Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today
A conversation with Mike Rakes
Mike Rakes, D.Min., recently became the fifth president of Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. An ordained Assemblies of God minister and a graduate of Central Bible College, the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, and Biola University, Rakes formerly served as lead pastor of Winston-Salem First (AG) in North Carolina. He is the author of Surrendered and Unafraid: The Flourishing of Faith During Seasons of Suffering, which Rakes wrote following the loss of his 27-year-old daughter.
Why do the Church and academy need each other?
We all bear the same responsibility to get the gospel into every avenue of the human experience.
The Spirit is calling students into the marketplace, local churches and pulpits, and missional hot spots all around the world. Since both the Church and the academy care about equipping students for God’s work, we must partner together to give this generation every opportunity to live a life that impacts others. To rescue, equip and deploy the next generation into the harvest field seven days a week, we need both.
Can you explain what you mean when you talk about rescuing, equipping and deploying?
The enemy’s strategy is becoming more overt as the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) makes his play for the minds and hearts of even the very young. By “rescue,” I mean that we create experiential bridges to get students to a university that believes in the supernatural power of God. By “equip,” I mean that we prepare compassionate innovators who can embody hope to the hurting around them — no matter where they are in the world. And by “deploy,” I mean that Evangel graduates are spiritually responsible people who are socially engaged in making a difference in their world and advancing the Great Commission.
What is the importance of Pentecostal higher education today?
This is not the moment to shy away from our Pentecostal roots or heritage but to be a people who listen to our past with fresh ears. I love the word Spirit-empowered, but we must also be Spirit-driven.
Pentecostal higher education is not selling thoughts from the past alone but creating environments that cause a generation to realize it’s their turn now and that God uses every vocation in the world as a tributary of His grace and love.
University life is not an older version of high school or youth group. At Evangel, our plan is comprehensive and holistic. We are not just putting thoughts into students’ minds; they are immersed into a culture of deeper spirituality through our chapels (you can check them out online) and Spirit-led classrooms. Students are also surrounded and shaped by a strong core of their peers, student leaders who are fervent for God themselves.
The statistics are clear when it comes to middle school and high school students that biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. However, at Evangel University, we take the opportunity to accelerate biblical knowledge, make up for years of missed exposure to God’s Word, and prepare theologically informed leaders with 18 credit hours of Bible for every vocation. These students will be more in touch with God’s Word than their counterparts coming from mainstream institutions, whether they enter the pulpit or the marketplace.
The world desperately needs committed, talented and passionate followers of Jesus who are skilled enough to become compassionate innovators in their chosen callings.
Evangel University leads learners into thinking and experiencing God for themselves. EU is real life. In essence, students find their spiritual legs to carry them into what God has prepared for them. The world desperately needs committed, talented and passionate followers of Jesus who are skilled enough to become compassionate innovators in their chosen callings.
Some worry about the possibility of Christian universities losing federal funds or getting edged out by competition from community colleges. How concerned are you about the financial future of Christian education in America?
Frankly, I am not concerned about the loss of federal grants or the possible addition of free community colleges all over the country. Parents and pastors should not assume that two years at a local community college, free or not, will leave the student unchanged. Some mainstream intellectuals teaching at state schools find our most fundamental beliefs — like a virgin birth or an intelligent God at creation — laughable.
The cultural signs around us should stir up donors to begin to prayerfully help make up the financial gaps for students if they go to a Christian school. No kid’s destiny is worth throwing away to save a few thousand dollars, and I believe the Spirit will help us find a way to give our graduating high schoolers a chance for a Pentecostal education.
At Evangel, if a student wants to come, we have a highly attentive enrollment team that works to close whatever financial gaps are created by the government pulling back on funding.
This generation is already full of hunger for the authentic power of God to be manifested, so why not continue God’s guiding activity in their life by watching Him be their source of funds rather than the government? Nothing is impossible with God, and incoming first-year students who learn that will partner with the Spirit for the rest of their lives.
In essence, a Christian higher education should be looked at as an investment into a student’s successful future. Individuals put significant funds toward meaningful investments, knowing that the return on those investments will be high and rewarding. That is exactly what an Evangel education is — a meaningful investment that will shape the minds and hearts of future world changers.
In 2018, Evangel established a Center for Compassion to train students in compassion ministry and match them with opportunities to serve. The university also offers online and in-person degrees in community relief and development. What is the Kingdom impact of initiatives such as these?
Evangel’s mission is to have a broad reach in our educational approach, equipping students to become servants of God to impact the Church and society globally. The ethos of Evangel was the ethos of the Suffering Servant, who saved you and me and the world.
We believe that students learn by doing. The Center for Compassion provides ways for our students to engage in compassionate service to broken hearts worldwide. The first day freshmen arrive on campus in the fall, they engage in compassion initiatives all over the city.
In my lifetime, suffering has never been more prevalent in the U.S. and the world than it is right now. Whatever calling God is taking them into, every student will need to embody the willingness to give themselves for others like our Lord.
Why do you believe compassion is an essential part of Pentecostal education?
The essence of the Spirit is compassion. The miracle-working Messiah told us that He had to leave so that the Comforter would come. He knew and had experienced suffering in this life and knew we would need compassion and comfort from another realm not to lose heart and to endure to the end.
Compassion has been a hallmark of Evangel and its alumni since the beginning. We have hundreds of alumni engaged in compassion ministries, and many have founded their own compassion organizations.
Evangel has always been all-in on the compassion ethos. It’s exhibited by our new strategic partnership with Convoy of Hope. We have an incredible opportunity to help fulfill the Great Commission by graduating students who have learned strategic skills in a Pentecostal setting, and who enter the global marketplace delivering hope and compassion to hurting people all around them.