a sad day is upon us. my friend, dr. ken durham, preaching minister at the university church of christ in malibu, ca, is departing. ken will be taking an endowed position, the batsell barrett baxter chair of preaching at david lipscomb university. his wife, dr. nancy magnusson durham, will become a senior vice president at the university.
i shall miss ken durham. he has been a role model to me and a wonderful example of a scholar who always seeks to make peace with parties often pulling him in different directions. he has been a model of stability, consistency, forgiveness, and patience throughout the time i have known him. he has shown me how to overcome personal adversity and harness it to become a better man and teacher. i will miss my friend dearly.
i shall also miss nancy. nancy has been the model of effective female leadership in my professional career, and a truly sympathetic voice of reason in my life. she is personally responsible for much of my success as a technologist, and she has perhaps been the single most encouraging person to me at pepperdine. i shall continue to value her advice. and i shall eternally be fans of both ken and nancy durham.
the university church of christ in malibu
our local congregation will also miss ken tremendously. the membership of the university church of christ in malibu can be said to be made up of three basic groups: 1) resident members comprised mostly of pepperdine university employees and their families, 2) a dwindling number of young professionals and families between the ages of 25-45 years old, and 3) students that attend the church for 4 (sometimes 5, 6…) years while they are attending pepperdine. there are also a handful of us that have no formal affiliation with the university any longer and do not work for pepperdine that attend the university church of christ in malibu.
this demographic has changed significantly over the past decade. the demographic shift is the result of a change in the way the elders view and minister to its members. for many of the early years of the university church of christ in malibu, the church understood its mission as one of service to the students of pepperdine university. because the church met on campus and was led and attended by employees of the university, the members saw their role in the church as supporting the students. just as these educators spent their academic lives training up young men and women for deployment into the workforce, so too did these same scholars support the spiritual development of the students by their participation in the university church of christ.
however, about a decade ago, this mission of the university church of christ in malibu changed. with the expansion of the drescher campus overlooking pepperdine, a greater number of resident members began to ask what the church could do for them instead of what they could do for the pepperdine students they were hired to teach. they began to look at other churches of christ in other towns that possessed colleges affiliated with the churches of christ and saw that those other churches had their own unique presence in their respective communities, distinct from the nearby universities. these other churches owned their own buildings, had their own expansive staffs, and possessed a stand-alone organizational structure that included a full range of youths, college students, young professionals, and young families, as well as established resident members. differences between the unique mission and makeup of the university church of christ in malibu and other ‘normal’ churches began to be articulated. as a result, the leadership of the university church of christ in malibu decided to raise money for a church building, expand its staff, and provide those services for which the established resident members had been asking. they no longer wanted to be a unique church of christ on a unique university campus serving the students, rather, they wanted to look more like other ‘normal’ churches of christ.
this shift in focus was coupled with a shift away from evangelizing and ministering to the entire pepperdine student body, and shifted towards serving the much smaller number of declared ‘church of christ’ students on campus. only ~15% of the students attending pepperdine are declared members of the churches of christ; in fact, there are more declared catholics at pepperdine than church of christ students. the elders felt they should ‘preserve the brand’ of the churches of christ as a denomination heritage, and focus primarily upon meeting the needs of the church of christ students. this choice relegated service to the entire pepperdine student body to a secondary mission. some have said that this shift was to aid the university in reminding the world that pepperdine was still, in fact, a ‘church of christ’ school like harding university, abilene christian, freed-hardeman, david lipscomb, oklahoma christian, and others. but, because so many of the pepperdine christian students attend nearby malibu presbyterian, st. aidan’s, our lady of malibu, and other non-church of christ worship services off campus, this shift has resulted in smaller numbers at sunday morning university church of christ worship services, and in increased criticism of the privileged place these church of christ students, now only a small minority at pepperdine, hold within the university. while the university church of christ campus ministers were charged with reaching out to the entire campus, their primary focus became ministry to the ‘cofc’ students. this is truly lamentable.
while he was the preaching minister of the university church of christ, dr. ken durham did what he could to reach out not only to non-church of christ students, but to other denominations, faiths, and even non-believers within the malibu community and the greater los angeles area. not unexpectedly, filling ken’s very large shoes (literally, he is ~6’5″) will be difficult. but the elders of the university church of christ in malibu appear to be up to the challenge. the first step in replacing ken is to empanel a search committee.
the search committee
the elders sent out an appeal to those interested in sitting on the search committee for the new university church of christ in malibu preaching minister. however, in forming the search committee, the elders seem to have stumbled out of the gate.
