Equipped to Lead: Alumni Spotlight- Mackenzie Gear

Equipped to Lead: Alumni Spotlight – Mackenzie Gear

by Frank Brazell

Recently, we sat down with alumna Mackenzie Gear (Christian Leadership, ’18) to discuss her experiences as a student, and how it has prepared her to be the Director of Student Ministries for one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the United States.

Mackenzie Gear (’18) and husband Brady

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Mackenzie first felt God calling her to full time vocational ministry as a teenager, specifically the call to work with students. Mackenzie first found out about Grace College of Divinity from her fiancé, now husband, Brady. The military brought Brady to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he began attending a local church affiliated with GCD; he told Mackenzie about Grace College of Divinity soon afterward. When they were married and settled in their new city, Mackenzie began taking classes at GCD, earning her Associate of Arts in Christian Leadership in 2018.

“I really enjoyed the fact that I could get my whole degree online… You can get your whole degree either all in class or all online.”

Mackenzie started by taking on-campus classes but had to switch to all-online courses when she was hired for a staff position at her local church. Getting hired was a direct result of being a student at GCD. A faculty member, who also happened to be an Associate Pastor at Mackenzie’s local church, noticed her work ethic and commitment to God’s call on her life, and connected her to an administrative position where she could still fulfill God’s calling for her: working with middle and high-school students.

Since then, Mackenzie has completed her Associate’s degree, worked with students while serving in an administrative capacity, and has recently been promoted to Director of Student Ministries. We asked her what that role entailed, and how her time as a student at GCD prepared her to step into that role.

“Now I get the opportunity to work with leaders at other sites [church campuses] in helping them and guiding them into leading them and growing their students at their sites, get to work with RUSH [Campus Ministries] in the local schools, and all things students at my local church.”

While still working weekly with students at her local church campus, Mackenzie now has the opportunity to mentor six adult leaders at that campus and five other site directors at various locations across the Fayetteville, North Carolina region. She works in conjunction with local pastoral staff to create a space for students that is a part of the local church.

“One of the biggest things I learned in class was through the Servant Leadership class with [Professor] Stefanie Ertel. In order to lead like Jesus you need to serve like Jesus. That’s something that I’ve been able to apply from my time at GCD to the role I’m in now.”

While a student, Mackenzie enjoyed not having to learn things on her own, but being surrounded by a group of like-minded people who want to grow and develop in their relationship with God.

“To be a pastor doesn’t mean that you need the title Pastor. You can do pastoral work in your everyday life, and I think that all of us are called to be somewhat pastoral in our interactions with people.”

Looking forward, Mackenzie is confident that God’s call on her life when she was 15 has brought her to where she is today. Now, she has the opportunity not only to lead students but to lead leaders, multiplying herself not for her own sake, but to advance the Kingdom of God faster and more effectively. While she may not know what the future holds, she never could have imagined where God would bring her and how He would bring her here.

We also asked Mackenzie what advice she would give to people who think God might be calling them to be a student at GCD. The calling that started when she was a teenager wasn’t put in place overnight, and her journey still isn’t finished; but the journey has been incredible, and God has been faithful through the whole process.

“It’s a big decision committing to school. If you’re on the edge of it, and feel like God is pushing you, it doesn’t hurt to try. Your efforts aren’t going to go to waste, and you’re going to learn something. The Lord can open up a lot of things, but we have to be willing to take the step forward. As long as you’re pursuing Him and seeking Him, He’s not going to lead you down a path that isn’t the right one for you.”

Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Back to College

Bible college student

Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Back to College

by Frank Brazell

In a previous post, I wrote about the Five Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started College. In this follow-up article I want to share what I wish I knew before I went back to college for Graduate School, this time married with a toddler and another baby on the way.

1) Family comes first.

My second time starting college was quite different from the first: Instead of being 18 and on my own, I was 25, married with kids, and expected to provided for my family at the same time as completing my degree. With all these differences, I had to learn quickly that my family had to be my first priority, they had to receive my best. It’s totally doable to be a college student while taking care of your family, but you have to support them in order for them to support you. Be available for your family, give them the best of you, not the leftovers, and set your priorities early.

2) GPA isn’t everything.

This should probably point 1.2, but it’s been an important enough lesson to necessitate its own section. When you are in college with a family, and often with a job on top of that, something is going to have to give. The safest thing to let go of will be that over-the-top bit of effort in your assignments that separates a 93 from a 100. I’m not saying don’t do your work (excuses are lame), I’m just saying there is about a seven-point gap between excellent and perfect, and striving for perfection is just going to burn you out. I know this from experience, and have had to learn the hard way. So if you are done with the assignment, and its on-time, just turn it in. Don’t waste that extra energy trying to perfect at the cost of your family life and your sanity.

