Interview with Les Broker, Online student in Ministry and Leadership program
Q. Les, you started the online Ministry and Leadership bachelor’s (M & L) program last fall. Why did you choose Oklahoma Wesleyan University? Why the M & L? why now?
A. I began my Christian walk 33 years ago and had a wonderful business partner who helped me in my early journey. Kim left business life in the mid 1990’s and became an ordained pastor. He then became the associate Pastor at his church handling the business aspects that the Senior Pastor did not care to handle. This example of following a call has stuck with me.
The congregation that I belong to in Edmond, OK has had a troubled history in the last 10 years. It culminated in the departure of our congregation from our synod and our becoming a charter member in a newly formed Lutheran synod. Our differences were very similar to what is going on in man mainline churches today. We shrunk from a congregation of 900 to just over 250 in that time period.
When we began a discernment process five years ago we realized that we had to know what we believed as individuals and as a church before we could know where we were being called to go. This started biblically and at the same time we put into written form our core values. From this work, we knew we needed to change the direction of the congregation and with the ideas presented in Power Surge: Six Marks of Discipleship for a Changing Church by Foss (2000) and lead by the Holy Spirit we looked forward to a new vision and mission for our congregation.
My involvement in this process and my recent partial retirement left me with a sense of wanting to help more. I had 43 years of business experience from corporations with large budgets and multiple employees down to our own family business. I had little experience in working inside a church with non-salaried ministry leaders. I knew we had undertaken a large assignment and that the young apstor we called was going to need assistance. Changing the church from a membership model to a discipleship model was going to require more education for me.
I knew I wanted an online class and also that I wanted some ministry but also some leadership in the church environment. I started to look last spring, but could not find a Lutheran school that fit my needs (I did not want to start over – I already had a BS in engineering).
It was then that I came across the Ministry and Leadership program at OKWU. I delved deeper and read the Welcome to OKWU page online and immediately was struck by the words in the Mission and Pillars. I knew God was leading me.
I had several wonderful discussions with Jenn Blehm, an OKWU representative, and found out that I would only need the core courses plus one. I believe that I received Godly confirmation of my decision every step of the way. I became the stumbling block as the time to fish or cut bait arrived. I was scared – that is a step beyond apprehensive. I am 68 years old; what am I, crazy? I was not going to make this decision on a trial basis but after discussions with my son at work, my wife at home and the best guidance counsellor I know, the Holy Spirit, I enrolled.
Q. Recently you drove to Bartlesville, Oklahoma to visit the campus. Even though you can do all of your work online, why did you invest this time and money into seeing the campus?
A I really needed to be able to put a physical presence to my online experience. It is probably an age thing. The joy of being only 2 hours away helped a great deal with my decision. Also, I have friends in Bartlesville with whom I participate in Kairos Prison Ministry. And after my “Ministry for the Adult Learner” class with Professor Facione, I sent him an email thanking him for the course. In that email, I said I’d like t
o buy him lunch sometime. He called me within two days and we set up a luncheon for the following week. Now I was committed to visit campus.
Q. So what were your impressions of the campus?
I’m an engineer. I like clean structures, built in a thoughtful, organized manner. Add Spanish beauty and a consistent theme on a small campus in a beautiful setting. What’s not to like. As I drove in I caught sight of the Adult Studies office. I parked and walked in. A young lady was on the phone and motioned, one minute please.
Within two minutes I had introduced myself to Camie Schoenthaler, a lovely, young lady who was super friendly. She immediately asked if I would like to see campus. We toured and talked for an hour. The inside of the buildings matched my initial impression of the exterior. And the “ La Quinta Mansion” is astounding. I told Camie about one of my classmates, Alivia Berg. Camie said they went to high school together and that Alivia worked on campus. We visited Alivia and I met my Theology Professor, Jerome Van Kuiken. We finished with a tour of the chapel and getting me registered for my one extra class.
I proceeded to lunch with Professor Facione which was delightful, informative, and very cordial. He also seemed genuinely interested in me. Professor Van Kuiken has gone out of his way to help me understand Wesleyan theology.
What I am trying to get across in my own storytelling way is that it is a family and when you become a part of this school you are openly invited to join.
Q. In what way has visiting the campus and meeting some of the staff, a fellow student, and an instructor changed your approach to or perspective of the online program?
PS: The rest of my day was just as rewarding. I visited a friend who has recently become the manager of Lighthouse Mission, a homeless shelter in Bartlesville. He is a church member of Alivia’s congregation. He taught Professor Van Kuiken in Sunday School. He is working with the OKWU ministry department to help both students at OKWU and the residents at Lighthouse by having students come lead discussion groups. It is truly wonderful to see Christian Belief put into Christian Living.