A conversation with John Tyson
He faces the challenge of helping Rochester College remain financially viable in spite of financial challenges — and the economic woes of nearby Detroit. The college in Rochester Hills, Mich., associated with Churches of Christ, inaugurated Tyson as its ninth president Oct. 10, 2013. He succeeds Rubel Shelly.
A native Texan, he ministered for churches in New Braunfels and Belton before moving to Lubbock, where he served as chair of the Department of Biblical Literature at Texas Tech University and as campus minister for the Broadway Church of Christ.
In 1989, he returned to his alma mater, Abilene Christian University, to serve as an executive assistant to the president. He established and directed the university’s long-range planning program before moving to the development office, where he served for 17 years, raising more than $330 million for the university.
He established the Madagascar Presidential Scholars Program with the African nation’s then-president, Marc Ravalomanana. He met with a religion official from the government of China, paving the way for Chinese students to attend ACU.
In 2011, Tyson was named president of Abilene Christian Schools, a private Christian school serving grades pre-kindergarten through 12. During his tenure, he developed the school’s strategic plan, significantly increased student enrollment and raised major gifts.
What is unique about a Christian college in the Detroit area?
For quite some time now, Detroit has been America’s poster child for municipal corruption and incompetence. One might conclude that filing for bankruptcy only continues to tarnish the city’s image.
In a recent conversation, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder offered a more hopeful perspective that resonates with me: The problems of Detroit are not new. They are decades in the making. Bankruptcy is part of a solution. It provides an opportunity to re-chart the course and reset the focus of the city. That is something all of us need from time to time.
Rochester College is the only Protestant Christian college or university in the metro Detroit area. What better place to be a beacon of light in the darkness?
What interested you in becoming Rochester College’s president?
First, I am optimistic about the opportunity for the college to prosper. No doubt, the college’s fiscal health is still delicate. Yet there are positive signs pointing toward growth and strength for the future. I am convinced God will bless this community with the resources needed to flourish.
My second motivation is personal. My wife grew up near Chicago. For more than 30 years, I have observed the college’s influence for good. I believe I can make a positive contribution to its role of producing Christian servant leaders.
Finally, I feel a sense of calling from God. I feel as though God may be nudging me and my family to new adventures in his service.
Why is Christian education relevant today?
Christian education at all levels — elementary, secondary and university — represents one of the greatest mission fields available to us. Day-in and day-out, godly men and women across our nation are informing, challenging, inspiring and mentoring future generations from the perspective of faith in God as our creator and Jesus Christ as our redeemer.
The values of our culture are shaped, first and foremost, through our families and our schools. It is no surprise that the majority of the first schools and colleges in our country were established by Christians to perpetuate the values of faith.
When we provide high-quality education in safe environments and produce reliable and responsible graduates of integrity, we attract students and their families who might not otherwise be influenced by our ministries.
What relationship to Churches of Christ will Rochester College have under your leadership?
That’s an easy question. I have a lifetime relationship with Churches of Christ and I plan to do everything I can to strengthen the relationship of the college with our congregations.
What I am more curious about is what relationship will the Churches of Christ have with Rochester College and with all of our other primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities? We need more members of our fellowship to step forward and engage in the process of making our educational institutions strong. We need our best intellectual talent to teach, serve and lead. We need our families to send their students to attend. We need generous hearts to contribute.
What do today’s college students need?
Today’s college students need genuine relationships with godly adults who can model for them lives of faith, be transparent about weaknesses, challenge them to do their best and make good choices, demonstrate grace and not give up on them.
Students need mentors who believe in them and allow them to learn by doing. And most of our students need to be inspired to dive deeply into Scripture.
With the immense diversity we find in our culture today, we cannot take for granted what values and skills our students bring with them to our schools.
What do you see as the next great challenge for Rochester College?
We are in the midst of a great turnaround story that began a few years ago. In the short term, there is no question but that strengthening the financial position of the college is the greatest challenge.
A combination of some poor business choices and the regional economic downturn have left the college in a fragile situation. Enrollment is stabilizing and improving. We are improving our basic business model to be more efficient and effective. Friends in our community are stepping forward with encouraging acts of generosity.
In a few years, I believe we will look back at our journey and be pleasantly surprised to see what God has done here.