I’m in San Antonio this week for the Collegiate Conference. It’s mostly normal conference stuff: musical worship, biblical teaching, business meetings, workshops, and so on. But one thing that’s particularly special about this week is that it includes a retirement celebration. Greg Van Nada has made it to a key transition point in a long career in collegiate missions. Along with his wife, Christine, Greg provided leadership for the network for many years. And he’s influenced me, personally, too. So it was an honor to be a part of this week’s retirement celebrations.
My Experience with Greg Van Nada
My first clear memory of Greg Van Nada comes from 1996. I was in my sophomore year at Bowling Green State University. Brand-new to student-leadership of the men’s Life Group meeting in Offenhauer Towers. And our church in Bowling Green was a church in crisis. We’d just sent 75 percent of our Staff to Columbus, so the staff team was a skeleton crew. I was barely qualified to be a student-leader, and yet I was give all kinds of opportunities to help. (So I know how desperate things must have been!).
Anyway: Greg traveled to and from Bowling Green on a somewhat regular basis that year. And what’s funny is that I was rarely in the same room with Greg when he came to Bowling Green. Still, I somehow knew that he was providing pastoral care for the staff that remained. Somehow, second-hand, I learned that year about the priority of personal soul care… marriage over ministry… and organic approaches to church leadership that allow a person to minister within one’s means…
For instance, I heard about a revolutionary approach to preparing for a sermon from Greg. He suggested simply having a quiet time with the same section of scripture every day for a week. And then, at the end of that week, the person could just share from the heart about what was gleaned in those times of sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Formative stuff at a formative stage in my life!
Things like these have become life-long lessons that have stuck with me as “Greg Van Nada Lessons.” Even though I didn’t (initially) hear the words from Greg’s mouth directly. One time, I did directly hear Greg use the phrase, “I am a man under authority.” Even though he was coming into Bowling Green as an organizational higher-up, he made a point to model the truth that no matter how much a person might “rise the ranks,” a leader needs checks and balances. Authority is a blessing from God. And Greg showed us how to do that, through both his words and his actions. He’s provided a template for servant-leadership, team leadership. And this model has seeped its way into the ethos of so many individuals and teams in our network.
Over the subsequent twenty-six years since my sophomore year at BGSU, I’ve had all kinds of different opportunities to observe the impact that the Van Nadas have had in their ministry: from afar and from up-close. They’ve been a blessing to my life, as well as countless other individuals. They’ve helped to lay a foundation of righteousness for my family, as well as countless other families. And they’ve shaped the way we do ministry in H2O Church at Kent State University, as well as other churches and networks around the world.
We might not even know that we’re learning and living out “Greg Van Nada Lessons” (and “Christine Van Nada Lessons,” too). But it’s happening every day in our local ministry contexts. I feel quite confident that we are who we are — in large part — thanks to the legacy of Greg Van Nada. And Christine Van Nada.
As we come to the end of 2022, Greg Van Nada is retiring from a career in Collegiate ministry. And as crazy as it might sound to say it (considering how long as I’ve been involved in these relational circles), I believe that Greg may be the first person I’ve ever gotten to witness in the act of a relatively “regular” retirement in his 60s or 70s. A transition that’s not coming out of crisis or conflict, but out of a humble recognition of the need for rest and relinquishing control to others.
Even over the course of the last year, since I joined the Board of Trustees for the Collegiate Church Network, I’ve heard echoes of his recognition of that essential truth I started hearing all the way back in 1996: Greg Van Nada is “a man under authority” (again, even without hearing it from him directly). His roles have shifted dramatically over the last few years. In ways that have required humility and flexibility and trust in the Lord. But he has worked with the Board and the Executive Team to transition as smoothly as possible.
And so, once again, he’s leaving an example.
I kind of want to say that Greg Van Nada is a “unicorn” in our line of work. That he’s a magical, mythical creature which only comes along once in a lifetime (because that’s kind of how it feels). But actually, I hope — and I believe — that he’s providing us with another “Greg Van Nada Lesson” in this transition, in this step into retirement. So, I pray that many of us will follow in his footsteps in the years to come.