3) Work hard, rest hard.

Oh my goodness if I could only turn back the clock two years, I would have saved myself a lot of headache on this one. You’re not Superwoman/Superman, stop trying to be. Seven days straight of work, school, and taking care of family, week in and week out for sixteen straight weeks— that’s CRAZY! If you aren’t taking one day, or even a half day, to reset yourself and spend time with family (again, point 1), then you will burn out by the midpoint of the semester.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

As a student in the “nontraditional” (i.e., not 18-24) category, I knew that things would be different from the last time I was in school. For students who have been out of school for ten or twenty years, it can be an even bigger adjustment. Don’t be embarrassed to ask your classmates and instructors for clarification on how to do things, particularly as they pertain to technology, but even for simple things like what professors are looking for in an assignment. In my experience, people don’t get offended when you ask for clarification.

5) Don’t think you know it all.

I’m not talking about course content. Obviously you don’t think you have all that down, otherwise you wouldn’t be taking the class! During my first semester back in school I found myself constantly playing-up the fact that I’d been around the block before, and I’m sure it got pretty annoying to my younger peers. What I found was that while I had gained some life experience over my classmates, by no means did I have it all together. In some areas, my younger peers were leaps and bounds beyond me developmentally. It pays to acknowledge you don’t know everything about life, and to take time to learn from your peers, even as you seek to help them through areas you’ve already mastered.

Five Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started College

Five Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started College

by Frank Brazell

When I look back on my four-year, undergraduate education, I am left with many fond memories: meeting my wife, forming lifelong friendships, and the spontaneous road trips associated with being young and free. At the same time, there are just a few things I wish someone had told me on the front-end of things. Here is a brief rundown of my thoughts, in the hope that it will help the college graduates of tomorrow.

1) Pick a degree or major that appeals to you.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re like me as in impressionable 18-year old, you’re being pressed to choose a major that will lead to a JOB, which in the end is one of the major reasons for going to college in the first place. My mistake, however, was to choose a major in which I had absolutely no interest or passion, in the hopes that it would land me a job after four years. I slogged through two years in that major, hating every minute of it. And then came Intro to Philosophy… Instantly, I knew I had to change majors, and immediately jumped ship to something I was more passionate about— Humanities. In the end, by switching to something I was more passionate about, I was actually able to find a job, moreover a job that I love, and one that uses the skills and knowledge learned in my major!

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a major more likely to convert to employment after four years, but make sure you don’t select something solely for the economic benefits. Do something you could see yourself doing for the rest of your life.

2) Don’t be afraid to go in Undeclared.

Along the same lines, there is a ton of pressure on incoming college students to choose a major early, to lock in. But many new college students haven’t experienced enough to even know what they want to do; it isn’t fair to expect them to have their whole life planned out. So, if your college has the option to enroll without declaring a major, and you’re still unsure what you want to do, why not go in Undeclared? Alternatively, if you don’t know what you want to do, start with General Education classes that apply to a variety of programs, so that when something does peak your interest, you don’t end up having to take an extra semester’s worth of loans to finish your degree.

3) Think carefully about Student Loans.

Speaking of Student Loans, I really wish someone had sat down with me to discuss how long they might take to pay off. This isn’t the case for everyone, and I know my own debt is tiny compared to some of the people I went to school with. Even still, our education system makes it way too easy for an 18-year old to lock in to 30 years’ worth of student loans with nothing more than a digital signature (I know that’s an extreme case, but extremes do happen).

4) It’s okay to take your time.

College is just as much about the experience as it is what you learn in the classroom. You spend a lot of time growing during your years as a student. Rushing that process, or even finishing in the standard four years for a Bachelor’s Degree, could result in you missing out on certain stages of personal development. You should never feel shamed about taking more than four years to finish a Bachelor’s Degree, especially if you are allowing your classroom experiences to form who you are as a person.

5) You’ll miss it when its done.

I know not everybody feels this way. Some people are so ready to be done with school. After all, you’ve probably already been in school for thirteen years, and you’re ready to get on with life. But in my case, I realized midway through my Junior year that I really enjoyed the freedom of being a student working only a part time job and having my weekends free. So I squeezed the life out of college, and experienced a lot (see point number 4) as a result. So build those friendships, take extra time to build relationships with your professors, and enjoy your experience!