(now in the name of full disclosure, i asked to be considered for this search committee and was not chosen. you are free to claim sour grapes on my part, but the issues i raise below have nothing to do with me. besides, i figured there was no way in she’ol that they would actually name me to the committee, and i was proved correct.)
the committee that was appointed by the elders includes the following (in alphabetical order):
|janet davis||assistant to the dean of seaver college||female||white||pepperdine employee|
|rich dawson||director of international student services||male||white||pepperdine employee|
|rick gibson||vice president of public affairs||male||white||pepperdine employee|
|stuart love||retired professor of religion and elder||male||white||retired pepperdine employee|
|carolyn nicks||center for the family board member||female||white||wife of former pepperdine employee|
|tim perrin*||vice dean of the law school and elder||male||white||pepperdine employee|
|darryl tippens||provost of pepperdine university||male||white||pepperdine employee|
|linda truschke||campus minister||female||white||pepperdine employee|
|student member (tbd)||student||?||?||pepperdine student|
* committee chair
i respect each and every one of the individuals chosen for this committee. each brings a seasoned perspective to the group. ms. davis is one of the most organized, hardest working individuals i’ve ever met. mr. dawson is a cheerful and kind administrator, who does his job very well. mr. gibson is thoughtful, clever, and refreshingly insightful. dr. love was my professor and is a respected advocate for women’s equality in the church. ms. nicks is a committed advocate of the university and respected member of the community. dean perrin is a friendly and approachable leader with innovative ideas. provost tippens is perhaps one of the most learned, forward thinking scholars i know. and ms. truschke is a dear friend whose empathy and mercy is cherished by the students she serves. each of the committee members is a wonderful choice and are valuable assets to pepperdine and the university church of christ in malibu.
the elders of the university church of christ in malibu
the elders of the university church of christ in malibu have assembled a search committee. the problem with this group, however, lies not with the chosen individuals, but with the committee’s aggregate composition. the makeup of the overall committee betrays much about how the elders view the congregation. for instance, our congregation is led by seven older white men, all of whom are or were employees of pepperdine university. their perspective on the world and how our congregation should operate within it is revealed in the assembly of this search committee, and it is the assembly of this committee that necessitates a few brief observations.
1. the entire committee is white. for a congregation that has struggled to integrate minorities and people of color, the racial makeup of this committee sends a very bad message. while pepperdine’s student statistics state that at least 40% of the undergraduate student body claims to be a minority or person of color, this percentage is markedly less within the membership of university church of christ in malibu. the failure to place a minority representative on the search committee confirms this unfortunate reality. it is said that 11:00 am on sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in america. the assembly of this search committee certainly does nothing to combat this notion, nor the reality of the very white sunday morning worship services at the university church of christ in malibu. the elders cannot lament the lack of racial diversity in the university church of christ in malibu if they are not willing to at the very least appoint a minority or person of color to represent these already grossly underrepresented groups in the church. appointing an all-white committee leaves the elders open to criticism of doing nothing to promote racial diversity within the church.
2. the entire committee is old(er). there is no member of the committee that is younger than their mid-40s (with the exception of the influential token student rep who is quite tellingly yet to be named). who on this committee speaks for the young adults? there will be a student rep, but the next youngest member of the committee is in her mid-40s. the message to recent graduates, graduate students, young professionals, and young married couples is that your opinion doesn’t count. you don’t really give that much money to the church because you aren’t yet making that much money. many of the young adults don’t live on campus like the resident members. because of this, they are apparently out of sight and out of mind. essentially, if you are between the ages of 25-40, you don’t count, or at least your opinion doesn’t count. perhaps this is why the university church of christ in malibu has been hemorrhaging young adults and young married couples over the past decade, who are leaving for other congregations where their opinion matters and their service is valued. the elders of the university church of christ in malibu cannot lament the mass migration of many of the young couples and young professionals to other churches (namely, the conejo valley church of christ in thousand oaks, ca) if they are not willing to make young adults and young married couples a priority. the makeup of this search committee leaves the elders open to criticism of continued negligence of this particular important demographic.
3. the entire committee is affiliated with pepperdine university. all of the members of the committee are or were employees or spouses of employees of the university. this may not seem like much of a big deal, but for a congregation that regularly reminds all who will listen that it is independent from pepperdine university (on whose campus the church is allowed to meet for free), the fact that each and every committee member is affiliated with the university speaks a great deal. certainly, employees of the university must also answer to their university administrators, meaning that members of the search committee are potentially capable of being influenced by university officials. the fact that every member of the committee is a pepperdine employee or sits on a board of some sort affiliated with pepperdine demonstrates the intertwined reality that is pepperdine university and the university church of christ. indeed, like the offering after communion, it does seem that the university church of christ in malibu and pepperdine university are ‘separate and apart,’ yet synonymous entities depending on what is convenient at any given moment. (seriously, how many more times shall we change our name back and forth between the ‘malibu church of christ’ and the ‘university church of christ’ in an attempt to win the graces of a pepperdine president in order to secure a real church building? and how is that working?)
this failure to distinguish between church and university is exacerbated by the fact that all seven elders of the university church of christ in malibu are or were pepperdine university employees. likewise, the building for which the church has been raising money to build is slated for construction on the pepperdine campus (even though it is buried beneath hundreds of tons of earth displaced from other apparently more important pepperdine building projects. cf. hag. 1:4). for a congregation that claims to be one that wishes to reach out to the malibu and greater los angeles communities (especially back when we were the ‘malibu church of christ’), it seems that the control of the church lies deeply nestled within those heavily invested in pepperdine. thus, the elders cannot lament the fact that very few malibu residents, who are unaffiliated with the university, are members of the university church of christ in malibu if they are not willing to represent this demographic in their leadership and search committees. failure to place a member of the congregation who is unaffiliated with pepperdine university leaves the elders open to criticism that they are taking orders (or at least having to clear their decisions) about whom to hire from top-level pepperdine administrators. at the very least, it leaves the elders open to criticism that they are not leading, but rather taking orders from the influential donors that give to both the church and pepperdine.
