John Terrill, Executive Director of Upper House, joins our producer Jesse Koopman to discuss Christian study centers, their missions, and the experiences they bring to the university communities they serve.

Learn about John Terrill & Upper House

Read John’s recent article in Common Good: What Does It Mean To Belong?

With Faith in Mind is produced at Upper House in Madison, Wisconsin and hosted by Director of University Engagement Dan Hummel and Executive Director John Terrill. Jesse Koopman is the Executive Producer. Upper House is an initiative of the Stephen & Laurel Brown Foundation.

Please reach out to us with comments or questions at podcast@slbrownfoundation.org. We’d love to hear from you.

Transcript

00;00;05;25 - 00;00;27;18

Speaker 1

Welcomed with faith in mind. I'm Jesse Koopman, the show's producer. But today, I'm also your host. And today, we are putting a spotlight on our own organization. Upper House is a Christian study center here in Madison, Wisconsin. And we're learning about study center life as part of our series Christian Education at the Crossroads. To help us explore this topic.

00;00;27;19 - 00;00;51;22

Speaker 1

We welcome here with Faith in Mind host and Upper House executive director Jon Terrill. Jon has been one of the driving forces of getting Upper House off the ground. And he comes to us from a line of several prominent positions, including director for the Center of Integrity in Business at the School of Business, Government and Economics at Seattle Pacific University.

00;00;51;24 - 00;01;17;17

Speaker 1

Before that, he worked with University Christian Fellowship USA as the national director for Professional Schools Ministries, as well as campus minister at Harvard Business School and InterVarsity National director for MBA Ministry. Jon lives here in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife Vanja, and their daughter. Elina enjoys writing and speaking on issues related to the academy, business, faith and culture.

00;01;17;19 - 00;01;34;24

Speaker 1

For those of you who don't have the privilege of knowing Jon like I do and haven't had a chance to get to know him over several years, I can tell you that getting to know him and see him work over the last many years, he's a man of deep integrity, kindness, wisdom and faith. Jon, welcome to the show.

00;01;34;25 - 00;01;56;19

Speaker 2

Wow. Jesse, Thank you for that warm introduction. I really appreciate that. And it's great to be here. I guess you labeled me as the host. I'm really a co-host and a learner on this podcast. I've so appreciated learning from you and all the great expertise you've brought to with faith in Mind and just podcasting in general. So thank you for being a great colleague.

00;01;56;21 - 00;02;15;11

Speaker 1

Oh, you're welcome and thanks for the compliment. It has been a genuine joy getting to not just see you from a a guest coming to events here now, but to work with you side by side for the last year. It's been a real joy and privilege. Yeah. So one of the things I'm most excited about in today's podcast is to get to know you in a different light.

00;02;15;13 - 00;02;38;27

Speaker 1

So I know you as somebody who functions as executive director. I know you're somebody who's learning about podcasting, but I don't know much about you personally or much about your take on the Christian Studies Center movement or what it means to you. One of the things I want to start with is giving our audience a little bit taste of of where you've come from educationally.

00;02;39;00 - 00;02;54;12

Speaker 1

I know you weren't always a believer. It wasn't something you grew up in the faith and you had an experience in college where you came to know the Lord intimately. Can you tell me a little about where in your educational process you met the Lord and and how that functioned?

00;02;54;14 - 00;03;25;10

Speaker 2

Yeah, I certainly came from a faith friendly family. There was no antagonism in my family toward faith, but it wasn't a primary commitment. I had a grandmother that was a pretty regular churchgoing grandmother, and we were, you know, somewhat reasonable church attenders. But it really didn't strike a chord with me on a deep personal soul level until I until after college.

00;03;25;13 - 00;03;52;27

Speaker 2

There were seeds in college. I remember seeing a Greek in her fraternity sorority Bible study being invited to attend that and really found that to be a worthwhile experience, but nothing really stuck. It was really in my years after college, living in Charlotte, North Carolina, that things clicked for the first time.

00;03;53;00 - 00;04;04;06

Speaker 1

Yeah. So was that related to a school experience for you or how did you. I mean, you talk about a little bit how you encountered faith in your education experience. Yeah.

00;04;04;08 - 00;04;30;02

Speaker 2

So my my deepening in faith through my sort of conversion experience really is tied up with loss. I'd gone through the loss of a significant dating relationship. I was about 25 and was just at a stage where I was reevaluating things. So my immediate kind of draw to the church and to a life of faith was through loss.

00;04;30;02 - 00;04;54;06

Speaker 2

And then the warm friendship and fellowship of a group of guys that invited me in to their Bible study. And these were guys that were very integrated from a faith professional practice perspective. In fact, a couple of these guys I still convene with get together with every few years and we go on retreat together. So we stayed close friends over these many, you know, several decades now.

00;04;54;09 - 00;05;30;02

Speaker 2

It is many years. I was going to say many years, but it really is many years. It's been I'm trying to think it's been 30 years. So three decades. This goes back so a long time. But early in my journey, you know, in that sort of post-college pre graduate school experience, I started to get exposed to some people that were really thinking through faith and and the role that faith should have on our practice and our commitments within the field of business.

00;05;30;04 - 00;05;54;08

Speaker 2

So I ended up making a decision to go back and work on my MBA at Northwestern University, and I landed at a place where there was a long history of graduate school fellowships that were hosted by InterVarsity, and there was a Kellogg Northwestern MBA Program Fellowship that was made up of students and faculty and administrators from all over the world.

00;05;54;11 - 00;06;22;22

Speaker 2

And this was a group that was very international, very ethnically, racially diverse, and really asking deep questions about what does it mean to be a Christian in business and how will that influence and affect the way that I lead others, how I follow, how I think about my work, how I think about my customers, You know, everybody up and down the supply chain value chain and just asking deep questions.

00;06;22;22 - 00;06;49;10

Speaker 2

So I was exposed to a study center like experience through InterVarsity grad and faculty ministries, and that was probably and that was early in the first year or two of my spiritual deepening Christian journey. And that really turned me on to the possibility and the importance of deep integration of faith, learning and practice, which are values or ideals that are really important to the study center movement.

