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Vice President and Dean of Bethel Seminary Announces Retirement

David Clark will retire from Bethel Seminary in July after serving as vice president and dean since 2012 and on faculty since 1988.

Vice President and Dean of Bethel Seminary David Clark announced he would retire in July. He began working as a professor at Bethel Seminary in 1988 and has served as vice president and dean since 2012. “David is a passionate advocate for the importance of seminary education and in supporting and strengthening the local church,” Executive Vice President and Provost Deb Harless and Associate Provost Randy Bergen wrote in a joint statement to faculty and staff. “David has worked tirelessly to build strong relationships with Converge and churches. He and the seminary faculty have worked hard to focus on how to best prepare leaders for today's church and the church of the future.”

During the 2017-18 academic year, Clark will remain at Bethel Seminary to focus on building strong relationships with churches and partnering with them on our new 36-credit, fully online, master’s degree in Christian thought. Clark will conclude his service as vice president and dean on July 14. We asked Clark to share some of his reflections on the last 29 years at Bethel and what comes next for him.

What have been some of your best memories in your time at Bethel?

I love watching people grow to their full potential. I tell new students, “Our goal is to walk with you as you become the best version of the person God created you to be.” And it happens. We watch students and colleagues develop into more mature, more authentic, more generous, more capable versions of themselves.

I’ll never forget the six-hour ride home with Leland Eliason [executive vice president and dean of Bethel Seminary from 1994-2009] from the first Willow Creek Leadership Summit. We felt the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we imagined a new kind of seminary. That dialogue sparked the “Three Centers,” which still guide the seminary today. It ensures that each Bethel Seminary student is equipped for durable ministry by growing in Biblical/theological wisdom, spiritual and personal formation, and transformational leadership.

Has anything surprised you about your role, your students, or seminary education during your time at Bethel Seminary?

I had an epiphany early in my teaching career. I honestly thought that explaining theology would automatically result in life-change. If we could help people see the reasonableness of Christian theology, they would turn from sin and fall down in worship. But I learned that we’re all much more complicated than this. Our thoughts and attitudes and reactions and behaviors are more often driven by things other than logic or evidence. I was surprised to learn that people do what they do in part because of emotions like hurt or fear, joy or hope. Once this dawned on me (duh!), I began to empathize with people who were struggling. This insight was transformative for me in everything I do.

How has seminary education changed in the past 29 years? Any stories about what life/work was like when you started, versus now?

When I first started, the seminary year began with all the faculty and new students going on retreat at a rustic camp. Everyone slept in sleeping bags and ate camp food. Students who study online today may not come to campus until graduation. So things have changed.

In the last few years, the seminary has improved access to education. We’ve lowered our sticker price, expanded our reach, grown our scholarship endowments, streamlined processes, and partnered in new ways with churches. And the seminary is partnering with the College of Adult & Professional Studies and Graduate School to leverage Bethel’s collective wisdom about the needs of adult learners. The goal in all this is to maximize our ability to serve today's—and tomorrow's—emerging church leaders well.

What have been some more challenging times in the last few decades?

It’s obvious that the financial models in higher education have been under immense pressure, and not just at Bethel, and not just for the seminary. At Bethel, we’ve sought new revenue sources, implemented new efficiencies, removed barriers for students, and built new networks of support.

But money isn’t the biggest issue. Vision for the future is the biggest issue. What we need are people who feel deep in their gut that we just have to dedicate ourselves again and again to developing leaders who are passionate to serve Christ, who witness to the Gospel of grace, who sacrifice themselves for the good of others, and who lead God’s people with wisdom and compassion.

What will you miss the most?

This is easy. It's friends. I could name 100 Bethel people who have influenced me in good ways.

What comes next?

Everyone says they’re going to spend time with their grandchildren, and Sandy and I will definitely do that. We’ll definitely find places to serve. My folks are 93-year-old retired missionaries. They both lead Bible studies for the young folks (the 88-year-olds) in their retirement center. Dad said, “You have 20 years of ministry ahead.” And that’s our view, too.

How do you see yourself staying connected to Bethel Seminary down the road?

I’ve been graciously offered the chance to teach some courses at Bethel and connect with churches on Bethel’s behalf. That’s the formal part. The informal part is hanging out with anyone who wants to talk theology or culture or apologetics or ethics or reconciliation or Christ’s church or most anything else. I’m happy to buy the coffee.

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