Editor’s Note: Dr. Huffard is stepping aside July 1 after sixteen years as dean of HST. Dr. Allen Black will be the new dean. Dr. Huffard offered these thoughts May 7, 2015, in the last chapel of his last semester as dean.
Reflections on Being Dean for Sixteen Years
A preacher once began with the wrong sentence: “I have so much to say I do not know where to start” to which someone quickly spoke up — “How about somewhere close to the end?” I feel that way today. There is so much to say I will have to start close to the end.
I have settled for five reflections, starting with the one most connected to our theme of the year.
- The Deans office has been a place of prayer. I prayed often for and with faculty, staff and students. One way in which God has answered prayers, many prayers, has been in the hiring process. When we are seeking faculty or staff we seek God’s assistance because we cannot create the candidates at the time we need them. During my tenure as administrator I have witnessed how God has faithfully and overwhelmingly blessed us with gifted spiritual colleagues. Here is a list of people that were not here when I began 16 years ago that God sent to bless us: Brenda Curtis, Jeannie Alexander, Daphne Logan, Matt Carter, Vernon Perry [whose prayers may have been more earnest than mine!], Mark Powell, Carlus Gupton, Kevin Shelby, Sheila Owen, and Bob Turner. I shifted Steve McLeod to the role he has filled so effectively—so I consider him a “rehire.” I also initiated the process for Jim Martin to join us. If you add to this the daily prayers from Jane Thomlinson and host of prayers with students, we can only give all the honor to God for faithfully responding and guiding.
- Many roles in life choose you, you don’t choose them. For example, becoming a shepherd in a church is not a role you choose for yourself, the church chooses you. A good shepherd rises to the call of the church to lead. Being a dean is similar. This was never my “dream job,” it might be for someone out there but not me. However, I have felt called and blessed to use the gifts God has given me to serve the mission of the school. There is a sense that the dean of HST stands between the mission of the university and the church it seeks to serve. It is because of the church I serve. It has been an honor to serve and continue the vision of equipping others for service in the kingdom in this special well.
- Discerning the will of God is a never ending, ongoing process, even if you feel called to your work and it matches your gifts. In any leadership role, you will soon find yourself on the frontier of your gifts, seeking ways to extend them. I have been influenced by Rom. 12:2—“but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” A contemporary author like Novelist William Faulkner would say it this way: “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” There have been many times as an administrator that I lost sight of the shore to move us to new horizons. I have been stretched, really stretched, and God has been faithful.
- Timing is important. Mark Twain was born shortly after a visit by Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it,” too. He died the day after the comet returned.Timing also falls within God’s will—especially when it is time to change what you are doing. There is a lesson to learn from Hezekiah. When God says it is time to go, GO! Hezekiah became deathly ill, Isaiah told him to get his house in order for he would not recover (2 Kings 20:1). Hezekiah prayed to the LORD, appealing to God’s faithfulness and his good record, he wept bitterly. So before Isaiah could get out of the courtyard of the kings palace, the LORD sent him back in to the king to let him know God will give him 15 more years. WHAT A MISTAKE! He could have ended well. But no, in the extended time he jeopardized all the treasures of the temple when envoys from Babylon came, and he had a son that became king (at 12) and totally destroyed all the good his dad has done. The extended time did not honor God, Hezekiah or Judah. He failed the moment he sought what was best for himself rather than what was best for Judah.
Over the past couple of years I have had the conviction that it was time for me to make a change. The “Huffard push-pull” theory applies to me as well. Those I have mentored know what I am talking about. In short, if you are pushed but not pulled to leave a place, it is probably time to endure suffering and not run. I had several of those days! If you are pulled, but not pushed, by invitations to other places, it is probably the time to put your ego back into the file and humbly stay the course. I have had several of those months! If both, then it may be time to listen and do what you still may not want to do. God often has to nudge us out of one thing to make of available for what he wants us to do.
- God is generous and has blessed HST with deans who have been faithful to their calling. I feel a little like that workers who came later in the day in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard but were paid the same as those who worked all day (Mt. 20:15). Previous deans (first three had no computers or email or central air-conditioning or an endowment!) could complain about how easy I have had it. On the other hand, I can appreciate their contribution to who we are as a school. In the spirit of Hebrews 13:7-[“Remember your leaders, those who spoke the Word of God to you, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”] I want to reflect on their impact on all of us.
- W. B. West, Jr – was dean 1958-1972; with degrees from Lipscomb, ACU, USC (ThD in NT in 1943) the pioneer of graduate education in the churches of Christ, starting the program at Pepperdine as well as ours. We often heard him say, at this time of the semester especially–“Hoe your row to the end.” Convinced Jack Lewis to come. Convinced Annie May Alston to come. He defended graduate education in an era of strong anti-education in churches. The school had a small library down stairs, one phone in the building, and only one building on campus. He dreamed of writing a book on Revelation. He called me several times and convinced me to come to HST as a student and after I came as a faculty in 1987 he inquired several times if I would go back to Pepperdine. When I became dean the first challenge was to do something with 20,000 of his books that were willed to the school. I took his class on Corinthians and appreciated his love for the Word and stories of scholars and a large network.
- Harold Hazelip—dean 1972-1986; with degrees from Lipscomb, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1958) and U. of Iowa (1967). He had four jobs—dean, teaching, preaching at Highland, and Herald of Truth. He gave us national exposure. His sermon on the “Impossible Dream” in the Hazelip Sermon Archives became a classic. He and Baxter influenced a new style of preaching—speaking the truth softly in love. I took one of his classes as a student and remember the new insights he gave us on the doctrine and theology. We have recently digitized more than 600 of his sermons. When he moved to become president of Lipscomb it created a chain reaction that caused about 6 people to change their jobs. Slate became dean and I moved here to teach missions.
- Philip Slate—dean 1986-1992; came as a missionary from England with degrees from Lipscomb, HST (MA, 1961) and Fuller (D.Miss 1976). I was his first MA thesis and worked with him at the Park Avenue Church of Christ, which was a great ministry experience for me. He became an effective advocate expository preaching as a way to do more justice to the text than topic preaching. I had him for several classes and the one foundational concept I have used most has been his definition of the goal of Christian missions: make the message know, seek a valid decision of faith, and work for persistence in faith. Encouraged me to continue with the PhD at Fuller, for which I have been most grateful.
- Bill Flatt—dean 1993-1999; degrees from Tennessee Tech, HST (MRE 1962), University of Memphis (EdD 1973). He had served as Registrar for many years and he was the right one to lead us through the crisis of the tragic fire in mansion that took more than a year to rebuild. He equipped preachers with skills counseling and managing grief. It was during his tenure that we completed our ATS accreditation.
With the time limitations of chapel, I pray these reflections will bless you with insights as you go through critical boundary events of life with a commitment to seek God’s will and use your gifts to His honor and glory. God is faithful.