I recently spent a noon hour with six young Fresno Pacific students and their teacher. The teacher was a staff member, Lisa Alvey, who is not formally a professor, and that was a powerful example of why every FPU employee must be a skillful, dedicated and thoughtful follower of Jesus, whose thoughts, language and behavior provide a living lesson of our core Christian beliefs and values. Every employee and every student is both teacher and a learner.
The student learners were there voluntarily; it was not part of a formal course and they were not getting credit toward their degrees. They were just there to learn and contribute to the effectiveness of FPU. We were all there to teach and learn from each other. Lisa was our leader, and we were following her energetic and insightful instruction.
Our challenge was to translate the life, culture and language of one person—me—into the language of another culture in order to connect my life as president of FPU with the lives of people who do not know me or my culture or the culture of Fresno Pacific University. We were trying to figure out how to condense who I am into a message that would carry across all the barriers between our 18-year-old prospective students and a 73-year-old-grandfather with a Ph.D. who likes Dairy Queen ice cream, Bach, reading, running, writing, laughing, praying and subverting systems to make them work better for the Kingdom of God. We needed to “brand” the president on social media to help people understand Fresno Pacific and want to be part of what God is doing here. Lisa and the students are my teachers. We are learning to learn together. It is hard but important work.
From infancy through third grade we learn to read. From fourth grade on we read to learn. And throughout our lives we continue learning to learn. We learn new ways to see things, new ways to understand people who did not grow up in the same culture that we did and new ways to think about and enjoy our God, who is ultimately beyond our knowing, but who reveals himself to us so we can enjoy him, respond to his love for us and do the work of his kingdom on earth—learning and working together through our differences.
To succeed at the job God has given all of us at FPU, we must be a learning organization. All of us includes students and donors, professors and prayer partners, staff and supporters, light-skinned and dark-skinned, younger and older, richer and poorer, stronger and weaker, fearful and confident, loud and quiet—all of us. We must each contribute to a culture of incessant assessment in which we measure everything we do by the outcomes we are hoping for and by the outcomes that are actually happening. We do this in every course and every program of student, faculty or staff development. We do it by learning biology and baseball and Genesis and generosity. We practice a culture of evidence and effectiveness by setting and evaluating student learning outcomes that all roll up into the desired program and institutional outcomes, and ultimately into the effects that our alumni, faculty and staff have on the world in the name of Christ. It contributes to being an accredited university, but it is equally an expression of who we really want to be.
A learning organization is full of individual learners and teachers who rigorously hold themselves and everyone else accountable for seeing what can be learned in every situation and finding ways to make progress together. Criticizing, blaming, belittling, the stingy hoarding of information or other resources, demanding our own way without listening and caring for others—none of these is noble or helpful in a learning organization, especially one that seeks to be founded and centered on Jesus Christ. Instead, we seek always to speak the truth with each other, but to speak that truth in love. Love for God above all, and love for our neighbor as ourselves.
FPU wants to be a community of learners who seek the mind of Christ, who came among us and learned the ways of being human. He could have remained separate from us. He could have retained his rightful supremacy of “equality with God,” but he gave it up to learn among us and to let us learn from him. He is God’s gift to us. And in similar fashion, who you are as part of Fresno Pacific is God’s gift to all the rest of us. If you share yourself generously we will all become richer together. If we learn together we can all become wiser and more effective together in this glorious and beautiful work God has entrusted to us.
Along with my six student friends and their teacher, all of us together can learn to translate the beauty of Jesus into new life and hope for the world where God has put us. Let’s listen to each others hearts and learn together how to be more and more beautiful together.