Larry Nelson has served Northwest for the past five years in the capacity of chair of the Board of Governors. Larry is stepping down from that role this year and Northwest News along with the faculty and staff would like to thank him for his service. We took this opportunity to chat with Larry about his involvement with Northwest:
How did you first get connected with Northwest? Could you describe a little of your history with us?
My familiarity with Northwest goes back to when the school was still in Port Coquitlam and my oldest brother started school there. Eventually both of my older brothers (one 12 years older and one 8 years older than I) graduated from Northwest and so when I completed high school it was natural for me to consider Northwest. At the time the school offered a one-one year program and I enrolled in that.
In later years, when I had my own accounting practice, and a couple of years before Northwest moved to the Trinity Western University Campus, my accounting firm did all the financial accounting and financial management for Northwest. I did that until the school moved here to the TWU campus and so I also did all the accounting for the construction costs for the Northwest building. Then, five years ago I was invited to come onto the Northwest board as the board chair. I have served in that capacity for the past 5 years.
Looking back over your many experiences both in the corporate world as well as in the church, how do you feel God uniquely prepared you for this role?
Over the past number of years I have served on over 10 boards and on at least six of those I have served as the board chair. So I came to the Northwest board with considerable previous board experience. Over the years I have been very interested in what comprises good board governance and good board practices and so I have read extensively and attended a number of workshops on the subject. Currently I do board governance consulting for non profit organizations. So, all of that has given me a good background in preparing to serve as chair the Northwest board.
What are you passionate about?
Well, I am passionate about Northwest. I am also passionate about good governance and I am passionate about training great pastors and leaders for the local church.
What do you believe has been your most significant contribution to Northwest and to the Board over the years you have served there?
One of the reasons I was encouraged to come on to the Northwest board was to transition the board into the policy governance model that it now uses. I had previous experience transitioning three other boards into that model and so that is what we have done with the Northwest board as well. I think that governance model has, and will continue to serve Northwest very well. As a result I think one of my most significant contributions was ensuring that Northwest was well governed and that the board clearly understood its governance role.
When Dr. Perkins retired as president of Northwest, one of the other interesting things I did was to chair the search committee for the new president.
What would you identify as being some highlights of your time on the Board?
Several things come to mind. Board retreats were always great experiences for me. It was also a privilege to honour Dr. Perkins on his retirement. I thought we did a great job of that. Then hiring our new president, Dr. Anderson, and seeing him transition into his role so well has been a significant highlight for me.
What excites you about Northwest’s future?
I think the new Immerse program really positions the school well for the future. It is leading edge. It is a creative and unique approach in training pastors. I am encouraged because I think Immerse actually follows the model of how other professions train their leaders; the medical profession, the legal profession, the accounting profession. It is all about making sure that those new professionals have great practical experience that is combined with the theoretical.
Another thing that excites me is that I think you have a great president in Dr. Anderson and I think Northwest also has an excellent board that will govern the school well going forward.
What concerns might you have that you can share with us?
The current challenge in front of all seminaries is just how to deliver what needs to be done in a manner that is effective, affordable and attractive to students. This will be an on-going challenge for Northwest. How do we ensure that our denominational needs are met in terms of well-trained, godly leaders for the future? I am concerned about our aging donor base. I am also concerned about a denominational school in an era where denominational loyalty is waning. So those would be some of my concerns.
As you ponder the role of an institution like Northwest in the preparation of leaders for the church is there anything unique or particular about Northwest’s sense of mission?
I think we are clearly focused on equipping our Fellowship Baptist churches in Western Canada with a particular emphasis on ensuring that our churches have well-prepared pastors to lead them in their ministries.
What are some of the lessons that you personally have learned about leadership development?
What I have observed is that leadership is a unique gift. Effective leadership is a combination of being born with some natural leadership attributes which are then built upon and developed in a training environment like that provided by Northwest… where people with these natural leadership abilities are equipped with leadership tools and solid theological training so that they are going to be effective in ministry. So I think that leadership can be both taught and learned as well as just having some great DNA to make one a great leader. One way leadership is developed is through students interacting with the faculty and seeing how godly leaders live their lives professionally and personally. I believe this is something that Northwest has done well.
How do you think the Board’s understanding of leadership development has been expanded?
I think the Immerse program is the key answer to that. The board has had to really wrap its head around what it takes to develop leaders and has had to be bold and creative and risk takers in terms of initiating something that is truly unique in North America. What Immerse is attempting to do has not been done before within an accredited seminary context. I think it is a bold move and has been an excellent example of great collaboration between a denominational school and the denominational leadership and the local church. This concept has really challenged the board – and expanded the board’s thinking – and I am really pleased to see what has been accomplished. This has been a new road for all of us.
What sage advice would you have for all of us at Northwest as we move forward?
I just think that the board needs to continue to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. The board; the staff; our supporters; all need to uphold the seminary in prayer. As a school Northwest needs to be constantly aware of utilizing the latest technology, the latest means to deliver its services in an effective way. I think Northwest has to constantly keep in mind that it is a servant of the denomination and so the task of the board is to keep asking how are we serving our FEB Pacific and Western Canada denominational needs most effectively. We also need to keep an eye on the future and the possibility of serving the needs of the denomination nationally.
One of the observations and accusations against seminaries in the past has been that they have very little relevance to where people are on the ground. I think the Immerse program really addresses that. I think having a good cross mix of professions and gifting on the board of governors helps keep the school in the real world. I think the fact that our faculty are active in our churches is good. I am really pleased that our current president is constantly watching and aware of what other schools are doing and keeping on top of what the needs are in seminary education. So I think looking forward we are ahead of the curve in addressing that very specific issue. Our churches want leaders who can lead. So it’s not just what the pastor might know but how he takes what he knows and effectively uses and delivers it to lead the local congregation. Northwest has been bold in trying to address that issue.
I know you are a busy man with many irons in the fire. What are some other Kingdom ventures in which you are currently involved?
I am really excited about what I do now. I’m involved in an executive search firm that focuses on placing senior leaders in faith-based organizations in Canada. This is quite unique within Canada and I take huge pleasure in moving people from success in their current careers to great significance in a faith based not for profit organization. I have never been so busy in the various careers that I have held in the past but I have also never felt that the work that I’ve done as more rewarding!
How can we pray for you?
Pray that I would be able to find and place the right leaders for these key charitable organizations. I have the privilege of being a mentor to a number of younger leaders. Pray that I would be a godly mentor, that I would be an excellent example and that I would finish well!
I am sure there were also challenges that you and the board had to wrestle with. Are there any significant ones that you could share with us? Could you describe for us how such struggles have shaped Northwest’s understanding of and commitment to its mission?
Seminaries in North America have had huge challenges. Seminary attendance nationally is down dramatically – probably 35% from what it was 6 or 7 years ago. It is also an on-going challenge to operate within the ACTS consortium and to satisfy the needs of all the partners there.
Then there is always the great challenge to discern the best methods for training pastors and church leaders – specifically developing lead pastors who will embody great leadership skills. The challenge is also how to do that effectively and affordably. Those I think are significant challenges that the board has had to continually deal with.