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How to decide to move

"How to decide to move" Continued...

Issue: "Boston Terrorthon," May 4, 2013

That very afternoon Stan Oakes, president of The King’s College, a small Christian liberal arts school in New York City, called. He asked if I’d come to Manhattan and explore becoming provost, the college’s academic vice president with authority over faculty and curriculum. I knew Oakes slightly and knew almost nothing about King’s, except that it had been on a pastoral campus north of New York City, slid toward theological liberalism and financial decrepitude, and shut down in 1994—only to reopen five years later in the Empire State Building, and then successfully battle New York state authorities who wanted to decertify it.

I told Oakes my prime work commitment was to WORLD, and I’d only be interested if the goal was for King’s to be a strong evangelical college. He said he loved WORLD and had the same goal. Susan and I flew to New York, where the obstacles immediately became apparent. The director of admissions had just left. The remaining staff had floundered, leading to an entering class for 2007 of only 50. That worsened already severe financial problems: Running a college in mid-town Manhattan is much more expensive than doing one in Manhattan, Kan. Also, I had been used to working with and relying on a WORLD board of directors with strong theological commitments, and I didn’t know how strong the King’s board was in that way.

More: The academic and business sides of King’s were at war. Oakes had privately and publicly fought with the provost who had just resigned under pressure, after two years on the job. No previous chief academic officer had lasted more than two years, in part because the curriculum kept spinning like a wheel of misfortune. King’s in its first several years of reincarnation officially had 27 majors, even though most of them had no professors and many of them had no students. Oakes in 2004 wiped the slate clean and set up only two majors.

Overall, this looked like another “mad mission,” to use the language of Austin singer-songwriter Patty Griffin. Susan and I had been on mad missions before, helping to start a crisis pregnancy center, church, anti-poverty program, and Christian school, but always with a professorial safety net paid for by the taxpayers of Texas. Austin friends said giving that up was crazy.

Balanced against such good advice were the stories of Christmas and King’s, and some church history. Jesus had voluntarily left the most beautiful place imaginable, heaven, and entered a mucky world. King’s had moved from a beautiful campus to messy mid-town Manhattan. Early Christianity had radiated out from cities like Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. Evangelicals in the 20th century had largely abandoned cities. Town-dwelling Christians from the 17th to the 19th centuries had dominated colleges and media. That influence had disappeared and was unlikely to return unless Christians returned to academic and media centers.

The many King’s negatives—dissension, finances, a degree of difficulty like an Olympic dive with 3½ twists in the tuck position—were practical, low on the ladder of abstraction. The positives—footsteps of Jesus ideals, historical significance—were abstract, high on the ladder. That was certainly a warning signal, but while Susan and I were in New York a startlingly concrete development occurred: Stan Oakes suddenly headed to the hospital, where doctors found a cancerous brain tumor. 

King’s was without a president, a provost, and an admissions director. It wasn’t far from closing its doors, leaving professors jobless and students up the East River without a paddle. Did I want to be useful, and trust God rather than government? How do you decide? I wrote down pluses and minuses on a piece of paper and concluded that the chance of success at King’s was at best one in three.

That suggested a “No sir”  response to King’s, but then I thought of the way God writes history and we build our own lives. God doesn’t make it easy for us. We need trampolines, not hammocks. Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress would have made little progress had he not had to overcome difficulties.

God gave me no word of knowledge to guide decision-making, except one I had learned years ago: Go to the Bible. I looked at biblical examples of people much older than me, such as Abraham and Moses, who disrupted their settled lives to serve God. I remembered how kind God had been in every instance in my own life when job decisions became matters of faith at ages 27 and 33—so why become fearful at 57?

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