What I Learned in Grad School

Last week, I was able to close a chapter in my life. My family and I drove up to Chicago and celebrated my graduation from Olivet Nazarene University! I completed a Master of Arts in Pastoral Leadership back in January, and we decided to be there so I could walk with my classmates. It was a great week leading up to the ceremony: Navy Pier, Wrigley Field, Museum of Science and Industry, Willis Tower SkyDeck, and all the Giordano’s Pizza that I could handle.

One morning, I woke up before the rest of the family and sat out on the couch and took some time to reflect on the past two years. I thought I would share a few thoughts with you today. 

1. Leadership is about being someone worth following.

I came into this program with the mindset that one’s skills, education and training led a person to be a successful leader. I have come to realize that only about 10% of one’s success is reliant on these areas. I believe the other 90% of our success (or failure) as leaders falls on our character. Leadership is not about what is on your resume, but rather the condition of your heart. Who I am in the midst of crisis, when everything is falling apart, is who I really am - and it is the reason why people will follow or not. 

A leader has a vision for his/her life and who they are trying to become as a person. They can articulate their personal values - what is most important to them - and they seek every day to connect those values to how they are living and leading others, both at work and at home. 

Leaders are not always right and not everything they touch succeeds. In fact, true leaders fail often - and then they learn - and they improve. Leaders fail forward and challenge those who are following them to lean into the fear of failure. They draw out the best in people and create teams and environments where the people that they have been intrusted to lead have the opportunities to thrive.

2. I need to apply Scripture and wisdom to MY life first, before trying to find ways that I can teach it or share it with others.

In a class called, Life Management and Personal Renewal, my professor called me out on my second paper I turned in. He said, “Nick, great paper. But from now on in this class, I don’t want to hear from you as “Nick the Chaplain.” I want to hear from you as “Nick the Christian.” He encouraged me in the fact that the Teacher (one of the top 5 StrengthsFinder strengths) in me was always looking for ways to use Scripture or wisdom to help/teach others. He challenged me to first look inward during my time in the Word and ask, “God, how are you speaking to ME? What would you have ME to hear through your Word today?” This was a powerful turn for me, and I’m thankful it happened in the first semester. It was something I needed to be reminded of and it has had an incredible impact on my life and spiritual growth.

3. God is gracious in the midst of chaos.

There was a point during the first year, right after Caitlyn was born, that I wondered, “How the heck am I going to finish this?!” On top of my role as Chaplain, I had taken on a Masters program that was kicking my rear. In a two year time, I read 64 books and wrote around 260 papers.

As I sat on the couch that morning in Chicago, I was in awe of God’s grace these last two years. I know I had more on my plate than I could handle, and yet God gave me the energy, rest, and time I needed to continue to have my family as a priority, to be there for folks in need, and to still have time to accomplish my tasks. It was definitely a “beyond my fingertips” experience. God gets all the glory.

4. My wife believes in me and is the most amazing blessing in my life.

I don’t know what I did that God decided that Valerie would chose me, but I thank God for her everyday. On those days where I thought I could not possibly continue on, she was there to pick me up and encourage me to keep pressing on. She was so good to celebrate with me in my successes, while still challenging me to continue to give my best. All this while she was still working full-time and then coming home and taking care of the kids and the house in the evenings. As much as we celebrated my accomplishment last week, we celebrated her as well. She is the greatest blessing in my life and I am so thankful for her.

5. I still have much to learn.

What I didn’t expect is to finish a Masters and feel like I knew less than I did when I started! This experience opened so many doors for me and I realize that I have so many more opportunities to learn. I am so thankful for this experience and I know that God has been at work in my life. I pray that He will continue to mold me into the man He desires for me to become and will continue to use my life for His glory and ministry.

Thanks for letting me reflect a bit. I don’t know if anyone else will get anything out of this, but it sure reminds me of some really important things that I don’t want to forget!