Helping Students Grow Spiritually
On a given day, Brad Strawn (PhD '96) might meet in the morning with several college students who want to talk about struggles in their spiritual lives, and then head over to the campus chapel to direct a chapel service and perhaps preach in it as well. After lunch he might gather a group of faculty members to discuss the topic of the next faculty-student reading group: pop culture, politics, sexuality, or vocation? A theological discussion of a secular film at a Faith and Film Forum might round out the afternoon--and then, if the following day is a Friday, Strawn might need to prepare for a 7:20 a.m. liturgical prayer service based on the Book of Common Prayer, which 40 to 50 college students attend each week despite the early hour.
Such is a normal span of responsibilities for Strawn, who is vice president for spiritual development and dean of the chapel at Southern Nazarene University (SNU) in Bethany, Oklahoma. "I love the direct contact I have with the students," he says. "I also love setting themes for the year, and watching students grow through corporate worship." Strawn oversees all spiritual activities at SNU; besides those mentioned above, his office also plans short-term student mission trips, creates faculty-staff-student mentor groups which pair each faculty or staff mentor with two students for spiritual discipleship, and even partners with the university's counseling center to offer premarital programs and marriage workshops. "I want students to become involved in relational means of spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines so that they may grow in character," he says. "I want students to be able to think theologically about all of life; I want them to develop a 'theology of everyday living.'"
Strawn came to this position at SNU after ten years of teaching in the psychology department at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California; and practicing nearby as a clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Psychological Services, for which he also served on the board of directors. This change represented a shift in his focus: "While my interests have always been multidisciplinary," Strawn says, "I became increasingly interested in being more involved in direct spiritual formation experiences with students. I became less interested in teaching the content of psychology courses and more interested in how this was impacting their daily Christian journeys."
In the two years since Strawn made the shift to his position at SNU, he has already seen significant progress in his goal to more closely connect the life of the spirit and the life of the mind. "Both faculty and students seem to be noticing that what we do in spiritual development is in no way separate from what is taking place in the classroom and laboratories of the university," he says. "I have said to them all that everything we do emanates from our worship of God. As John Wesley said, our study desks may become altars--and for me, our worship services may become classrooms!" It is this passion for integrated Christian living that propels Strawn into the many diverse activities he oversees on any given day, knowing that all of them together play a critical role in bringing wholeness to the hearts and minds of the students he serves.