00;06;49;12 - 00;07;15;14

Speaker 1

Yeah, let's let's lead into that. So we're here to talk about the study center movement and Upper House specifically, and the kind of in the topic of Christian at the crossroads. Where do you see study centers fitting into the Crossroads concept? So we've talked about in this series about a lot of different approaches to Christian education. What makes Christian study centers work?

00;07;15;17 - 00;07;26;08

Speaker 1

Why are they different? What what gap in the model they fill or what need to they they meet that's not being met in some of the other models.

00;07;26;10 - 00;08;00;27

Speaker 2

Yeah, I think studies. Well, first of all, I need to sort of and I think our listeners will be well aware of this, but there are major shifts in the tectonic plates of higher education in these days. So you have changing demographics. Yeah, you have what's often referred to as the demographic cliff during the 2008 Re Great Recession, couples started having fewer children, significantly fewer children, and that trend has continued.

00;08;01;00 - 00;08;30;08

Speaker 2

And those those young people who were born in 2008 are now entering college. I think next year or the year after, I think it's like 20, 20, 24 or 2025. So we're just approaching this this drop off on birth rates. And so there are fewer students and and therefore there are fewer Christian students. And so you're finding contraction across higher education more broadly and then in Christian education.

00;08;30;08 - 00;08;54;24

Speaker 2

And then just people have been asking these questions for a number of years, but that is what is the value of a Christian urban education or a Christian education is it worth the money? And so you have a lot of financial economic pressures as well. And I think in the long run, all of this will be good. It will force, you know, institutions to really think through what it is that they offer and to get really clear about their value proposition.

00;08;54;24 - 00;09;28;15

Speaker 2

But right now, there's a great shakeout that's taking place. Well, study centers step into that, and they offer, in many respects, the best of Christian education in a public or private, secular higher education context. So if you could take your best model, think of your favorite Christian college. I'm not going to name names, but you know, there are there are a lot hundreds, literally, of Christian colleges in this country.

00;09;28;15 - 00;10;07;26

Speaker 2

And many of our listeners will have one that stands out to them. Think about that, that you know, the value that that institution brings through mentoring capacity, through worship experiences, through deep integrative learning, faith, you know, speaking to the academic disciplines and the academic disciplines, speaking to faith, imagine all of that plopped into a flagship public university where you get all the benefits of a huge world class, you know, massive university that is the melding of the best of two worlds, right?

00;10;07;26 - 00;10;39;24

Speaker 2

And so study centers are at that crossroads. They have those deep connections in Christian colleges and universities. Many of the studies center staff and employees and directors have had experiences and Christian colleges and universities. They've also had experiences in public secular universities. But they bring all of those benefits to bear on the student experience, the faculty experience in a large public context or private non religious context.

00;10;39;24 - 00;11;00;16

Speaker 1

You know, as long as I've been partnering with Upper House in various capacities, I've never heard it described quite like that before. And I love that that whole notion of taking a lot of the gifts and blessings of a Christian college or university and taking some of the wonderful segments of that and bringing it to a secular campus.

00;11;00;19 - 00;11;24;16

Speaker 1

And it's not going to be quite the same thing, obviously, because you can't integrate with the faculty necessarily directly. You can't have direct lineage over to their curriculum. But the fact that you can be on campus and providing offerings for people who are looking for it is really cool and I've really thought about that way is you're really providing a Christian college experience in a way at a secular university.

00;11;24;16 - 00;11;44;13

Speaker 2

Yeah, And one of the reasons one of the ways this is punctuated is the study centers actually own property. This is a little a difference, a significant difference from the pair of church ministries. And again, I'm a big believer in church ministries. I'm a product of one and I worked for one for ten years. So I was on the university grad and faculty ministry staff for a decade.

00;11;44;16 - 00;12;17;14

Speaker 2

And so I've I've got deep investment there. But the study centers are a little different because they they they actually often, I think in almost all cases own property or rent property on or adjacent to the campus, and they become a real hosting site of lots of campus ministries. They offer their own programs there. They're a real center of welcoming and become a physical crossroads of lots of currents of traffic.

00;12;17;14 - 00;12;38;17

Speaker 2

And so they begin to take on an identity much like a campus building. You know, literally, if you're here at UW Madison, you know, we're right in the right on each campus and we're at the crossroads of university Avenue, an East campus mall, which is really the heart of the old part of campus. And so we're we're right there.

00;12;38;17 - 00;13;05;10

Speaker 2

In fact, it's a problem. You can't find parking here, especially on a game night. You know, we're so close. So but we we tend to have a long term view of presence, of hospitality and the study centers really share the vision of their host universities to to come alongside and support the university in its in its achievement of its mission.

00;13;05;13 - 00;13;35;28

Speaker 2

So we really cheer on the University of Wisconsin. We want the University of Wisconsin to be to reach all of its aspirations and ideals. And so much of what happens here is good. The investment in students, the quality of the training, the commitment to education, the commitment to serve the state. All of these are amazing things that we get behind and we leaven it a bit or a lot with our Christian perspective.

00;13;36;01 - 00;13;39;28

Speaker 2

But we're here for the long term and we're invested for the long term.

00;13;40;00 - 00;14;04;15

Speaker 1

So John, you've had a pretty diverse Christian experience yourself in terms of your educational life. You have gone through public universities, you've gone through private universities, you've worked with Christian college. Can you give me a little bit about the insights as you've had somebody or you've been somebody, rather, That's walked through each aspect of that? We're done with Christian education at the crossroads.

00;14;04;18 - 00;14;19;27

Speaker 1

What are some of the pushes and pulls there? What are some of the pros and cons? And then let's apply how that integration works with the study center. So what are some the pros and cons of the secular, private and Christian models that you've experienced personally in terms of education?

00;14;19;27 - 00;14;23;22

Speaker 2

Well, that's a really good question and a big question.

00;14;23;22 - 00;14;28;23

Speaker 1

It is. Let's let's define it a little bit. So let's start with just looking at your public education.

