A president at work: Mohler’s investment in the next generation of leaders
During the presidency of R. Albert Mohler Jr., seven men have worked for him as research assistants and directors of theological research. Not only did they help him organize material and prepare for writing projects, speaking and preaching engagements, debates and more, but they received a unique kind of education in return.
Then: Research assistant (1994-1998)
Now: President of The Kings College, New York, N.Y.
The most exciting part about being Dr. Mohler’s research assistant, and really the best part of my seminary education, was the education after hours. I would go over to Dr. Mohler’s library and help him work on writing projects and things that he was working on, finding references and looking up things while he was working. I got to see him thinking out loud while he was writing and preparing.
That was really exhilarating, because what I began to realize as I was completing my doctoral dissertation — which he supervised — is how much of my own mental furniture had been placed there as a result of seeing him think out loud in all of those different scenarios. Not only in those key moments of crises in the history of the institution, but also in journal articles and in book projects and in public engagement and debate. To be able to witness first hand all of the stuff that he was reading — I mean, we all know what a polymath he is — and to have access to that was like getting a massive influx of bibliography, which I would never be able to repeat in my entire life.
Then: Research assistant (1998-2000)
Now: President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
Shortly after I came to Southern, I became Dr. Mohler’s research assistant. I would travel with him all over the country. He was just omnivorous when it came to information and analyzing information and talking about those things. And when it comes to seeing through theological systems that appear to be orthodox and are not, he knows where the fault lines are and he’s able to not only demolish those things but to provide the alternative.
And as a professor, he was relentless as a devil’s advocate. If you came into his seminar and presented a view, he was searching them like a minefield and would come in and at any point of weakness and he could argue you down. You had to be on your game to come into that room in ways that I think were immensely beneficial to all of us, because we learned how to think like other people and to be able to anticipate things. He was able, as a professor, to train us with very high expectations. Going into an Al Mohler doctoral seminar was a terrifying experience because you knew you were going to go through the gamut but you had to be ready. And, frankly, driving in the car with him was like that, too.
Then: Dean of Boyce College (2004-2008)
Now: Senior pastor of First Baptist Church West Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Fla.
My favorite things about serving on the president’s campus as the dean of Boyce College was that Dr. Mohler poured into us in terms of our intellectual development, in terms of our spiritual development and in terms of developing us as leaders. He kept talking about the way to help us create and expand our personal leadership platforms, and he really believed if he would elevate the individual leaders on his team, those leaders would help to elevate the institution. I think he’s exactly right. And one of the things I learned as a senior pastor with a team of folks who work with me is, if I will help those people maximize who they are in terms of their giftedness, in terms of their opportunities, in terms of their goals and desires — maximize who they are in Christ and in our church — that their personal growth and their elevated personal leadership platform will elevate our entire vision for our church.
Then: Research assistant (2001-2004)
Now: Associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Biola University, La Mirada, Calif.
I am very grateful for the many valuable lessons I learned from my time working with Dr. Mohler. Near the very top of the list, I have continually benefited from coming to see just how critical theological method is to the discipline of theology. I am constantly trying to impart that lesson to my students at Biola University. I was also blessed to see the big-picture, worldview-level grasp that Dr. Mohler has on so many issues from the theological, to the political, to the personal.
Another time that stands out from my service to Dr. Mohler was the occasion when my wife’s grandfather suddenly and tragically passed away. Dr. Mohler recognized my grief upon hearing this news, and he set aside what he was working on to sit with me and offer comfort and some truly excellent advice that I was able to share with my wife and her family over the course of the funeral weekend. It was very comforting encouragement to all of us, and we frequently recall it with thanksgiving.
Then: Research assistant (2004-2005); director of theological research (2005-2008)
Now: Senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.
Someone approached me once while I was working for Dr. Mohler and said, “The legend is that Dr. Mohler reads five to seven books a week! That can’t possibly be true . . . can it?” I smiled and shook my head, and replied, “No, the legend is wrong. The reality is probably more like ten a week.” I have never known a man who could read, understand, remember, and then use information with the speed and in the quantities that Dr. Mohler can. Having listened to hundreds of his lectures and sermons over the years, I still find myself astonished at the way he is able to synthesize ideas and bring context and wisdom to some of the thorniest questions of our day.
Dr. Mohler is more than smart, though. He is also a man of genuine and deep faith in Christ, and a personal warmth that flows directly out of that. What a privilege it was to see first-hand for those years his passion for the Gospel and his love for the seminary he has led now for 20 years! I have learned much about leadership from Dr. Mohler’s example, and I am honored to call him a friend.
Then: Editorial assistant to the president (2005-2007)
Now: Executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
It’s hard for me to trace how Dr. Mohler has influenced my leadership, because I have difficulty identifying an area that doesn’t bear his stamp. He trained me theologically in my seminary theology classes; he trained me vocationally as his editorial assistant; he trained me in worldview and culture through his writings, podcasts and talks; he trained me personally as a mentor.
Actually, there is one exception: he did not train me in sleep habits. I have not mastered the nocturnal as he has.
On a daily basis as an executive director and a professor, I think about Dr. Mohler’s vision, conviction, courage, gospel shrewdness and personal touch. His Schaefferian ability to blend theology and culture hooked me, and led me to my present ministry. It equipped me to speak biblically on gender and sexuality in the face of tremendous cultural opposition. But his influence was also more granular. I remember how he counseled me early in my marriage to make sure I remembered certain key dates; I remember how he signed every donor letter put before him. Those quieter lessons made a mark on me.
Then: Chief of staff in the office of the president (2006-2010); vice president of institutional advancement at Southern Seminary (2010-13)
Now: President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.
When the search committee reached out to me at Midwestern Seminary about the office of the presidency, and I began to pray about that opportunity, I was buoyed in my heart with confidence because of what I had seen and observed over the years at Southern Seminary. For close to seven years, I worked with him day-by-day, took countless trips with him, had thousands of conversations, asked myriads of questions and not only heard, but overheard from him what it is to be a seminary president — what it means to serve the cause of Christ in that context. He’s a man that’s done that with relentless self-sacrifice. He is a man of conviction. He knows how to project a vision for a school that draws people to it. And so I learned a thousand lessons from Al Mohler. Many of those lessons I am still perceiving day-to-day as I’m in context and scenarios and conversations that I pull from a reservoir of knowledge and experience, some of which, I did not even know was there until at that very moment I needed it.