Student focused—in word and deed

20231102 Chandler Snyder 285

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of Southwestern News.

 My family and I had the pleasure of serving Christ and His church in sub-Saharan Africa for a decade. Throughout our time we planted churches, made disciples, evangelized, and partnered with churches filled with local believers. We also got to observe models of unhealthy churches and messages that caused us to scoff and judge – namely the prosperity message that “names it and claims it.” Obviously, this message exists in churches on this side of the world, too. The idea that we can simply name something we want to happen and watch it passively come about is unbiblical. This experience helps to drive my passion to ensure our students have the best theological education that prepares them well to serve Christ across the globe.

Too often organizations establish guiding principles and values that only live on the “about” tab of the website. The work to establish a culture of that value and guiding principle is abandoned as soon as the website is completed. At Southwestern, we are continually committed as a community to living and reinforcing our values in word and deed. Moving beyond simply stating our values to embodying them in our affections, attitudes, and actions.

The commitment to living our values applies from the classroom, where incredible faculty point students to the goodness and grace of Christ, from the Scriptures, aligned with our confession and doctrinal commitments; to the globe where students engage in the Great Commandment and Great Commission loving and reaching both their neighbors and the nations. We do all of this with a commitment to being student focused.

It is my great joy to serve Christ at Southwestern Seminary by engaging our students and helping cultivate an environment and culture where students are prepared and launched to the neighborhoods and nations carrying with them a deep affection for the Southwestern community.

Building this culture takes remarkable teamwork, from faculty delivering an outstanding preparatory experience to staff offices that, as President David S. Dockery says, “delivers on the hidden curriculum.” This “hidden curriculum” includes the experiences that students have with administrative offices. Let’s be honest, this is not always the easiest to deliver, after all, nobody enjoys paying tuition! But as students interact with each member of the community, they are expected to both extend, and be treated with grace and respect – living a Romans 12:10 reality.

In addition to remarkable teamwork, building a community where people have a deep affection for having belonged to it requires a willingness to listen. This essential ability is often overlooked in a seminary environment. Too often students come in and go through a “cage” phase where they believe they know all the answers – that’s their picture of ministry, having and providing the answers for others that need them! But ministry is listening, assessing, and pointing people to the source of truth and life.

As Southwestern has begun deploying our values, we have worked to be student focused by creating spaces to actually listen to our students! Listening in town hall meetings, communicating through community newsletters, gathering in all student meetings, always having an open-door policy, participating in student events, and destroying guys in Saturday morning basketball are just a few ways that we have worked to create spaces to listen to our students.

Listening is the first step, but not the last step. Taking the feedback, courageously and (often) gracefully provided by students is just the first step. Responding thoughtfully, explaining the rationale behind the decisions, and making positive changes are the steps that reinforce the trust of the community and build affection. Regular, two-way communication builds trust and I pray that this consistent pattern of dialogue reinforces the “hidden curriculum” and allows students to see what the work of ministry requires.

There is still much to do in the Southwestern community, but by God’s grace and our students’ participation, I am confident that together we will send well-prepared Southwesterners to neighborhoods and nations that will make an eternal Gospel impact. As the Lord provides a bountiful harvest, these Southwesterns, having left with a love of their seminary experience, will send that harvest back to prepare more laborers at Southwestern and continue the work that the Lord began here in 1908 and now extends around the world, for the glory of Christ!

Chandler Snyder is vice president for enrollment and student services and dean of students.