Conversation: Byron Klaus
'It's Not About Degrees'
Byron Klaus was named president of Assemblies of God
Theological Seminary in 1999, after 20 years on the faculty and administration
at Vanguard University of Southern California. Previous to serving at Vanguard,
Klaus served local churches in California, Texas and Illinois. While at
Vanguard University, Klaus also served as vice president for Latin America
Child Care (LACC), a child development ministry serving more than 80,000
children in 21 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. His commitment to
leadership development in growing churches around the world has taken him to
preach and to develop leaders in more than 50 nations in the world. Klaus spoke
recently with Evangel Editor Ken Horn and Bob Cook, executive vice president
for Assemblies of God Higher Education.
evangel: AGTS is the only Assemblies of God seminary. Talk a
little bit about the value of a graduate theological education.
KLAUS: I would be the first person to say that God calls a
variety of people, and education at a graduate level is not necessarily as
important for everyone. But I do believe, in order to reach some segments of
our society, it requires people who can speak a language and deal with issues
in a thoroughgoing manner developed through training at a seminary.
evangel: How would you summarize the role of seminary
KLAUS: It’s not about adding degrees to your name or a
matter of accumulating more information. We live in a world where we have
access to all kinds of new experiences. We have access to increasing mountains
I think the question for Pentecostal leaders is straight
from Acts 2: “What meaneth this?” That’s what graduate theological education
considers. It’s about looking at the world and being able to see it through
The issue of biblical authority is not just the doctrinal
statement that we believe God’s Word is inerrant. It’s about making God’s Word
our reference point for evaluating what is happening in this world, because it
is God’s perspective on the events of the world. That is a crucial dimension of
theological education — that dimension of biblical, theological,
God-thinking as central to our leadership tasks.
evangel: Talk about the degrees offered and the people who
might benefit from the seminary’s programs.
KLAUS: We have three doctoral programs. The first was our
doctor of ministry; it began about 12 years ago. We’ve graduated about 125
people in that area. To be in the doctor of ministry program you have to be in
ministry; it’s an in-service degree. And we believe we have provided the kind
of leadership development for a variety of settings — pastorates,
parachurch organizations, among military and institutional chaplains and
certainly among missionaries.
As the doctor of ministry program began to develop, we
observed we had those students who really wanted to focus on missiology. Three
years ago we began the doctor of missiology program. At that point our accrediting
agency encouraged us to morph that sooner than later into a Ph.D. This past
June began our first cohort of Ph.D. students in intercultural studies.
We believe there are expressions of the gospel that need to
be demonstrated to those who have been left by the wayside, expressions of the
Kingdom our missionaries can tangibly and skillfully demonstrate.
We have long had a variety of master’s degrees, and it’s
really interesting to see the variety of students who are coming. Our average
age at the master’s level is about 32, and that’s actually come down in the
last couple of years because we have a growing number of people who are coming
straight from state universities. We’ve worked very heavily with Chi Alpha to
be able to bring these young, vibrant people whose faith has been forged in
hostile atmospheres and whose interests really focus on church planting.
evangel: What is the gender mix at the seminary?
KLAUS: About 30 percent of our students are women. I want to
see that grow. The seminary has always expressed a strong belief and
affirmation of women in ministry. We’ve just begun a new program with women in
leadership at the D.Min. and also at the master’s level. That has been very
popular, and soon we will start our second cohort.
evangel: AGTS is an Assemblies of God seminary, but students
come from many denominations and backgrounds.
KLAUS: About 85 percent of our students are from an
Assemblies background, and that’s understandable given our name and our primary
support base. But we have other historic Pentecostal denominations — the
Pentecostal Church of God, Cleveland, Tenn., for example — whose students
feel at home on our campus. They sense the freedom of the Spirit, they sense
the openness to God’s moving, and they feel welcomed at the seminary. Numbers
of others, such as United Methodists and Baptists, have felt welcomed. At the
same time, we are who we are. So it’s been a wonderful opportunity.
evangel: You recently had a significant grant given to the
KLAUS: About a year ago we applied for a planning grant from
the Kern Family Foundation in Waukesha, Wis. They have historically funded
evangelical schools on a variety of issues. This particular project focused on
innovation in graduate theological education. About 100 seminaries in the U.S.
applied, and we were one of five chosen to receive a $500,000 grant over the
next two years. This grant is going to allow us to think very creatively about
using technology as a delivery system for our programs and restructuring our
seminary to have greater mobility.
evangel: What is the spiritual atmosphere like on campus?
KLAUS: Let me give you an example. One week last year we
invited a pastor from Toledo, Ohio, to share in our classes and our chapels.
One day that week we had an extraordinary move of the Spirit in chapel as our
guest and his wife were leading. When we left chapel, we transitioned to our
entry hall where more than 200 people from the community were coming to hear a
nuclear scientist talk about faith and science. The audience included
physicists and nonscientists, atheists and believers, our students and visitors
from Missouri State and Drury universities who had come to hear this prominent
scientist. I couldn’t understand half the things he was saying, but he was
welcomed joyfully by the people who could understand him. To hear him weave
together his faith in Christ and his scientific expertise — after having
just enjoyed a powerful chapel service — that’s the kind of atmosphere we
want to nurture.
evangel: You continue to promote servant leadership at the
seminary. Could you comment on that?
KLAUS: If you walk just down the hall to our chapel, you’ll
see it’s named after Brother William Seymour. I often remind students that they
are in the William Seymour Chapel, named after a man who would never have
thought that anything would be attached to his name. He was a simple man, a son
of slaves, who was just hungry for God and who became central to this worldwide
Pentecostal Movement. Here we are in this chapel that honors his openness to
the Spirit. That is, to me, a great picture of what we want to be.
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