GCD Named Among the Most Affordable Accredited MDiv Programs of 2019-20

NoGRE.com Recognizes the Grace College of Divinity Master of Divinity Among the Most Affordable Accredited MDiv Programs of 2019-20

NoGRE.com took a look at the tuition rates of every accredited MDiv program in the U.S. with one simple goal in mind: identify the programs offering the best value through a combination of uncompromising quality and affordable tuition. We set the bar high when it came to quality, looking only at programs that meet the rigorous standards it takes to earn accreditation from one of the three preeminent accreditors in the field of Christian studies. And since we only recognize programs with tuition rates below the state average, the bar for affordability was set equally high.

With the total tuition coming in at nearly $20,000 below the average cost of similar accredited programs in North Carolina, the Grace College of Divinity MDiv easily earns its place on our list of the The Most Affordable MDiv Programs in America for 2019-20!

2019 National Rankings

GCD RANKED AS ONE OF THE BEST ONLINE BIBLE COLLEGES IN THE NATION

We are pleased to share the news: GCD has received several national rankings for 2019! This is not why we do what we do, but it’s exciting to see recognition from five national education organizations. Here are the results:

ACADEMICS

ChristianColleges.com ranked GCD as the #1 online Bible College in the country. Academics weighed heavily in their scoring, as well as affordability and number of online programs.

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EDsmart.org listed GCD as the #1 accredited online college in North Carolina. This ranking was based on affordability, student satisfaction, and student outcome.

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BestColleges.com rated GCD as the #5 online Bachelor’s in Ministry program in the nation. Consideration factors included academic quality, affordability, and online competency.

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AFFORDABILITY

AffordableColleges.com listed GCD as the #5 most affordable online college in the country. Colleges on this list were ranked by cost and return on investment.

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The SR Education Group ranked GCD as the #1 most affordable online Christian college in the nation. Tuition rates for undergraduate programs and Christian affiliation were factored into this result.

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DEVELOPING LEADERS FOR THE KINGDOM

The word is starting to spread that excellent things are happening here at GCD! Our students engage at a high level and pursue God’s best with passion. Our faculty serve heroically to match academic rigor with practical application. By God’s grace, leaders are being developed to bring the good news of the Kingdom to the world!

Data-Infused Learning for 21st Century Ministry

Charisma Media interview with Dr. Crowther: Training Emerging Leaders

Student Reflection: Dog Days of the School Year

by Sam Fletcher

My struggle throughout each and every semester has always been the mundane and the consistency of sixteen weeks out of the year. It can be slow and frustrating, and sometimes I would just like to be done. If every student who is in school is being honest, then they would agree that school is not the highlight of their day or week or month.  It is not for me. It can really be taxing! School is about character and building on the knowledge that you have as a student.  Every great leader is a good student. The character aspect of school is about doing what you do not want to do.  

If I’m being honest, school has never been a particularly favorite hobby but it has taught me so much about discipline, diligence, and excellence. As a millennial, I tend to focus on my feelings. I do not want to do what makes me feel bad. School is that thing! School has provided me an opportunity to grow in discipline.  The hardest thing about school is that it never goes away when you are in it! When one week is done, here comes another the next. School has provided an opportunity for me to grow in diligence, in that, when I get to it early, the easier it is!

School can be frustrating, but I guess, it is on purpose!

Sam is a 3rd-year Bachelor of Arts in Christian Leadership student, and a graduate of theExperience internship. He currently serves as the Student Ministries Assistant for Manna Church, Fayetteville/Fort Bragg.

Devotional: Jessica Fletcher

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Jessica Fletcher is a GCD alumna, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Divinity degree in the Fall of 2017.

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Scene: Africa. Subjects: wild dogs and wildebeests. The only way the wild dogs have the advantage is if the wildebeest run. However, if the wildebeests have the courage to stop running and stand their ground, the wild dogs are powerless. If you desire a more detailed and graphic demonstration of this truth, go watch The Hunt on Netflix.

Everyone is made on purpose and for a purpose, and that purpose ALWAYS involves others.

Here’s the big question: are you surrounded by people who are going to have the courage to stop in the face of danger and stand with you? Are you running alone? A very important lesson can be learned from the wildebeests. When we stop running and stand together, the enemy is powerless. We are not meant to do life alone. We need to surround ourselves with people who have the faith to stand and the courage to stop running. When we stand together, we halt the enemy.

Hebrews 4:11 (ESV) – “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

Two words spring off the page: “us” and “no one.” Earlier in Hebrews 4, the author of Hebrews references the moment the nation of Israel fell prey to the fears of the faithless reporters.

Hebrews 4:2 (ESV) – “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”

With whom are you united?

Now, let’s take a moment to look at the word REST.