00;14;28;25 - 00;15;02;12

Speaker 2

Yeah, Well, one of the things I would say before I go to public education is that I think one of the things as I look back on my own history that was a good was was really sound Preparation for the work I'm doing now is to learn to be comfortable in a lot in many different environments. So I think whether you work in a Christian college or a public university or somewhere in between, the world is much more diverse and pluralistic than it was even a few decades ago, right?

00;15;02;17 - 00;15;03;07

Speaker 1

Yeah, absolutely.

00;15;03;07 - 00;15;34;13

Speaker 2

The the kinds of forces that swirl around him. And I think, you know, for the good. Right, we have just more international students. We have more students of color. We have, you know, the world has really, truly come to our doorsteps. Right. And and we have gone out into the world. So there there's just kind of this wonderful mixing of people and cultures that I think has even progressed over the last few decades.

00;15;34;13 - 00;15;59;29

Speaker 2

So so I think my as I look at my own background, there is the it was good training ground for a study center because at some level I had to learn to be fluent and agile in those environments. And, and so that that's been helpful. With respect to a public university, what's the benefit or the, I guess, the benefits and challenges of that environment?

00;16;00;03 - 00;16;18;14

Speaker 2

I think the the challenges would be that you are confronted with a lot of a lot of ideologies, a lot of different views about what constitutes the good life or what constitutes life in general, or.

00;16;18;15 - 00;16;19;14

Speaker 1

Morality or ethics.

00;16;19;15 - 00;16;37;02

Speaker 2

Morality or ethics, or even, you know, a vision of a vocation or profession. You know, what it means to be a person who is working. You know, how do we even look at our our work? Is it an occupation? Is it a career? Is it a vocation? I mean, all of these things are going to be a bit different.

00;16;37;02 - 00;17;05;15

Speaker 2

And you can get all levels of meaning and integration at a public university. So it really depends on the people and the outlook and the perspective. But I do think you're confronted with maybe more visible and contrasting worldviews or kind of ideologies, maybe at a at a large public university or a nonreligious institution.

00;17;05;15 - 00;17;23;02

Speaker 1

Yeah, I think that has pros and cons with it, right? I mean, so we learn about those things and if we're sheltered and we're not able to experience and see some of these things, it's hard to know how to interact with them when we are exposed to them eventually in a professional lives or in other contexts. So I think there's there's some positives there too.

00;17;23;02 - 00;17;40;04

Speaker 1

But then what are some of the the struggles that are inherent in that? Do you see there being struggles to maintain your faith in that in the young people? Do you see where that's a challenge? How do you look at that overall where there's obviously pushes and pulls there, there's others, and how do you see that for students play out?

00;17;40;05 - 00;18;04;22

Speaker 2

Yeah, I think for students it can be a challenge because they they really they, they are influenced deeply by their their faculty and the instruction of faculty and the kind of environments that faculty create in the classroom for the expression of ideas. And I think there are times and again, I didn't feel this so much, but I was in college, you know, a lot of good.

00;18;04;23 - 00;18;05;03

Speaker 1

A lot of.

00;18;05;03 - 00;18;37;24

Speaker 2

Years ago. But I do think that it can be and this is often described to me, and maybe I've had some some experience with this, too, in grad school, which is, you know, a few a few years closer to my age now that that, you know, that you've you will feel that opposition it's hard to at times to sometimes out yourself as a person of faith or bring a distinctly faith perspective to bear on a on an academic or professional issue.

00;18;37;27 - 00;19;07;04

Speaker 2

So I remember in business school discussing cases and, you know, we would happily invoke Kant and other philosophers, but Jesus of Nazareth, Nazareth would not have been probably as welcomed at the table of ideas. And so you just find that it's harder to express who you are and why you think about the things that you do. Peer pressure is really intense, and so I think you can feel it from your colleagues as well.

00;19;07;04 - 00;19;30;00

Speaker 2

So I think a lot of students just struggle with with being authentic and bringing their whole selves into the classroom. Some faculty in non-Christian colleges and universities welcome that do a good job of inviting students to bring their whole selves to bear on their classroom conversations and discussions. Others don't do a good job, and I think that's where it feels like a bit of a rub for students.

00;19;30;02 - 00;20;01;00

Speaker 1

Yeah, so I knew we were going to talk about the Christian side, but I think we can really just flip that on its head, right? Some of those inherent weaknesses or strengths in the Christian University. The Christian college, right. And probably vice versa. Some of the the strengths of those getting exposure to those ideologies and understanding those contexts and cultures, we sometimes miss one of the things that we've had highlighted in other episodes that I really was excited about was hearing about the way that a lot of Christian colleges are approaching diversity these days and are really seeking to expand upon that.

00;20;01;03 - 00;20;24;17

Speaker 1

One thing I want to talk about, though, is since we're focusing on Christian study centers and you talk about how they're partnership with secular colleges or universities, how does that really work? How does that function? So we are we're on a campus, we're in a building, we have property here. How does that partnership really exist? How do people students know about a Christian study center?

00;20;24;17 - 00;20;35;01

Speaker 1

How do they find us? How do they partner with us, and how do we come alongside the university or the students that are are seeking to get Christian fulfillment in their secular university?

00;20;35;03 - 00;20;56;25

Speaker 2

So the study centers are all a little bit different, but I can describe our situation here, and I think it would apply at a lot of levels to other study centers. At a very basic level, we are we have a large space about 17,000 square feet here on campus, and we have a lot of open space. And so we open our doors to just general students study.

00;20;56;28 - 00;21;22;19

Speaker 2

So we have undergraduate students, graduate students that come in and study with us every day, and we create really nice table in space and we host food and lots of activities during finals week. So literally during finals week, we have, you know, hundreds of students study with us. A typical day, we might have 50 or 100 students come through the door, but literally during finals week, maybe 1000 to 1500 could come through the space.

00;21;22;19 - 00;21;38;21

Speaker 2

So so we're at a very basic level. You know, we're open for study, we're open for business, open for study. And a lot of students get, you know, at the most passive level, although studying is not passive, but with respect to passive.

00;21;38;21 - 00;21;39;12

Speaker 1

Interaction.

