November 5, 2015 by cbbeard
Yesterday I sat in my office. Silent, numb, contemplative. It wasn’t because something bad had happened…quite the contrary! Just minutes before, I had heard my Dissertation Committee Chair say “It’s official, congratulations Dr. Beard!” And so I took some time just to sit and soak my new reality in.
Throughout the day as the news spread so many of the people I love reached out to congratulate me. A common question interweaved into the congratulatory greetings
was “How does it feel?” I usually responded that it was cliché, but itfelt surreal, like a dream, and it hadn’t hit me yet that I was finished. Well a day later, I still have a lot of the same emotions, but I wanted to take some time and reflect on what I’ve just accomplished.
At the end of my Dissertation Defense, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was relieved, but the tears flowing from my eyes were not only tears of relief because I was done. I was proud of my accomplishment, but they weren’t only tears of pride because I had earned a degree. Certainly the tears flowed in part for those reasons, but I was overwhelmed by what the PhD journey had done for me as a person.
Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
— The Six Million Dollar Man, Opening Narration.
Today I feel a little bit like the Six Million Dollar Man. I was not near death by any definition, but I have just undergone 4 years of rebuilding as God used extremely capable men and women, as well as a superior PhD program to transform me into not only a better leader, but a better person as well. And so as I reflect on my PhD journey, allow me to share with you what it took to transform Christopher Beard into Christopher Beard, PhD.
A Renewed Mind
Of course to construct a PhD, you must have an element of knowledge. I learned so much about so many areas related to leadership over the past four years. My coursework challenged my thinking and presented new ideas. The flexibility of the program allowed me to learn life-changing concepts that applied directly to my context of ministry. My research allowed me to gain a greater understanding on how adults learn and how that should affect spiritual formation efforts. So the construction of Christopher Beard, PhD certainly included new ideas, concepts and philosophies.
But I not only learned new ideas, I learned a new way of thinking. My PhD journey didn’t tell me what to think, it taught me how to think in a much more efficient and effective way. You might think that a guy that just finished a PhD would be tired of learning and be ready to kick back and coast for a while. But becoming a PhD only sparked a passion to learn more and more, because as my mind is renewed, my life is changed.
If the primary result of earning a PhD is a piece of paper on the wall or a line on a resume, it’s a waste of time, money, and effort. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge for the sake of knowledge is fun! You never know when a game of Trivial Pursuit will break out. But this is a PhD in Leadership Studies, and what good is knowledge about leadership if it doesn’t help you be a better leader and help equip others to be better leaders along the way? So the construction of Christopher Beard, PhD included learning information that I put into action in my life. What I learned about organizational change and leadership helped me navigate changes we were making in our church. What I learned about authentic leadership helped me be real with those I am leading. What I learned about transformative leadership helped me care more for the well-being of those I am leading. I also learned concepts that would help me navigate a change in my philosophy of ministry. And my research directly informs how I lead my church and how I engage in the God-given mission of making more and better disciples of Jesus.
These are only a few examples, but as Christopher Beard, PhD was constructed, knowledge led to action.
A Substantial Voice
One of the final and most important elements in a PhD program is the transition from student to scholar. The PhD student must navigate from someone who seeks knowledge about a particular concept or focus to someone who contributes to the knowledge about a particular concept or focus. The primary venue for that contribution is the doctoral dissertation. But the construction of Christopher Beard, PhD included more.
Throughout my PhD journey, I was encouraged by professors and mentors to always be thinking of how I could contribute to the academic and professional conversation of my chosen focus, missional leadership. As I continually worked through the requirements of my PhD, I found ways to adapt my work for contribution to various outlets.* I was assigned a book review in one course; I submitted it for publication for a journal and it was accepted. One paper was turned in as an assignment and then presented at an academic conference. The paper I submitted to achieve candidacy status was published in a journal. I have already been asked to present my dissertation at a conference early next year. I don’t list these accomplishments to “toot my own horn” but rather to show my appreciation to a PhD program that equipped me to find a way to express my ideas in an academic and professional way. The construction of Christopher Beard, PhD, would be incomplete without this voice.
A Transformed Heart
Throughout my PhD journey I learned about various theories of how to be a better leader, and gained knowledge on how to lead more effectively. These concepts taught me that a true leader, particularly in the biblical sense, has a heart for those he or she is leading. Those concepts are vital in the transformation of my heart, and in the construction of Christopher Beard, PhD.
But just as important were the many professors, advisors, and a very special program director that led by example. These men and women cared for me as a student, taught with compassion and love, yet at the same time were very forthcoming and challenged me. I learned through my experience as a student how a leader can and should balance compassion with challenge. If the compassion were missing, I would become bitter and perhaps give up when things got hard (and they often were!). If the challenge was missing, I wouldn’t have grown in knowledge or in my way of thinking. Because both were present, I survived, was changed, and my heart took on the qualities of those who led me, which will help me lead others moving forward.
A renewed mind, informed actions, a substantial voice, and a transformed heart…all things that went into the construction of Christopher Beard, PhD. I am thankful that in my case the letters “PhD” don’t just represent a piece of paper or an accomplishment of a goal, but represent a complete transformation of a person. I praise God that he used my PhD journey to make me better than I used to be.
It’s official, I’m Dr. Beard! (How cool is that?!?)
(Oh, and you can check out this amazing PhD program at JohnsonU.edu)
*Some of my work:
2012 – Review of “The permanent revolution: apostolic imagination and practice for the 21st century church.” Missiology, 40(4), 486-487.
May 25, 2013 – Parallel Presenter, Ecclesia and Ethics Conference – “A Missional Ethic: The Missional Purpose in the Ethic of Jesus.”
December 15, 2013 – “What About the Church?” Christian Standard
April, 2015 – “Missional Discipleship: Discerning Spiritual-Formation Practices and Goals Within the Missional Movement.” Missiology, 43(2), 175–194 doi:10.1177/0091829614563059
Ongoing – Blog at cbbeard.wordpress.com
Forthcoming – “Missional Spiritual Formation and Adult Learning Theory: A study of missional spiritual formation experiences and their connection to adult learning principles.” (Doctoral Dissertation)