more than one of the elders have told me on more than one occasion that there are ’30 giving units’ at the university church in malibu. that is, there are only 30 individuals or couples that regularly contribute a substantial amount of money to the church. this number may be smaller now as some of these individuals and couples have left the university church in malibu since this statistic was first conveyed to me a few years ago. but the fact that one or more of the elders know precisely who regularly writes checks to the church is telling. it is quite apparent that those who give to a local congregation have influence over the direction the congregation. and since the elders have identified whom these people are, it is not surprising that the members of the search committee are older, established, and have strong ties to the university, from which they receive their paychecks.
of course, young professionals and recent graduates have not worked as much, are still dealing with the student loans and debts pertaining to the expensive costs of their educations (one year as an undergraduate at pepperdine is now $48, 750), and simply cannot give as much money to the church. but this is no reason not to represent them or to discount their opinions, input, or service to the church. yet, no member of the search committee is from the young professional demographic of 25-40 years old, and this is again quite telling of the elders’ opinion of them.
apparently, the golden rule truly applies at the university church of christ in malibu: those that have the gold make the rules. if you give a substantial amount to the church regularly, your voice is heard. otherwise, your opinion isn’t worth much. if you work for pepperdine, your opinion matters; you possess the potential of influencing university officials to make decisions favorable to the church. likewise, because you are an employee of the university, you can be ‘leaned upon’ by the pepperdine administration (many of whom are influential in the church). because those leading the university church of christ in malibu are also influential leaders within the university, employee-members are more likely to stay in line, go along with the elders’ decisions, jump through all the hoops, and not criticize or challenge decisions made by the church elders. the potential fear of missing out on coveted overseas appointments, not being named to key committees, having the ‘pepper-vine’ rumor mill and gossip lounge sully and destroy their reputations, or even losing their pepperdine jobs are all quite compelling reasons to hold one’s tongue. conversely, those of us who have no affiliation with the university and do not work for pepperdine cannot be fired, and cannot therefore be retaliated against should we choose to question or criticize decisions made by the elders. thus, those who do not work for pepperdine cannot be easily influenced by the church elders, and are therefore less likely to be asked to participate in decision making and leadership roles. perhaps it is as simple as this: they don’t want you if they can’t control you.
(now, to their credit, the elders are not openly hostile towards those who do not agree with the direction they are leading the church. they are fully aware of this blog, my positions on some of their decisions, and yet have always treated me professionally and cordially, and for that i am grateful. i shall continue to treat them professionally and shall continue to refrain from making personal critical comments about them as individuals. i appreciate their willingness to subject themselves to the critique of the members of the congregation they shepherd without retaliation. again, the purpose of my comments is not to harm them personally, but to offer some form of accountability from a member of the congregation who happens to be highly skilled in biblical studies and who is deeply invested in the reformation and ultimate success of the university church of christ in malibu. this form of open dialogue (or monologue thus far) is good for the church. if the leaders of any organization cannot stand up to commentary and criticism from those they lead, they are not fit to lead and are not worthy of our respect. i do not post all of my communications with the elders in this blog, as i am a true believer in professionalism, confidence, and the preservation of the distinction between public and private communications as well as the distinction between personal and professional roles. i look forward to a continued dialogue with the elders and all those who read this blog.)
we have a difficult challenge ahead of us. it will be nearly impossible to replace a preacher as skilled and beloved as ken durham. but somehow, hopefully, the leaders of our university church of christ in malibu will be able to select a preacher who possesses the ability to balance critical examination of the scriptures with an appealing presentation of informative and motivating sermons. i hope this committee will ask the tough questions, and not choose a candidate simply because he or she (here’s hoping) is related to someone at pepperdine. i pray the committee will select someone who will actually commit to preaching every sunday, and will not spend every third sunday touring the country as a guest preacher promoting his or her latest book. i hope the committee will select a preacher possessing the education and critical skill required to offer substantive homilies, and not simple fluff or the latest pop psychology. lastly, i hope the committee will choose a candidate that represents all of the congregation and appeals to students as well as those ~30 ‘giving units’ that the elders so readily seek to appease. for if the committee fails to make a wise decision, the university church of christ in malibu’s attendance numbers will continue to dwindle, until all that’s left are the select 30.
i hope the committee will choose the candidate that is best for the entire congregation.
Filed under: church of christ, robert cargill Tagged: | abilene christian, carolyn nicks, church of christ, committee, conejo valley church of christ, darryl tippens, david baird, david lipscomb, elders, freed-hardeman, harding, janet davis, john wilson, ken durham, linda truschke, malibu, milt shatzer, minister, nancy magnusson durham, oklahoma christian, Pepperdine, preacher, rich dawson, rick gibson, ron highfield, search, stephen parmelee, stuart love, tim perrin, university