00;21;39;12 - 00;22;01;17

Speaker 2

Passive interaction, you know, that would be one level. Then we host a lot of groups, so we tend to try to to pitch a really wide ten here. So we're we work with lots of campus ministries. We invite campus ministries to, to benefit from our space to host meetings here, to host small group, large group, Bible studies, all kinds of things.

00;22;01;19 - 00;22;27;27

Speaker 2

So we literally stack groups into the late evening hours and the groups will do their own thing with their students that self-identify as members of their their campus ministry. So all the big groups like Crew, InterVarsity Navigators, Chi Alpha, you know, many of them meet here regularly. So that's another way that students experience who we are. And then we host a wide array of our own programing.

00;22;27;27 - 00;22;57;21

Speaker 2

And the programing could vary from lectures to reading groups to learning cohorts, to film discussion to music and worship experiences to we've even had theater and it goes back a few years, but to the visual arts, I mean, there's all kinds of ways that we seek to connect with students and faculty and community members. So students might be really actively engaged through our own programing.

00;22;57;23 - 00;23;24;24

Speaker 2

And then there are two other very particular things that we offer here that are really attractive to student students. One is we have a pretty vibrant and enduring intern program. So at any given time we have about five interns and they work a lot of hours for us. And actually our our, our face to most of our external gas, I mean, they're really the external handshake and sign of hospitality to most people that come through the doors.

00;23;24;26 - 00;23;52;15

Speaker 2

And then while they're interning, they also experience a lot of opportunities to study and to build relationships with our staff team and with each other. And they go through a formal program and then we have a Fellows program that is an intentional yearlong commitment where the different classes of the Fellows program meet for dinner every other Monday night, and then they break off into their individual cohorts or classrooms.

00;23;52;15 - 00;23;55;07

Speaker 1

What are some of those cohorts? Are they focused or anything in particular?

00;23;55;07 - 00;24;18;03

Speaker 2

Yeah, science and technology, you know, issues of society and justice. We have we had one this year on the arts. We have one on reading the Bible as, as a cohesive narrative or as a story. We have one that meets every year and a biblical understanding of calling and vocation. So we tend to offer a lot of the same courses.

00;24;18;03 - 00;24;48;24

Speaker 2

And they're they're, you know, they're immersive experiences, they do retreats together. They read a lot of material together, both contemporary materials and material and more historic material, classic material that goes back, you know, decades or even centuries. So they're they're really immersive learning experiences, and we're continuing to grow that experience. So lots of different ways that students experience us with respect to faculty and administrators, same kind of thing.

00;24;48;24 - 00;25;15;07

Speaker 2

We don't have them in studying as regularly, but all kinds of programs in where they come, they don't have a lot of opportunities to have interdisciplinary conversations. So this is something we could talk about. But the a large university like University of Wisconsin has become very segmented. So this is a difference between the small liberal arts college and a large public flagship university place at the University of Wisconsin.

00;25;15;07 - 00;25;37;01

Speaker 2

You might work, you might be in one department and work just 100 feet away from another department and you will not have any interaction are very limited interaction. And so the faculty really enjoy getting over here because a lot of our programing and offering forces, a lot of just really kind of thoughtful, interesting, interdisciplinary faith oriented conversations.

00;25;37;01 - 00;25;39;02

Speaker 1

Do you see a lot of faculty show up here?

00;25;39;05 - 00;26;07;04

Speaker 2

They do. And we we have faculty cohorts were leaning more and more intentionally into engagement with faculty. We have a big faculty dinner coming up this month where we have two two speakers, and then most of the most of the main event of the night are short speakers. One is from a Christian college, the other one is a faculty member here from UW Madison, and they'll give short remarks 15, 20 minutes each.

00;26;07;07 - 00;26;38;14

Speaker 2

And then most of the conversation is around tables where faculty are getting to know each other and diving deeply into the issues. So lots of faculty involvement, and then we partner with departments. So this is maybe a surprise. I didn't know that. Yeah. So we have we have had, you know, over the years a number of opportunities or events where we have hosted a speaker and we've partnered with an academic department and are we've taken our speaker into the academic department and offered that person as a speaker there.

00;26;38;20 - 00;26;41;09

Speaker 1

I suppose I did know that in a different context. The shorter was just.

00;26;41;15 - 00;26;48;06

Speaker 2

He was just here and he spoke, you know, on campus in an academic department setting and spoke here.

00;26;48;13 - 00;26;50;09

Speaker 1

Yeah, he's a historian and he.

00;26;50;16 - 00;26;52;02

Speaker 2

Stopped by my college with.

00;26;52;02 - 00;26;54;04

Speaker 1

Eric, one of our staff members here. Yeah.

00;26;54;06 - 00;27;10;21

Speaker 2

So lots of lots of interesting possibilities. And, you know, we and a lot of openness on the part of faculty and departments to interact with us, even with our Christian mission and, and Christian roots here.

00;27;10;27 - 00;27;33;23

Speaker 1

Yeah, that's awesome. So I feel like I've got a pretty good concept for what Upper House is now and how you guys interact. Let's talk a little bit about the broader Christian education landscape and how it fits. So we've talked a little bit about the pros and cons of of a Christian education versus secular, but we talked about some of the pros of of what a study center can bring to a secular university.

00;27;33;25 - 00;27;45;25

Speaker 1

What do you feel like the big gap is in the Christian sphere of education, from youth to adulthood? What do you feel like the biggest gap in Christian education is today?

00;27;45;27 - 00;28;26;12

Speaker 2

Well, there probably lots of gaps. I think one gap would just be biblical literacy. I think it used to be you could presume that people would have some understanding of the biblical narrative or characters in Scripture. So if you talked about Moses or David, people would be able to place that. Or if you talked about the Garden of Eden, they would know what happened there or Paul's missionary endeavors.

00;28;26;12 - 00;28;58;09

Speaker 2

They would have some sense that Paul was active and extending the sure the gospel out into new parts of the world. Right. And and and I think that that has we we can't assume that anymore that we don't have that kind of base knowledge, that sort of intellectual capital, that spiritual capital that used to provide a foundation for a shared story wasn't everyone's story, but it was it was a shared story at a cultural level.

