February 18, 2014 by cbbeard
On December 23rd of last year I received official confirmation that I had been awarded “Candidacy” status by the powers that be in the PhD program in Leadership Studies at Johnson University. That news caused me to dance a “victory jig” in my office (much to the amusement of my fellow Christ Covenant Church staff members) because that confirmation meant that I had come a long way in my PhD journey. It means that I have successfully completed the majority of the core coursework required. It means that my candidacy research paper was approved and that the faculty considered me worthy to continue in the program and felt as if I have the skills necessary to successfully complete my PhD. It means that if I so choose, I can sign my name as “Christopher Bill Beard, PhDc.” Pretty cool, huh?
It took a lot of hard work and dedication to get that little “c” approved, and it will take even more hard work and dedication to get that little “c” removed. That I am officially a PhDc means that I have come a long way in the process, but that I also have a long way to go. Since I am approximately halfway through this journey (Lord-willing) I thought it appropriate to take a step back and reflect on my experience of the last two years. It all started with me thinking…
I want to do this!
My educational sojourn has been “unique” to say the least, but I look back on my decision to get a M.A. New Testament at Johnson as a turning point in my life. No single decision had been more beneficial and equipping to my life and ministry than getting my Master’s degree. So when I found out that Johnson was introducing a PhD program, I was immediately intrigued.
I still remember the inner tension and nervousness I felt when I picked up an application packet. Is this really for me? Dr. Beard? I’m sure most people who knew me would giggle a bit at the prospect. But I submitted my application anyway and once I received the call that I was accepted, jitters gave way to enthusiasm. I was up for the challenge, bring it on! But then I started thinking…
I don’t have to do this.
I began coursework in January of 2012. Immediately I found myself wondering “what in the HECK did I do with all my free time before I started working on my PhD?” I was busier than I ever had been, balancing life, ministry, and schoolwork. I was reading more than ever and being challenged to think in ways I had never even considered. It was like trying to jump on a treadmill already churning at full speed and keep up without falling.
It didn’t take long for people in my cohort to abandon ship. Within a couple of classes the cohort went from 11 people to 6. I really couldn’t blame them; this seemed like more than I bargained for. I was personally too stubborn and bullheaded to give up yet…but the thought had crossed my mind.
I remember what one person leaving the program wrote in her farewell address to the rest of the cohort. She said “I’m not sure I want to do this, and I’ve realized that I don’t NEED to do this.” I chewed on that statement for a long time. She was right. I didn’t HAVE to get a PhD. My career didn’t depend on it. No one would fault me for withdrawing; I was a Lead Minister with three kids under the age of 13. Heaven knows I had enough going on. And this was…HARD! But I was too bullheaded to give up yet. But soon my thoughts changed to…
I NEED to do this!
As is often the case with new life endeavors, I started to find my groove. The work didn’t get any easier by any stretch of the imagination, but I found a rhythm that allowed me to balance life, ministry, and schoolwork effectively. I even found a way to fit in some down time now and again.
And then something strange started to happen…I was being transformed! The specific leadership emphasis within the courses was helping me see myself and those I was leading in a different light. The ability to flex various assignments and research objectives to my interests and context allowed me to apply what I was learning right into my role as a church leader.
You see, I didn’t enter the PhD program for the diploma, as nice as that will look on my wall. I didn’t enter the PhD program for specific career goals. I didn’t enter the PhD program to be called “Dr. Beard.” I entered the PhD program because I wanted to be as equipped as I could to fulfill the role God has called me to. Right here and right now, I want to be the best Lead Minister I can be for as long as God keeps me in that role, and in the future I want to be as supplied as I can be to lead people for God’s glory.
I soon realized that already God was using the PhD program to challenge me, grow me, and mold me. No longer was the PhD something I simply wanted to do, it was something I knew deep inside I NEEDED to do. That’s a good thing to know, because soon I was thinking…
Can I really do this?
Doubts started to creep in. Obstacles that looked like speed bumps from a far began to look like mountain ranges the closer I got. I never really shook the small voice whispering “you know, you don’t really NEED to do this.” I often imagined life without the demands of classes, reading, and research, and boy, did it look appealing!
But I considered how far I had come. I considered the impact my fellow cohort members had not only on my schoolwork, but my life. I reflected on the professors who were constantly challenging me and making me uncomfortable, but doing so with love and encouragement. Those same people who were challenging me and at times even frustrating me also made themselves available to listen…to listen to my fears and frustrations, and to help give me encouragement, but also guidance. My family and friends were constantly strengthening me and cheering me on. So I began to realize that…
I (we) can do this!
I can’t do this alone, no way no how. Perhaps even more important, I wouldn’t want to do it alone. The interaction I’ve had with my cohort and faculty as well as the encouragement and confirmation from family and friends has made this experience what it is. At the end of this program, Lord-willing, I will have a PhD. And while that is all well and good, what is more important will be how I have been transformed in the process, molded not only by philosophy and knowledge, but also by relationships and networks of people who challenge, shape, encourage, and love me.
I’m convinced I will be successful, but not because of my own abilities alone, but because of the team of people who surround me. I’m halfway done, and now in the process comes a shift in focus. Now I will be focusing on becoming a scholar as I develop my own voice in research and scholarship. Soon comes the dissertation, and I look forward to the day when I am able to say…
Thanks to all who are a part of my team. Onward and upward!