In this passage, “rest” is the Greek word katapausis, used in three different ways. (1) Rest as in the way we would use the peace of God, (2) rest as in the Promised Land, and (3) rest as in how God rested on the seventh day after his work was completed.

Here’s the truth: being out of rest is being out of faith.

Hebrews 4:1 (ESV) – “…while the promise of entering his rest still stands…” He has promised, we need to enter. God has promised peace. God has a promised land for you. God has work for you to complete. Let us enter in; let us enter together.

Here are three action steps:

  1. Surround yourself with faith-filled people. Reach for the fearful ones, don’t surround yourself with them.
  2. Practice listening today (Heb. 4:7, ESV)
  3. Choose to remove the words ALWAYS and NEVER in reference to yourself and those around you. Those are eternal words, only God is eternal.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph. 4:15-16, ESV)

Church, let us be found standing together, striving together to enter into His rest.

21st Century Apologetics: Diplomacy through Conversations

21st Century Apologetics: Diplomacy through Conversations

Many authors have commented on the erosion of belief in absolute truth among Western societies. The rise of relativistic thinking in post-modern America seems to discard long-accepted ideas like a heliocentric solar system in favor of a flat-earth theory. Relativism is commonly expressed as “My truth is my truth; your truth is your truth,” or “You do you.” Evangelical authors often pose a concern about the effect this trend will have on sharing the gospel. How can we share the truth of scripture when truth is viewed as customizable?

Mature followers of Christ are right to be concerned about this trend. The common response centers on training in apologetics, or defending the faith. That word often brings to mind some form of debate (which most believers do not feel qualified to begin) or verbal combat (which most believers do not enjoy). Is there another way to share the good news of enduring hope, joy and peace with our friends, co-workers, families and neighbors? Yes, believers have the best message to share to a confused, hurting world and can reach others through conversations that pose questions in a way that deepens relationships.

Know What You Believe

Christ-followers should know what they believe and be prepared to share this in meaningful ways. Speaking to the first topic, Francis J. Beckwith captured the essence of a Christian worldview in three points:

  1. There exists an eternally self-existing moral agent named God, who created the universe ex nihilo.
  2. God created human beings in his image.
  3. God reveals himself in special revelation, the Bible, as well as general revelation.1

Christian apologists rightly quote 1 Peter 3:15 – “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”2 There is a Kingdom mandate for God’s people to proclaim the gospel, and to be prepared to do so. Study helps in preparation, but notice the phrasing of this passage. Peter is assuming that Christ-followers will live in such a way that others will ask about the hope they hold in their hearts.

Know How to Share What You Believe

Peter immediately follows that well-quoted phrase with a caution: “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” Training in what to say should be accompanied by training in how to say it. Speaking to tactics, Gregory P. Koukl challenged Jesus-followers to “artfully manage the details of dialogue.”

Here are a few questions that should get your friend to examine their thinking:

  1. Do you mind if I ask you a question?
    Believers can avoid coming off as pushy or preachy by “inviting others to participate in dialogue.” The answer will signal whether our friend is willing to engage in conversation or if the believer should prayerfully look for another opportunity for dialogue.
  2. What do you mean by that?
    Likewise, open-ended questions place an expectation on the other person to define what they mean when delivered with a genuine desire to understand them.
  3. How did you come to that conclusion?
    This question assumes the best for the other person: that they have thought through what they believe and can relate their position with clarity. It may also reveal where our friend has built their beliefs on feelings instead of evidence or careful thought.
  4. Have you ever considered … ?
    Here is where a believer can gently challenge another’s position. By presenting evidence for an alternative conclusion, believers can plant seeds in conversation that our friends desperately need to hear.3

This strategy is more like skilled diplomacy than heated debate or armed combat. Knowing what we believe is only half the preparation; knowing how to share the truth in a conversational way makes us effective ambassadors for the Kingdom.

If you would like training in either area, please consider these special courses offered this summer:
Contemporary Issues in Apologetics (graduate course) – meets online and on-campus from May 6 – August 18, 2019.

Apologetic Issues for Cross-Cultural Engagement (undergraduate course, open to current high school students) – meets online from June 24 – August 18, 2019.

Follow one of these steps if you are interested in registering and you are not yet a GCD student:

High School students (not yet graduated): fill out this application

High School graduates: fill out this application

Graduate-level students (completed a bachelor degree): fill out this application

For more information, please contact our Admissions Team.

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Notes:

  1. Francis J. Beckwith, To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, eds. Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 14-15.
  2. New International Version.
  3. Quoted or adapted from Gregory P. Koukl, “Tactics: Applying Apologetics to Everyday Life,” in To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, eds. Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 48-54.