00;28;58;10 - 00;29;25;14

Speaker 2

You know, even if you didn't sort of profess Christianity, you at least have some of that shared narrative. And I think that has diminished. So there are there's a role for Sunday school for churches to just continue to work on that. And, you know, Christian colleges through their core curriculum and even the things we do here, like in the Fellows program, you know, learning the Bible as story, right?

00;29;25;14 - 00;29;46;09

Speaker 2

It helps people remember if you can teach the Bible as as a as a story as it is a story, yeah, People will remember the story and they can put the pieces together in ways that fit right. So it becomes less of a bunch of facts or people that feel isolated and disconnected and it now flows more as a story.

00;29;46;09 - 00;30;29;07

Speaker 2

So that's that's something that I think is is missing or has changed. I think another thing might be that that's just change that I think Christian colleges and study centers can work on. And that is the question of what constitutes the good life. I think there's a lot of confusion about that these days and a lot of opposition and I might make statements about what I think leads to a flourishing life and somebody might vehemently disagree.

00;30;29;07 - 00;30;56;07

Speaker 2

And and I think we have to get back to a point where we can think in some universal terms about this. Yeah. So, you know, I want to provide lots of freedom and flexibility for people to bring different perspectives. But I do think there are visions of the good life that seem to transcend religious traditions and cultures, and let's at least have that conversation.

00;30;56;07 - 00;31;25;07

Speaker 2

And I think Christianity can be a really important partici pen in facilitating that conversation. It used to be that Christian theology was the queen of the sciences, you know, and it used to really have kind of an important seat at the table of ideas and was was an integrated force around lots of academic conversations and that has that has has, you know, disappeared.

00;31;25;07 - 00;31;52;01

Speaker 2

Right. It's no longer the case in most institutions of higher learning. But I think there is a role where faith and religion can can be an important participant, particularly around issues of the good life, meaning, value, purpose. And so I think I think that's a that's a role that Christian education can play. Those are a couple thoughts right out of the right, out of the gate as you ask that big meta question.

00;31;52;01 - 00;32;17;27

Speaker 1

Yeah, I mean, it's a really, really challenging question. And I think that that's currently dealing with the whole notion of Christianity at the Christian education, at the crossroads. It's it's not something that's concrete. There's no like one specific issue we can pinpoint, right, about why Christian education is on the decline in some regards. There are some institutions that are thriving and flourishing and there's others that are really struggling, and there doesn't seem to always be a commonality within it.

00;32;17;29 - 00;32;42;22

Speaker 1

All we know is that it has to continue evolving in order to continue to meet the needs of the day. Yeah. So with that, understood, tell me about why you decided to help start Upper House. Yeah. When when you were approached and talked to about the vision of a study center in Madison, Wisconsin, what got you excited and on board?

00;32;42;25 - 00;33;15;04

Speaker 2

Yeah, well, and there's a lot to that. But I like challenges. That's probably the first thing I would say that I that I am. I've always been kind of mobilized by challenge and I actually don't think it's as challenging as some might think. I mean, I you know, I've certainly heard my fair share of stories about UW Madison and in some ways historically maybe is a place that's been a little hard on faith.

00;33;15;06 - 00;33;28;29

Speaker 2

But as Dan Hammer, our colleague, has demonstrated and has and has written in records all over campus on physical structures, the role of religion in this institution has has been a significant force.

00;33;29;01 - 00;33;29;27

Speaker 1

Since its inception.

00;33;29;28 - 00;33;56;19

Speaker 2

Since its inception. So but the challenge of of bringing the best of Christian thought and theology to bear on the life of a major university is something that's really compelling to me from a more personal level. And this this is really kind of rooted in my own journey of faith. I want people to live the best life they can live.

00;33;56;19 - 00;34;21;17

Speaker 2

Yeah, I want people to flourish. I want people to make the connection between their faith and their deepest values and religious mores and the life that they believe God is calling to that, calling them to out in the world. So I see a direct line between Christianity and almost in every field you could study across the street and around us right now.

00;34;21;20 - 00;34;52;20

Speaker 2

So pick your field anthropology, sociology, you know, biology. I mean, God's fingerprints are all over these disciplines and fields, and there's a lot of that we can bring as people of faith to bear on the study of whatever it is. But I think these disciplines also to us, it is a two way street. And I think, you know, God's truth is resident and resonant in all kinds of ways.

00;34;52;23 - 00;35;22;24

Speaker 2

You know, we have we have the Bible and we have the book of Creation, right? We have these two books and the book of Nature. And so I think God's God's majesty is is revealed in lots of different ways, and it certainly is revealed through academic disciplines. But, you know, really this project for me is is really motivated by a desire for people to live an integrated whole life.

00;35;22;27 - 00;35;43;08

Speaker 2

They don't have to spend the first half of their life trying to gain significance or gain success so that they therefore, in the second half of life can be significant, that they can live a life of significance and meaning and value and purpose and calling in vocation all the way through from day one.

00;35;43;08 - 00;35;59;07

Speaker 1

I love that. I love the role that we play at Upper House in kind of pushing that notion. And we focus so much on vocation here. What is vocation? How do you find your vocation and what is going to call you to through vocation and and so forth? I love that. That's such a big emphasis here.

00;35;59;10 - 00;36;20;13

Speaker 2

Yeah, it really is. And and I think vocation is not like this perfect pathway and like a single razor's edge, you know, pathway vocation is about a recognition of the needs in the world. I mean, this is sort of Frederick Peak nurse, you know, original quote, you know, our sort of deepest longings lining up with the greatest needs in the world.

00;36;20;13 - 00;36;36;29

Speaker 2

And he says it much more eloquently. But I do think and it it unfolds over time. So if I look back on my own life, I see how over time I've gotten clearer about that. And opportunities have presented themselves me to to continue down that path.

00;36;37;01 - 00;37;07;03

Speaker 1

Yeah. And you talked about the biblical narrative a little while ago. Yeah. In terms of helping us to understand that one of the things that we try to do here at our house is understand the Bible is full context. I think one of the things that I love about it too, is that we see all sorts of different vocations to that biblical narrative and people living out God's will through all sorts of different concepts of what God's calling people to, whether it be a form or whether it be as missionary, whether it be a prophet, whether it be a pastor, whether it be a teacher, whether it be.

