come across the stage to receive their certificates and congratulations, I started a conversation with an African woman seated next to me. She was the Minister of Health for Eswatini and was responsible for oversight of the nursing schools. As we talked, a young woman who was graduating walked across the stage in front of us. My new friend excused herself to go offer a big hug to this young graduate. My friend returned and proudly said, “that is my daughter.”

She could have sent her daughter to any nursing school in the country, yet she chose SANU.

I asked her why, and she said, “I knew that here she would receive high quality training as a nurse, and there are other quality training schools in our country. However, here we also knew she would be nurtured in her faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ. She does not simply want to be a nurse, she wants to be a nurse the way Jesus would be!”

The testimony of this woman and her daughter illustrate better than I could how Nazarene higher education is engaged in discipleship and transformation in preparation for whatever field students are called to serve.

HT: This does paint a more holistic picture. Could you speak a bit more to the preparation of men and women for vocational ministry as pastors, evangelists, and missionaries in a world that does not always value theological education?

DC: Our schools have always sought to find effective and creative ways to prepare women and men for effective and long-lasting ministry. Some are called to ministry at our universities. Others come to our universities with some sense of a call, and from there we seek ways to work closely with the students, their local churches, and their districts to nurture that calling. Assuring proper theological education remains central to preparing our clergy, particularly as we continue to find it necessary to adapt to trends in education.  

HT: What are some trends in higher education that are affecting institutions in the Church of the Nazarene, and how is the Church adjusting to these?

DC: There are many shifts in higher education, both inside and outside of the Church of the Nazarene. Of course, every region of the world has to adapt to these changes in ways that are right for their context. This is one of the reasons we meet regularly with our six regional directors and education coordinators, with representatives of all of our schools, and with our international and regional boards of education in consultation with the BGS.

We want to share best practices across regions, and we want to make sure we are keeping track of the changes and trends, so that we can make recommendations and assist schools in adapting accordingly. Two global trends that stand out would be an increased decentralizing of education and the changing business models.  

HT: Let’s address each of these. Talk about the decentralizing of education.

DC: Residential education—students moving to a campus community for education—has been a primary model for education, and for most of our Nazarene schools. A significant global trend is for students to seek education without moving to a campus community. It has become more difficult for schools to simply recruit students to come to a residential campus.

To respond to this trend, our Nazarene schools, like other educational institutions, continue to develop opportunities for access to decentralized education, such as short-term residential solutions, extension centers, online classes, video conferencing, etc.

In decentralized education models, it can be more challenging to create a strong sense of community that comes from living with other students on campus through things like shared campus experiences and face-to-face learning.

So, our schools continue to find creative and effective ways to try and fill those gaps in order to assure the formational experience that is central to the mission of Nazarene higher education.

The fact is, though, that a growing number of our schools with residential campuses around the world are finding that they no longer have a viable residential population.

HT: So, how does this affect the business model for campuses?

DC: The residential education business model has worked well for many of our schools, providing for a sustainable program. Some of our schools now face difficult decisions as they invest in providing decentralized education while also carrying the continued expense of a residential campus with few, if any, residential students.

It is causing schools to rethink how their limited resources are serving the greater mission of higher education. After all, the central mission is education, not the maintaining of a campus. The BGS and our key educational leaders remain determined that our mission will lead our decision-making.

So far, in some cases, this meant selling a residential campus and investing the assets to provide funding necessary to sustain the mission of education. In other cases, this meant using the residential campus to generate funds in unique ways (i.e. hosting camps, conferences, etc.).

There is no one right response to this challenge. We prayerfully come alongside each of our schools to help discern how best to move ahead in faithfulness to their mission of education.   

HT: How can local churches continue to support Nazarene higher education?

DC: Pastors and churches are crucial in praying for and supporting our schools. Praying publicly and privately for our schools and keeping the church informed of the important church-school connection is a practical way to support higher education.

Local church giving, both directly to our schools and to the World Evangelism Fund, is a lifeline for Nazarene higher education in so many ways, including student scholarships and deployment of missionary faculty. Encouraging and assisting students in connecting with our schools remains an important role that allows churches and schools to partner together.

I would add that, although finances may seem challenging, churches and families should never assume that a young person will be unable to attend a Nazarene school based upon finances alone.

Our Nazarene schools and many generous people are doing what I would call heroic work to ensure that students and the Church can benefit from Nazarene higher education.

I echo the vision of our Eswatini sister: where a student chooses to go to school is not just a career decision; it is a discipleship decision that the Church can nurture and encourage.

Holiness Today, Jul/Aug 2019

Photo: NTS students moving books, May 1954

Please note: This article was originally published in 2019. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.