By Andrew Frazier, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students
A faith-based education presents one of the most distinctive opportunities for students to experience a transformational education. In a keynote address to leaders of Christian colleges and universities, New York Times columnist David Brooks said, “You have what everybody else is desperate to have: a way of talking about and educating the human person in a way that integrates faith, emotion, and intellect. You have a recipe to nurture human beings who have a devoted heart, a courageous mind, and a purposeful soul. Almost no other set of institutions in American society has that, and everyone wants it” (David Brooks, foreword to Campus Life: In Search of Community).
At Johnson University, we want students to have those devoted hearts, courageous minds, and purposeful souls. I often share with our students our vision for student life at Johnson: we do not just care about what you know, we also care deeply about who you are becoming.
The Apostle Paul shares in Romans 12:1-2: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” In our work, we strive to align with the imperatives of Paul in this passage: to encourage physical, mental, and spiritual transformation of students as acts of worship and service to God. Cultivating this community is imperative so that not only is transformation possible, but also so students thrive in their educational journey as they seek their vocation and calling.
The journey of discipleship and formation is life-long for those who follow Jesus, but college offers one of the most distinctive times and unique environments for this growth. Gary Stratton, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, explains that Christian colleges “can and should graduate men and women who love God with all their being and worship him in every area of their lives” and that such institutions should strive for “students being transformed into the image of Christ in order to become Christ’s agents of transformation in the world” (Gary Stratton, A Transformational Approach to Student Development, Crown College, 2003).
The mission of Student Life advances the mission of Johnson University by striving after these very ideas. Student Life supplements the University curricular programs with co-curricular programs and services designed to help students develop the social, physical, and intellectual skills beneficial to service in Christian ministries and other strategic vocations. Every element of the educational experience contributes to a student’s formation, fosters feelings of belonging, and aids them in their formation into Christlikeness. In the classroom, in the dorms, in mentor groups, in team practices and games, in the dining hall, in SGA events, in intramural sports, in faculty and staff homes, and in so much more, we find the distinctives of a Johnson education.
Perhaps the most profound foundation I can operate from when thinking of framing our work and strategically planning initiatives to fulfill our mission comes from our founder, Ashley S. Johnson: Faith, Prayer, and Work. Johnson’s timeless proverb is displayed prominently at the front gate of the Tennessee campus, instilling in every student, faculty, staff, alumni, and friend who enters our campus the vital elements of Johnson University’s approach to physical, mental, and spiritual transformation. Johnson said: “We believe as if everything depends upon faith. We pray as if everything depends on prayer. We work as if everything depends upon work.”
These words represent more than just an encouraging sentiment for life on campus. Indeed, they portray a deeper sense of the holistic development we desire for our students.
“Faith, Prayer, and Work” provides a model for Student Life that frames the services and support efforts we offer in light of our biblical calling to be living sacrifices, to engage in true and proper worship, to renew our minds, and to seek after God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. If we view the work of Student Life through this lens, it further adds cohesion to our departmental initiatives and fosters a unity of focus on our students, their wellbeing, and their faith journeys. I am excited to share these initiatives and efforts with you, and hope you will continue to pray for and support the good work of Student Life as we participate in the Johnson mission.