Back in mid-2020 (remember then?), we all chuckled at the use of the word “unprecedented” when talking about the times we were living through. Now the repeated refrain is how hard the last 18 months have been and how much we’ve been through. Yet the reason we hear this refrain so often is because it’s true. We won’t truly understand all the ramifications of these last 18 months for some time, even though we see hundreds of consequences now all around us.
Bethlehem College & Seminary has been through some challenging times both as a result of the pandemic and from other sources. Many of you may have read about our challenges in a few prominent Christian magazines or on blog posts or social media. If you haven’t, please enjoy your relative peace.
I’m writing this prayer letter primarily as an encouragement both for you to pray for us and also to rejoice with us at the good work that our Lord Jesus has continued to do at Bethlehem College & Seminary through all of the various challenges of the last few years.
My job at Bethlehem College & Seminary is to oversee the administrative and financial functions of the school. I was a student in TBI back in 2005–2008 and had the pleasure of helping launch this school from a department of Bethlehem Baptist into the accredited institution of higher education that it is today. It has been an amazing 17 years. My wife and I were compelled to this work by the belief that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We pursued our joy by pouring out our lives 1,700 miles from family in the cold tundra of Minnesota. We embraced the school’s mission as our own: Under the authority of God’s inerrant word, Bethlehem College & Seminary exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ by equipping men and women to treasure Christ above all things, to grow in wisdom and knowledge over a lifetime, and to glorify God in every sphere of life.
As the lead administrator, I’m also the lead human resource manager. In fall 2015, our institution took an engagement survey from Best Christian Workplaces Institute. The survey includes over 60 questions that our full- and part-time employees took. Answers to those questions gave us some insight into the flourishing of our employees. Across the 60 questions, there were some highs and lows, to be sure, yet our overall score was such that BCWI certified Bethlehem College & Seminary as a Best Christian Workplace. We took the survey again during the fall 2017. Our aggregate score was even higher; again, we were certified as a Best Christian Workplace.
In 2019, some cracks started to appear. Similar to the world at large, people at Bethlehem College & Seminary and Bethlehem Baptist Church were polarized over certain topics. Women’s issues and race issues were at the forefront. People disagreed over definitions of empathy and how to rightly care for the abused. Definitions of abuse and victimhood were different in the minds of different people. Differing positions on these important issues strained relationships. In this milieu, we held another BCWI survey in the fall 2019. The results of the survey dropped significantly from the previous two years. Nevertheless, Bethlehem College & Seminary was still a certified Best Christian Workplace. Despite the challenges that were in our midst, as an institution, our employees were still happy to pull together in fulfillment of our mission.
As we moved into 2020, some believed our institutional culture was negative. Others believed we were moving in the right direction. We hired an outside investigator to analyze our policies, procedures, and even our culture to see what might be wrong. In a crazy twist of providence, this was happening right as a worldwide pandemic struck. We had to stop meeting in person and put all classes online via Zoom. We had to stop all external events, including our much-loved Pastors’ Conference. Because of the lower overall survey score, we asked a consultant from BCWI to lead focus groups with our staff and faculty. We created a small task force to analyze the results and suggest ways to improve our organization. The results of the external investigation were released to our board of trustees. The investigator determined that we were operating legally in all our policies and procedures and that our culture was not toxic. The BCWI consultant agreed that we were not a toxic place to work. One very difficult result of all this—the pandemic, the economy, and the internal challenges—was that over several months in 2020 and even into 2021, we were forced to release some employees and some employees chose to resign. It was a very hard time.
In 2021, as the economic and social restrictions were lessened and we all started emerging from our homes, we looked to the future. We looked to having a “normal” academic year with students on campus and student lunches and house system events and a reboot of the Serious Joy Conference for Pastors. We hired new employees, both staff and faculty. We held a two-day staff and faculty retreat—with families—to build relational thickness and launch our new vision under President Joe Rigney.
By God’s grace we successfully launched the 2021–2022 school year. Of course, things were still rocky; we had to postpone President Rigney’s inauguration event. But throughout this rebirth of Bethlehem College & Seminary, much like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon, our staff and faculty felt united and happy and delighted to work together to spread a passion for our glorious Lord Jesus.
The story isn’t over, of course, but I’m humbled to announce that we completed our 2021 BCWI survey again this fall. Our schedule has been to do this survey every two years since 2015. God has blessed Bethlehem College & Seminary as we’ve walked through the fire of the last few years. Our flourishing score was higher than ever before. For four straight surveys, Bethlehem College & Seminary is a certified Best Christian Workplace. I do not say this in a gloating fashion. I am humbled. Thankful. Worshipful. God did this. God has fashioned an amazing group of staff and faculty who want to be here, who want to equip men and women to treasure Christ above all things, to grow in wisdom and knowledge over a lifetime, and to glorify God in every sphere of life.
Please rejoice with me. And please, continue to pray for Bethlehem College & Seminary.
Vice President of Administration & CFO