00;37;07;06 - 00;37;09;18

Speaker 2

An investment banker. Yeah, I mean, exactly that.

00;37;09;19 - 00;37;11;02

Speaker 1

Let's, let's throw it out there.

00;37;11;02 - 00;37;35;06

Speaker 2

So, yes, I think all of these are ways to order God's world and to bring, you know, flourishing to others. And I think we we need to be about helping people gain an imagination for that. So, you know, investment banking is about moving capital to the most important needs, right? That's one way to define it. What does it mean to move capital efficiently and to real needs?

00;37;35;08 - 00;37;43;08

Speaker 2

You could define and describe investment banking in that way. And if you had that vision for it, it would change the way you thought about it. Probably the way you practiced it.

00;37;43;11 - 00;38;13;01

Speaker 1

Absolutely. And I think this is going back to the notion of crossroads. I think Christian education is a wonderful thing to bring to that. And I think that's one thing the secular industry does not do well is help us to understand the larger calling. It helps us to understand a lot of the concepts and the thoughts involved. But most students these days don't take philosophy of ethics or they don't take these courses that talk about not just how to do something, but what is the right way to do it.

00;38;13;05 - 00;38;44;27

Speaker 2

Yeah, and that's, I think, a value add of the study centers. That's where the Christian college meets public flagship university. I think in the professionalization of higher education, you know, and that's across the board that we try to help students make choices about their career paths earlier and earlier and get them on a particular pathway. And so there's less time to experiment, there's less time to take courses because we're just curious and interested.

00;38;45;00 - 00;39;21;25

Speaker 2

And so in many of of, you know, curricula and many curricula, some of those exploratory courses and and semesters get forced out and that's probably less true in the laboratory setting. But, but it would be more true at a place like UW Madison. So creating spaces and places and conversations where students can ask those big questions and wrestle with philosophy and fields that they might theology fields they might not otherwise come in contact with is one of the real values and benefits of a study center.

00;39;21;28 - 00;39;41;29

Speaker 1

I think that's great. How would you compare that to, say, InterVarsity or other student organizations that you've been a part of in the past or that you've partnered with in the past? How do you differentiate the two? So do you consider yourself another pair, a church ministry that's on campus, or do you feel like study centers are something separate and different?

00;39;42;01 - 00;40;11;20

Speaker 2

Yeah, I think that study centers all the all the church campus groups take seriously the life of the soul. I think they're all about spiritual formation at some level. I think they are also about serving. They tend to have a commitment to justice and helping students connect, see the value of service in the world. So I think those that's often there as well.

00;40;11;20 - 00;40;38;23

Speaker 2

I think the distinctive for study centers would be the elevation of the life of the mind. And it doesn't mean that we just sit around by ourselves, you know, and pontificate. The life of the mind is really about the renewing of the mind. It's about, you know, it's about knowledge, but knowledge with a purpose. It's about knowledge to bring a better life for oneself, but for the world.

00;40;38;23 - 00;41;08;11

Speaker 2

It's about learning as exploration. It's about a deeper understanding of theology and God's ways and understanding the mind of God. I mean, those are those are corollaries, I think, to the to the life of the mind. I think the some of the pair of church campus ministry groups don't hit that one quite as strong. I think that's not that's probably the weakest link, though.

00;41;08;12 - 00;41;11;14

Speaker 2

Kind of the weakest hinge.

00;41;11;14 - 00;41;32;10

Speaker 1

Yeah. And we're of course, generalizing here, too. Every organization is different in every sub chapter of every chapter of every organization going to be different, etc.. You. So yeah, I fully acknowledge that we can't overgeneralize and we can't make statements for everything. But no, I think that's a fair assessment. I mean, we all have our different priorities when we come to these parish church ministries.

00;41;32;13 - 00;41;52;18

Speaker 1

I remember when I was in college, we talked about how there was one organization, not name names here, but there was one organization that was like for new Christians and new believers. And when you were first coming to college and you were experiencing God for the first time, you went and explored it in that context. And then when you became a junior in your faith, you moved on to a different parish church work.

00;41;52;24 - 00;42;23;06

Speaker 2

I think some of that happens. And then I think here and this is kind of I think parish church ministry leaders just have to do a lot of pastoral care. So the mental health issue issues are really demanding. We do this at some level. We tend to be a bit more of a specialist here. And I think when you're running a sort of a general campus ministry, you know, you're caring for students, pastoral aid or mental health, mental health issues, you know, you're helping students pick up the pieces after broken dating relationships.

00;42;23;06 - 00;42;47;16

Speaker 2

I mean, you're sort of you know, you're helping students sort through all kinds of life decisions. It's a little bit like general, you know, prayer, like being a general practitioner physician or something, right? You kind of have to do it all. You've seen it all. We're a little bit more of a specialist physician. Yeah, we have a particular focus here.

00;42;47;16 - 00;42;53;18

Speaker 2

And study centers, you know, tend to do a lot of a lot of the general kinds of things. But but focus in a bit more.

00;42;53;20 - 00;43;11;02

Speaker 1

Yeah, I'd say if there was one, I want to criteria that I would make and I would love to get your reflection on this is we are focused a lot more on education. So we talk about the life of the mind, but specifically about education as it relates to how to relate to God academically. How do we think about God?

00;43;11;02 - 00;43;32;17

Speaker 1

How do we interact God with our intellectual being and being on a university that's dedicated specifically to higher pursuits of education? We tend to focus on that notion of propagating that intellectual self. Yeah, in context of our faith, as opposed to just helping us to interact with the relationship side of God.

00;43;32;19 - 00;43;51;00

Speaker 2

Yeah, I think we care about it all because we I think you're right. We, we see people as whole people and we know where people that are, you know, that thrive on relationship. And we thrive because we feel belonging and we feel loved and we're growing and we have purpose. So those are all dimensions of what it means to have a thriving life.

00;43;51;00 - 00;44;20;21

Speaker 2

But I do think we very intentionally are trying to connect faith to the life of the university and the learning part of what it means to be at a university. And then I would say also the after university. So life in the guilds and the professions. So that's a big part of what we do here as well. What does it mean not just to thrive in your economics class and think about the integration or the connection points of faith and economics.

