Conversation: Robert H. Spence
For 34 years, Dr. Robert H. Spence has served as president
of Evangel University in Springfield, Mo. The Assemblies of God university of arts, sciences and professions celebrated its
50th anniversary in 2005. Beyond his service for Evangel, Spence has maintained
regular involvement in an array of community government boards and service
institutions. He has been recognized as an Outstanding Missourian on the floor
of the Missouri House of Representatives and as the 2004 Springfieldian of the
Year. He spoke recently with Today’s Pentecostal Evangel Editor Ken Horn.
TPE: For readers unfamiliar with Evangel University, what is
distinctive about the institution?
SPENCE: Evangel was established to serve that large segment
of our church population who sense the Lord directing them into a business
career or profession so often described as “secular.” About 85 percent of our
students are majoring in such fields. About 15 percent of our students are
majoring in biblical studies, theology or missions, and those are very vital
parts of our program. Overall, our institutional mission is to prepare people
to be change agents for the kingdom of God wherever the Lord might lead them,
to be instruments in God’s hands. From our beginnings in 1955 with an initial
enrollment of 93, we have enjoyed the Lord’s blessings not only in enrollment
and student growth, but also in seeing what had been an Army hospital during
World War II transformed into a very comprehensive university campus.
TPE: How has the campus been expanded?
SPENCE: In the last decade, we have built two major academic
buildings, a new fine arts center, a student union and
student activities center. We have a new administration building under
construction. The Lord has blessed us in our efforts to raise funds, and alumni
and supporting friends have responded. In the last 15 years, we have seen more
than $53 million contributed to help transform the Evangel campus, underwrite
our mission and help us fulfill God’s plan for us.
TPE: How would you explain the Evangel experience?
SPENCE: You can learn a lot about the university by visiting
our Web site, www.evangel.edu. Our students come from literally all parts of
our nation. It would be unusual for us not to have students from every state in
the union. We also draw a considerable number of international students.
We’re serious about being a Christian university. We want
whatever is taking place on campus to fulfill Paul’s admonition to do it to the
glory of God, whether it be our athletic program, our
fine arts program or our academic program. Whatever we’re doing, we want it
first and foremost to be something that would bring honor to Christ our Savior.
Our full-time faculty must be people who not only know Christ as their Savior,
but also have experienced the infilling of the Holy Spirit and embrace our
Pentecostal position and our message.
TPE: Despite the demands of your leadership role at the
university, you have always made time to serve the larger Springfield and
Greene County communities. A lot of Christians are afraid of community
involvement because of potential conflict, but I have a sense you have been
able to make an impact and not compromise your values.
SPENCE: When I came to Springfield, I had an excellent role
model. General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman was quite involved in the
community, and he encouraged me in that way. He opened some doors, made some
introductions and connected me with some people. He didn’t force the issue. He
simply provided that opportunity.
I had been in Springfield only a short time before I was
asked to serve on the Greene County Board for the Developmentally Disabled, an
agency that serves a special needs group here in our community and they have a
campus that adjoins ours, so there was some affinity there, and we also had
students who served internships there. I had the opportunity to serve on our
municipal City Utilities Board, and I had the distinction of serving as
chairman of that board longer than anyone. I’ve served on the Chamber of
Commerce Board at various times and was elected chairman of that board. And
I’ve served in the county in some areas and presently serve on our local
At no point have I felt I’ve had to sacrifice my integrity.
When pushed to a point of making a choice, I simply moved forward with the
declaration of doing the right thing for the right reason and hopefully at the
right time. I’ve been blessed to be in a community that respects morality, that
respects honesty, that looks for integrity in
leadership. I have never felt it appropriate to use my place at a board table
as a pulpit. There have been times in discussions where I have expressed my
opinions, but I have never couched them in terms of church doctrine.
I want whatever I do to be based strictly on personal
relationships. I’ve had people serve on boards with me who are not a part of
any church communion, who have approached me and wanted to engage in
conversation. They are often people who have had a bad experience somewhere,
but they want to talk about spiritual things. They want to deal with the real
issues of life, and I’m extremely thankful for opportunities through the years
to work with people like that and talk to them about things of eternal value.
TPE: You’ve had many opportunities to offer prayer at
official functions. Have you experienced any negative feedback?
SPENCE: I have people comment sometimes and kid me a bit,
but I take the opportunity to give a thoughtful explanation. For example, in
case someone is just irritated by my using a phrase such as “in the Name of
Jesus.” Let’s look at what we’re really talking about. Then you will have
people respond by saying, “Oh, I see what you mean.” I have sought to identify
some of those points that sometimes are argumentative and tried to approach
those things in a way to alleviate antagonism.
TPE: What kind of suggestions would you have for Christians
who would want to get involved in civic affairs?
SPENCE: I have tried to provide a role model, an example to
students at Evangel, of ways you can make a difference in a community. There
are things you can do that can help you, as a follower of Jesus Christ,
demonstrate to the world that a believer in Christ can be a solid citizen, can
be someone who makes a contribution to the community.
One of the most accessible entry points is a service club
— Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Exchange, for example. I wouldn’t make that a
blanket recommendation, however; there has to be an evaluation. I’ve been a
member of Rotary for 34 years. I’ve had occasion to attend Rotary Clubs all
over the world, with opportunities to witness in some of those places.
Every Christian has an opportunity to look at his community
and ask himself, “Where is an opportunity I can respond to or make a
contribution to?” There are critical needs everywhere. I would look for an
opportunity to get acquainted with the leadership of the community — your
city, county, justice system and business community.
Springfield is blessed with such a strong Christian
community, and we have so many different faith groups. For many years I’ve
served as the chairman of Springfield’s Day of Prayer Observance. Contributions
from the business community make it possible for us to invite
every government employee in this city — whether it’s federal, state,
county or city. We involve a cross-section of leaders in the community
as a part of our praying leadership, and we will have 1,000-1,100 people come
together for that every year. That one involvement has opened doors. I just
stand amazed at what that event has opened up.
E-mail your comments to tpe.ag.org.