Published Date: June 25, 2013
This message was first delivered to the Board Advisory Council on June 17, 2013 and then again to the faculty and staff on June 24, 2013.
Northland will continue to exist and it will exist with its unique Northland DNA.
We are a BIBLE COLLEGE and we must not be ashamed of it. First and foremost, we will train vocational and bi-vocational (i.e. tentmakers) ministers for church and missions work. We will come alongside of local churches to serve them, not consume them. We will be more concerned about the integrity of our God-given mission than large enrollment and financial wealth.
Why must there be a Northland? Why keep a school in the middle of nowhere with poor surrounding jobs, small churches, and cold weather? Why Northland when you have Moody, Wheaton, Cedarville, Boyce, Cornerstone, Trinity, Liberty, and many other high quality Christian colleges and universities? Because we are not those places. And we are in a hard place training young people for hard work. So here are some important reasons why Northland must exist and why I am convinced that God is not finished here.
God has providentially worked through the generosity and heart of Paul Patz to take seriously the call of Jesus; the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.
Paul Patz and family have invested tens of millions of dollars in Northland over the years. Its campus has over 650 acres and 27 major, paid for, buildings—most of which are in very good condition. This is the inheritance that has been handed down to me and my generation and I feel that a great burden of stewardship has been entrusted to us. God does not waste buildings and property and people and time. God will use this place, these assets, and the many wonderful people that have poured their lives into this ministry.
This matters, but it isn't the most important reason.
God has providentially worked to bless us with 52 years of camp and 30 plus years of college alumni. The result of these years is incalculable in regards to the works of grace and changed lives in countless people as you start to work out the ripple effect. The work of this college in the training of ordinary and yet faithful, servant-hearted ministers, missionaries, and disciples of Jesus is remarkable. We know that no ministry is promised perpetuity, but we have this to say to our God: You have blessed us abundantly, bless us again.
This matters but still it isn't the best reason.
In the providence of God we see God's hand working—not in spite of the past few months—but because of the past few months as he brings about a great work for His glory and His kingdom. The events leading to Dr. Olson's departure and the months following have made Northland do a gut check on many levels.
Why do we exist? What are we doing? Are we being good stewards? Who will we be and where are we going?
We know that we are being analyzed by critics, but we are analyzing ourselves. We know that we are being dismissed by many, but we are not ashamed to lay ourselves out to the open and bare our soul so that all may know what we already know about ourselves: we are weak. Institutionally, we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Why? Because we have seen the sovereign hand of God at work in countless details in the past months. He has confirmed our conviction that he loves little people in little places.
This is a great reason to boldly ask God for grace to continue, but it is still not the best reason.
I believe Northland must prevail because of Gods providential hand in allowing the school to be a fundamentalist institution but now giving it an opportunity to provide a bridge gap-like ministry to a healthier conservative evangelicalism.
There is a need for a seriously happy, passionate training ground for ministry that provides a bridge-ministry to those in fundamentalism moving to conservative evangelicalism. People formerly or currently connected with BJU, Maranatha, Pillsbury, Clearwater, etc are filled with godly people, but people who no longer embrace the old cultural fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is our history. We own it and love it, even if we lay aside aspects of it. I have a heart to bless that form of Christianity while being faithful to our convictions that has (what I think is) a healthy understanding of the body of Christ (versus secondary separation) and Christian liberty (versus legalistic structure). We want to love and appreciate the past while confidently obeying God's leading for us into the future.
This matters but it isn't the biggest reason.
Now we get to the most important reasons for NIU's existence:
Northland must exist because in God's providential work there has been something special about this place and the leaders that have gone before us—something special that is glorifying to God and needed in the church of Christ.
Northland has never been a beacon of superior academic excellence, although it has been steadily improving. It has never been a grooming ground for political or cultural leaders in our society as the world thinks. It has never been an attractive place for those who love the glamour of city life. Northland has always been a humble, out-of-the-way place.
But it has made a significant impact.
I like to describe this point in terms of DNA—something that may be hidden under the surface but common in those who were immersed in the culture of servant-leadership. There is a DNA that God has given to those who have been part of this place. I think it was present in my grandfather, Paul Patz, and in each of the administrations at Northland. It included a simple, humble, and steadfast obedience to Christ. It is a following of Jesus in the ministry of foot-wash living and leading. This makes Northland special. This must continue. This must grow.
Jesus needs to be proclaimed, churches need to be built up, the nations need the work and word of the Gospel, and young people need to be saturated with a winsome culture and education, built up in grace and truth in a four-year Bible college. Northland, by God's grace, seeks earnestly to be a school with this end. The church of Christ needs more colleges that are wholeheartedly devoted to this clear, specific, and narrow focus to train ministers for great commission living.
So what must we be?
We will be a conservative evangelical school with a history of fundamentalism that shapes how we act, live, and love in all directions.
We are a school with fundamentalist roots and a heart for this history, while embracing a spirit and culture of godly repentance of the sinful manifestations of that movement. We lovingly and patiently will work with those who are deeply committed to the Word and are true brothers in Christ, brothers to the left of us and to the right of us.
We are conservative evangelical with a history that we are not ashamed of because that is the story God chose to write for us.
We will not be secondary separatists. Instead, we will separate when we must with a deep devotion for unity and purity in the body of Christ.
We will boldly repudiate sectarian legalism.
We will humbly repent of reactionary liberty and counter-legalism or judgmentalism. We must not be judgmental or proud of our liberty or freedom.
Together we can be different. We can be gloriously different while cooperatively pursuing the same God-besought vision.
We will be a school that gladly owns the reality that you have to go out of your way to go to! We know that God loves to use that kind of mentality that embraces hard things in order to steer disciples into more radical living for the cause of Christ.
We will seek to be a school that is transformative with God's help. If you come here for four years, you will be different.
God has worked in such a way that convinces me that He is not done with this ministry; a ministry where you have to go far out of your way to get to. Northland will continue to be a ministry that thrusts workers to the farthest corners of the world. Northland has always been a missions mobilizing school that trains pastors and teachers for the harvest. We are recommitting ourselves to this mission like never before. We have a niche and it is this: we are a missions-mobilizing training ground. We do not apologize for this.
I love Northland. She will never be a Moody, Wheaton, Lancaster Bible, Cedarville, Liberty, Maranatha, or Bob Jones. Although God is using those schools, that is not who God made Northland. Northland is a simple (and special) place where God has chosen to use simple, ordinary, humble, and plain people to do the extraordinary work of God.
I hope this does not offend you. To be numbered with you is a real honor, joy, and blessing. We are an army of ordinary people. NIU has been led by ordinary leaders with modest credentials, but God has mightily worked through them because they were men and women of God. There are now thirty plus years of alumni (as well as former and current faculty and staff servants) who are serving the Church and world as pastors and janitors, Sunday school teachers and deacons, missionaries and mailmen, housewives, teachers, evangelists and elders in almost every time-zone of the world. By God's grace so many people are stamped with the DNA of Northland.
Man's ways are not our ways, but He is doing a new work with a new plan, with a new energy, new counsel, and new leadership all led by the same FAITHFUL GOD who has been working and will continue to work today. I am thankful for the Northland of the past and the present.