00;44;20;23 - 00;44;39;08

Speaker 2

But then what does it mean to be a deeply integrated person after you graduate? When you take that first job in banking, commercial banking, you know, if that's if that's your job, what does that look like and what are helpful, productive steps as you transition into that role of life?

00;44;39;12 - 00;45;02;29

Speaker 1

Absolutely. I personally didn't have this as an option when I was in college. There was no Christian study center here at UW right when I when I was in college and having it come onto the scene eight years ago when I was long past my education career, I still have really enjoyed the programing here and I felt welcome here as a just a community member who is engaged in faith and the business world.

00;45;02;29 - 00;45;28;08

Speaker 1

And I love that a lot of the content here we see multiple generations. I think it's a great atmosphere for me to meet people that are my elders that I can learn and grow from, and also that are my juniors that are in college or even younger in some cases where I can mentor and I can, I can lead and I can be a part of their lives in that capacity, then a wonderful gift that I never thought of when I thought of Christian study centers being on campuses.

00;45;28;13 - 00;45;54;21

Speaker 2

Yeah, well, no, I get so excited when we see, you know, disciplines, interdisciplinary conversation, but also multiple generations, right, where you have college students and retired members of our community that have, you know, in their eighties, you know, but are real invested still in the community and learning. And they're back to to kind of soak in the you know in community and and under the learning of speakers and things like that.

00;45;54;21 - 00;46;01;25

Speaker 2

So yeah, we really celebrate all of that and we love it when we have really mixed crowds like that.

00;46;01;27 - 00;46;05;09

Speaker 1

And it's not uncommon. I know that's very, very common. Right.

00;46;05;13 - 00;46;06;22

Speaker 2

Right.

00;46;06;24 - 00;46;35;26

Speaker 1

So I want to kind of boil a couple of things down and let's see, let's get to some distilled points and then let's wrap up a little bit. So number one, so if Christian education is at a crossroads and we need to evolve and a study centers or something that we see historical side of things, we've we've talked about some of the interior views, but it's also one of those things that's newer on the public scene that we're seeing in in major education facilities today.

00;46;35;29 - 00;46;53;19

Speaker 1

Where where do you see it going? So if Christian education is at the crossroads, in-person study centers are part of that transition or that pivot point, where do you see it going? Do you see this happening more? Do you see it happening less? Do you see it shifting change? Any specific direction?

00;46;53;21 - 00;47;14;06

Speaker 2

Yeah, since when I started eight years ago, there were about 20 Studies Center, the study centers, there are about 40 now. So in eight years the number of study centers has doubled. For some, that might seem like, well, that's not that significant growth. But when you're talking about physical property and the kind of investment these takes, it's actually pretty significant growth.

00;47;14;08 - 00;47;38;18

Speaker 2

It's not like you're just spawning a reading group or something like that and you've got real investment to get these things going. And I think there are a number of study centers that are in the works. So I could imagine in another eight years being at 101 hundred or 120 study centers, you know, at least doubling. I wouldn't be surprised if it doubles every eight years.

00;47;38;24 - 00;47;45;10

Speaker 2

I don't know what that's not really more, is it? Moore's Law? I can't remember what the what I'm going to really confuse. Or there's a.

00;47;45;10 - 00;47;46;02

Speaker 1

Parallel to Moore's.

00;47;46;02 - 00;48;13;17

Speaker 2

Law. There's a parallel here, but I've got my ratios and percentages all off. So I think study centers will continue to you know, the numbers will increase. There's enthusiasm for this. There's a new study center that just started at University of Michigan in the last year, and there wasn't much happening there a few years ago because we were involved in trying to get something started and then very organically, it just sort of sprung to life.

00;48;13;17 - 00;48;37;05

Speaker 2

And I know it didn't just spring to life because there's been people there, faithful people and others who have been working there for many years, who have longed for a study center, but it now has taken physical root. So I think we'll see study centers continue to to magnify the numbers and so forth their reach. I think we'll see some contraction in Christian higher education.

00;48;37;07 - 00;49;02;05

Speaker 2

I think the colleges, Christian colleges that remain will get clearer and clearer about their mission and probably stronger. I think the Perry Church ministries are also going through a little bit of a challenging time. I think COVID was really hard on many of them with numbers, and I think we'll hear about that in our in this series. But they're recovering and I think they're getting clearer about their offerings.

00;49;02;05 - 00;49;33;00

Speaker 2

I mean, one of the things that came out of this was just hybrid offerings. I mean, I know InterVarsity grad and faculty ministries, faculty ministry thrive during, COVID, and it was an environment where faculty were really glad to gather virtually and had more time to do that. And so their numbers went up significantly. So I think there is a possibility, but I think the next ten, 20 years are going to be really dramatic with respect to change.

00;49;33;02 - 00;49;59;11

Speaker 2

And so it it will even as we speak today, there are you know, there are a couple Christian colleges that are really on the precipice right now and probably will dissolve at the end of the semester. So it's a rapidly changing environment. I think the outlook probably for Perry Church Ministries and Christian colleges is a little less clear.

00;49;59;13 - 00;50;10;10

Speaker 2

I think in the long run they will thrive, but they're going to have to reinvent themselves somewhat in some ways. Yeah, I think the outlook for study centers is quite bright.

00;50;10;12 - 00;50;33;02

Speaker 1

Yeah. So as you were talking about the demographic cliff and the consolidation of education, where more and more large institutions are growing, more and more small institutions are shrinking. Yeah, yeah. Where do people go to get their faith life filled? There are the church organizations or churches that are campus based, etc. but that's talking about the crossroads and where we see study centers growing.

00;50;33;02 - 00;50;39;12

Speaker 1

Is that kind of the the relationship you're seeing there? Yeah, I think that's why there's this all of a sudden growth and need for study centers.

