Dr. Trevin Wax of the North American Mission Board released a book late last year titled, The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith. In it, he warns readers of two common Christian traps: (1) determining that doctrine is just a source of conflict that gets in the way of “real ministry” and (2) caring so much about the preservation of correct doctrine that it is never actually applied. One leads to drifting away from correct theology until you’re on a mission without a cause, and the other leads to never going on a mission at all.
Wax’s argument rests on the reality that Scripture and the teachings of the apostles are not boring conversations (or arguments) tossed around the halls of a seminary. Rather, it is a proficient knowledge and genuine conviction of these truths that fuels the fire to go out and live an adventurous Christian life. It’s not “deeds against creeds,” he writes, because “theology defines and directs the mission.” (74)
This book is what immediately came to mind when I had a conversation with Bill ’97 and Tara (Ratihn) Newman ’98.
Bill graduated from the University in 1997 with a degree in youth ministry, and Tara graduated the following year from the social work program. Their choice in degrees suggested a very linear career path for both of them, and for a while that’s exactly what it was. Bill got a job as a youth and worship pastor, and Tara worked at an adoption agency. When the time came for them to have kids, Tara left her job to stay at home and Bill continued to work in ministry while he started a couple real estate endeavors to generate extra income.
After nine years of various ministry roles in the 1990s, Bill left his full-time pastoral role to join his dad’s church management software business. He eventually bought the business, which he later sold to Logos Bible Software. As the years went by, he continued to have various real estate endeavors, technology projects, and even a restaurant. In the midst of this, Tara was also a house parent for a group home for juvenile delinquents. Eventually, Bill transitioned from being a youth pastor with a “side-hustle” to a full-time entrepreneur.
When you look at where the Newmans are now compared to where they originally intended to be when they were students, it is tempting to say that they are no longer using their degrees. Some may even go as far to say their degrees were a waste of time or money, especially if they took on debt to get them. But the Newmans would refute that idea outright, because the foundation that their Cairn education built for them is one that they continually rely on to this day. In fact, they believe that the church should be in the business of sending more laypeople to receive formal biblical education:
“We can’t know God without knowing His Word. And we can’t know His Word if we don’t study it. And we can’t study it well unless someone shows us how to study it. That’s why we pursue biblical education. It’s one of the greatest opportunities we have to receive a deep understanding of the Bible and theology so we can bring that to our local churches. No matter what they pursue vocationally, every believer should desire a foundation of Scripture and sound doctrine.”
When he reflects on the importance of biblical education, Bill is reminded of the Ethiopian eunuch, who is reading the scroll of Isaiah when he is approached by Philip. When Philip asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” the eunuch replies, “‘How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30–31). The Newmans believe that guide can be formal biblical education. It is a place where wisdom can be both vetted and dispensed into the hearts and minds of men and women. But their desire to see more church laypeople pursuing formal education is not simply to the end of more Bible degree-granted Christians sitting in the pews. Yes, we need our theological knowledge to be strong so that we can avoid false teaching and protect the truth of the gospel. But if we believe all of these doctrines to be true, they demand that we do something about them.
This is part of the reason why Bill left full-time ministry, but not for the reason you might think. It wasn’t the result of fallout or burnout or believing that full-time ministry positions are unbiblical. Instead, it was a decision informed by a broader view of ministry. As Bill often says, “No matter where your paycheck is from, if you’re a believer, God’s called you to ministry.” With this perspective, the “how” and “where” of ministry is much more flexible. The Newmans live out their theology by being involved in their local church as an elder and a women’s ministry leader. They also take their charge to “train up the child the way he should go” very seriously, and decided to homeschool their children in order to give themselves more opportunities to do that. And beyond their church and family, they have also begun to help with
God’s global work by getting involved with a church operating in Cyprus.
The Newmans first found out about this church through their daughter, Ellyn. She was going on a mission trip and asked her dad to go with her. Bill went with her in Summer 2022, and then in November, and then a few more times after that. What the Newmans discovered on this island in the middle of the Mediterranean was a multicultural ministry to refugees thriving amidst a lack of resources. Bill came to the church willing to offer whatever knowledge and talents he had, and the church was able to use them.
After their first visit, and forming a real friendship with Pastor Lawrence Hilditch, Bill formed a real estate entity with the goal to both acquire housing for some of the refugees who assist the pastor of the church and to rent out other properties to create a stream of income or the ministry. He has also been able to help lead worship nights and begin a few
teaching series that Pastor Lawrence has continued after he left. This relationship has also led to the opportunity for two
of the refugees to enroll in Cairn’s online courses this fall.
Bill and Tara would deny they are anything exceptional. To borrow a line from Rosaria Butterfield, what they are doing is “radically ordinary.” But that’s kind of the point. If the mission of our University is effective, we should never run out of opportunities to tell stories just like this: radically ordinary alumni who believe that what the Bible says is true, enough for it to have real impact on how they conduct their lives. The Great Commission is incredibly simple while also being incredibly sacrificial. The transition between believing and doing can be difficult, but the encouragement of seeing other believers run the race well is something from which we can all benefit.
Lydia Garrison is the managing editor of Cairn magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.