Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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Brian Stiller: “Find a broken wall”

August 4, 2009 About

Brian Stiller: “Find a broken wall” by Doug Koup, Christian Week

TORONTO, ON—Brian Stiller is happy to reminisce. The well-known evangelical leader is talking on his cell phone while getting a haircut on his last day as president of Tyndale University College and Seminary. “I began at Tyndale on June 26, 1995. My last day as president is June 26, 2009,” he said. Nice symmetry.

Indeed, exactly 14 years had passed since the former president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada stepped in during in a financial emergency that was seriously threatening the very existence of the 100-year-old school (then called Ontario Bible College and Seminary).

A lot has happened since 1995, and as Stiller leaves the president’s office to take on responsibilities as the school’s chancellor and chair of the Tyndale Foundation, he is eager to emphasize a few of the more gratifying accomplishments of his tenure.

In typical fashion he begins with a spiritual lesson he’s personally taken to heart. “I’ve learned that faith is an act of the will going much beyond belief and hope,” he says. “I see biblical faith as a risk-taking enterprise where only by the help of the Lord can you succeed.”

More palpably, he is pleased that the school now has university status and is in the process of buying a new campus that will greatly enhance its profile. He highlights “the joy of seeing both scholars and staff buy into a grand vision of Christian enterprise,” and the advance of “Christian education from the cul-de-sac to Main Street”—all this in an effort “to take seriously the training of minds and character for the service of the Church.”

Throughout his career, Stiller has consistently been an organization builder. Even when he answered the call to exercise leadership with a college teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, he came with a large sense of hope and possibility—a desire to re-energize and re-position the school for effective ministry far into the future.

The century-old Bible college had been a trendsetter, he explains. “But like any good institution, it can get caught in the status quo.” It required tremendous “tenacity and patience” to re-invigorate the school and convince its supporting community they could make the necessary changes and realistically pursue a “vision of being dynamic and nation changing.”

Too slow

For a change agent like Stiller, “the slowness of redeployment of an educational institution” was troubling. “It always takes longer than you imagined to do something good,” he laments. “There are so many elements in the creation of a great school that it just requires patience.” What elements? “Selecting good people and articulating a mission that creates buy-in by people who are willing to operate in community and live with a sense of personal call on top of vocational choice.”

The “grand vision” Stiller is keen to articulate is “to move the evangelical Church out of being a sideline Christian community into accepting the moral and spiritual imperative of Christian engagement.” Along the way that has involved developing a school of business and turning a Bible college into a Christian university.

And that, of course, takes both time and money. In the years ahead, Stiller will be putting a hefty chunk of his energy into fundraising. “As chancellor I’m focused on completing the capital campaign,” which is currently 70 per cent of the way towards a 58 million dollar goal. “But that’s the short term,” he continues. “That’s just the beginning of the need to fund a first class Christian institution.”

Such recognition does not come easily. “We have to earn respect. The secular institutions don’t really understand us, and some are opposed. It’s almost like being a woman in business; you’ve got to be smarter and work harder to earn it. We have to train a better quality student and show our worth,” says Stiller.

“Also, the role of our community is to seed back into the world a Christian understanding of life that is very much marginalized. And the numbers demonstrate that fewer Canadians are open to and engaging in spiritual life. We’ve got a huge task ahead of us.”

Tough stuff

And what does Stiller hope to see in Christian students? “A willingness to subject themselves to the tough discipline of intellectual training,” he replies without hesitation. “A mind properly nurtured and disciplined can go anywhere; a sloppy mind will always produce sloppy results. So take time to understand and to know.”

Secondly, he wants Christian students to “see the future as one of unlimited opportunity,” but to seek those opportunities “that require a heart that is driven by transformation and not by personal abundance. That’s as countercultural as you can get today.” This means “to look for the tough places of life, the tough places of the world, the broken hearts and shattered dreams, the crumbling enterprises, to serve in.”

It’s a theme Stiller is developing in a book he’s writing. Find a Broken Wall is an autobiographical application of the Nehemiah motif. “My life has been to take ideas that have not been fleshed out and turn them into something real, or to take broken institutions and rebuild them.

“If a reader is interested in climbing the corporate ladder of success, don’t read further. I want to challenge my generation and a younger one to see God at work in the tough places. Renewal of places and ministries is an activity of the Spirit in a re-creation sense,” he says. “God’s will is not easy.”

Meanwhile, Stiller sees the next phase of his career as a continuation of what he’s been doing all along, “as a builder of a stage on which a grand vision can be constructed.”

“Really, Tyndale was in continuity to my earlier call and vision. It grounded the idea of mobilizing Christians into a larger mission of service and ministry—grounding that in an educational environment where people could be trained to think great thoughts and live vocational lives.”