00;50;39;12 - 00;51;24;13

Speaker 2

So I think I think Christian study centers really I think the one of the reasons I'm optimistic about their future is that they can really be important bridge builders. I think they can unite, serve as a uniting force on campus by serving as a bridge across lots of different campus ministry organizations. And I think they can reach faculty and build relationships with faculty in non Christian nonreligious colleges and universities while they're building important relationships with Christian faculty at Christian colleges and universities.

00;51;24;13 - 00;51;53;24

Speaker 2

And many times they can in many occasions they introduce faculty across those dividing lines. Yeah, So there's lots of stories I could tell about faculty who are doing amazing Christian faculty doing amazing work here that know a colleague, someone that they would love to know, serving in a Christian college or university, and vice versa. Somebody serving in a Christian college or university that doesn't have a natural opportunity to meet a faculty member working at a place like UW Madison.

00;51;53;26 - 00;52;19;25

Speaker 2

The worlds don't often cross or collide, and we can help facilitate that. And I think when that happens, there's a lot of possibility in those relationships. They begin to they meet each other, they find each other, they they realize they have shared intellectual interests, they have a shared passion for the world, and they begin to build a relationship that you know, can have a long term impact for good in the world.

00;52;19;28 - 00;52;24;12

Speaker 1

Awesome. Well, thank you so much, John. I want to end with a question of hope.

00;52;24;19 - 00;52;24;29

Speaker 2

Yeah.

00;52;25;03 - 00;52;44;18

Speaker 1

Where do you see whether you want to go with the study center route or Christian education in general? Where do you see the biggest opportunities for God to move in Christian education today to advance His kingdom and his objectives in education?

00;52;44;21 - 00;53;31;25

Speaker 2

Yeah, I so I, I think God is at work in these places. I've always thought that. I think part of it is us recognizing his spirit at work in these settings. So when I worked at Harvard Business School, I was amazed at how often I was reminded of the bigness of God and God's ability to transform lives, transform institutions, you know, instill a vision that would truly form and reform a person over a lifetime.

00;53;31;28 - 00;53;56;02

Speaker 2

And it was a tough setting in some respects to live out your faith. But in other respects, it was a place where God's spirit was really active. And I and there was a strong community of of Christians in the business school. And and they helped me discern spirit at work. And I in turn probably had a role in helping them discern God's spirit at work.

00;53;56;02 - 00;54;21;01

Speaker 2

So I think God longs to move in the lives of faculty and students and administrators. And I think a big part of that is, is having eyes to see and ears to hear. And I think we need to remind ourselves and we need a community to help us get better at seeing God at work and working that happen.

00;54;21;01 - 00;54;53;27

Speaker 2

Well, it can happen through a campus ministry that's flourishing. It can happen through God's common grace that provides insight to a researcher that makes a breakthrough on cancer research or an economics professor who builds a new model for projecting market demand. I mean, I'm just thinking, yeah, these are all things that and tools and knowledge when rightly used, can bring flourishing to the world.

00;54;54;00 - 00;55;20;25

Speaker 2

Now the problem is they're sometimes not right. Is there misuse. Right. But, but these are all signposts of God's grace. His care for us, his love for us that he bestows on us, the ability to get better, to gain more insight and knowledge, to relieve suffering, to bring insight, to build better products, to offer better engineering and design possibilities.

00;55;20;25 - 00;55;44;05

Speaker 2

I mean, these are all signs of God's grace. So if our eyes are open and our ears are attentive, we can begin to see these things and celebrate these things. And I think sometimes they they stay in the realm of common grace and they provide benefit to large segments of our population. And we can celebrate that as God's goodness.

00;55;44;08 - 00;56;07;17

Speaker 2

And then I think there are other times where there's real kind of inner soul transformation. And yeah, people have changed hearts. They begin to look at the world differently. They begin to take on a new definition of the good life and what it means to be a person who serves and loves God and loves others and loves oneself.

00;56;07;19 - 00;56;36;02

Speaker 2

Those are things to celebrate as well. And I think all of those things happen in a place like University of Wisconsin-Madison, and we see them on a daily basis, even at an hourly by hourly basis. But we have to remind ourselves that God's at work, at all of those things. We shouldn't just celebrate the conversion or the commitment to walk with Jesus or the deepening of one's faith, to commit to a life of missionary service or whatever.

00;56;36;02 - 00;57;04;22

Speaker 2

Those are all things to celebrate. Those are wonderful expressions of following God. We ought to also celebrate commitments to excellent research and laboratory work and absolutely life out in the professions. Those are things to celebrate. The world needs all of that. And if we could get all of that working, you know, there would be great transformation for all of us.

00;57;04;24 - 00;57;24;18

Speaker 1

I think that's a great word to end on, to have us all take a step back to practice. We're witnessing the goodness and glory of God and what he's already doing. Yeah. And then make space to acknowledge it. Yeah. And to speak of statistics. I think that's one thing that we do pretty well. Yeah. Especially here at Upper House.

00;57;24;23 - 00;57;40;29

Speaker 2

What puts a new spin on witnessing, doesn't it? It's not just about a, it's about witness or seen or understanding at a deep level God's presence. So it may be, I mean, you've given me a new insight about how to think about witnessing these days.

00;57;41;01 - 00;57;51;09

Speaker 1

Well, John, thank you so much. Not just for our conversation today, but for all the work that you've done in Upper House and in the Christian Studies movement and other areas you've brought to my life and our friendship and our relationship.

00;57;51;11 - 00;57;54;12

Speaker 2

Thanks, Jesse. It's been a joy to be with you today. I'm glad you're on the team.

00;57;54;15 - 00;57;56;15

Speaker 1

Likewise.

00;57;56;18 - 00;58;20;24

Speaker 2

Thanks for joining us. If you've enjoyed today's podcast, be sure to subscribe and give us a rating on your favorite podcast app. Also, be sure to check out our upcoming events on Upper House Dot Org and our other podcast UpWords, where we dig deeper into the topics our in-house guests are passionate about. With faith in mind to supported by the Stephen and Laurel Brown Foundation.

00;58;20;26 - 00;58;35;20

Speaker 2

It is produced at Opera House in Madison, Wisconsin, hosted by Dan Hummel and John Terrill, Our executive producer and editor is Jesse Koopman. Please follow us on social media with the handle at Upper House, UW.