Connections: Michael J. Beals
Mar. 30, 2014
A Life-Shaping Campus
Dr. Michael J. Beals was inaugurated Feb. 7 as the 10th president of Vanguard University (Assemblies of God) in Costa Mesa, Calif. Beals succeeded Dr. Carol Taylor, who was appointed president-elect and CEO of Evangel University (AG) in Springfield, Mo., in 2013. Beals spoke recently with Scott Harrup, Pentecostal Evangel managing editor, about the key role Vanguard has played in Beals’ journey of faith and his vision to see that influence carried forward among Vanguard’s student body today.
evangel: What circumstances did God use to point you to Christ?
MICHAEL J. BEALS: I was not raised in a Christian home. We attended a local church when I was young, but we discontinued that. We were not a household that talked about faith or the Lord.
My parents loved me very much. They had grown up during the Great Depression and had wonderful personal values, but they really had no life in the Spirit. They raised me with good manners, solid ethical principles, and a strong work ethic, but they never taught me anything that could satisfy the spiritual emptiness I was experiencing.
When I was about 10, I remember my mother recognized a spiritual hunger in me. She said to me, “You’re going to be a minister when you grow up.” But my spiritual hunger and curiosity did not lead me at first to Christianity.
Around 1972, our family moved to the Bay Area in California. In high school I would drive myself to a local church, but they were very liberal and never preached the gospel the entire year I attended. As a result, I got involved with a group of friends who were using drugs and I began to study Native American spirituality and the occult.
In spite of what I was doing, I kept my grades up and managed to get accepted into a biology program at San Diego State University. I quit my drugs in exchange for somewhat-controlled drinking, but I kept pressing further into the occult.
One Christmas, I was going home for the holidays and I saw a book lying in the middle of the street in my hometown. I slowed down to a crawl, reached out my door, and picked it up. It was a Good News for Modern Man Bible.
I had been given that same translation when I went to a Christian day camp as a kid. I took that Bible home and showed it to a friend. He was a backslidden Christian who had grown up attending an Assemblies of God church. Over the next several days, he talked to me about the Bible and what he had learned as a kid in Sunday School.
He wasn’t a Christian at the time, but his parents were. When they heard of my interest, they invited me to Vallejo First Assembly of God. I went to a Sunday morning service, and it was like coming into an oasis in the desert. It was like getting a cold drink of water when you’ve been desperately thirsty. I just drank in the presence of God and the genuineness of those people.
It was January 1977. I was 18 years old, and it was the first time I had been in a church that preached the gospel. I heard the message in the morning, came back in the evening, and they actually had a Jericho March with the congregation walking around the perimeter of the sanctuary. People were just praising God with such exuberance and speaking in tongues.
It might surprise you that none of that frightened me away. I was spiritually hungry, and that was exactly what I was looking for. You know, sometimes in our churches we are so worried about offending people with our Pentecostal expressions of worship. And my testimony is if it’s genuine, that is exactly what will draw in the lost. I prayed the sinner’s prayer with the youth pastor that night and I’ve never looked back.
evangel: What brought you to Vanguard University?
BEALS: When I returned to San Diego, I got connected with First Assembly and Pastor Richard Dresselhaus. Pastor Dresselhaus and Frank Obregon, the college pastor, saw potential in me and discipled me. I was at church multiple days every week, and I soon sensed a call to ministry.
In the fall of 1977, I left San Diego State and transferred to Southern California College of the Assemblies of God, now Vanguard University. In one way or another, I’ve been a part of the Vanguard community ever since. I met my wife, Faith, at Vanguard, and we married right before my junior year. Vanguard is just woven into the fabric of who I am.
evangel: Did your parents ever make a commitment to Christ?
BEALS: I led my mom to the Lord my senior year at Vanguard when my parents’ marriage reached a point of crisis and they temporarily separated. It was at our kitchen table in the place Faith and I were renting that I laid out the plan of salvation, and Mom accepted Christ.
She died of pancreatic cancer about six years later, but I knew God had taken her home. The day before she died, I visited her. We cried together and said to each other, “I’ll see you in heaven.”
My father has not made that decision yet, but I have a confidence in my heart that he will yield his life to Christ before he passes. I just believe the Lord has a plan for that. Dad has always been supportive of my ministry.
evangel: What ministries did you pursue prior to your selection as Vanguard’s 10th president?
BEALS: I was first licensed with the Assemblies of God Southern California District in 1981 and started out as a youth pastor that year. I was an education pastor and a senior pastor in other churches over the years. I was a senior pastor for 23 years before I became dean at Vanguard in 2012.
But while I pastored, I was always involved here at the college. After getting my bachelor’s at SCC/Vanguard in 1981 in psychology and religion, I earned my master’s in church leadership here in 1989. While pursuing my master’s in biblical studies and Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, I was also teaching at Vanguard.
evangel: You have pursued ministry in other countries. Talk about those projects.
BEALS: I always considered myself to be a missions pastor and had many opportunities to travel internationally and teach people to develop in their own ministry.
A trip to Namibia with a church team stands out in my memory because I was able to partner with Dwight and Heather McConnell. Dwight was my roommate at SCC, and Dwight and Heather have been longtime friends to Faith and me. It was such a powerful experience to see their ministry and to partner with them and see God at work in a region of such great need.
evangel: What do you see as the distinctive Vanguard offers to students?
BEALS: For 93 years, the school has maintained its vision as a place to train people to serve the Lord. Whether as a designated Bible college or as a more diverse college and university, that mission has remained central. And Vanguard continues to educate students for ministry — whether in a church or a career — in a context that is unapologetically Pentecostal.
Ultimately, Vanguard’s distinctive is this view that we are preparing people for ministry in all vocations within a Spirit-empowered frame of reference.
evangel: Any other thoughts?
BEALS: God is the author of creativity, and we constantly seek His wisdom in developing creative avenues to train men and women to face the ministry challenges of this century. And I’m thrilled to be leading the university I love so much and that has shaped who I am.
I always sensed the presence of God here, and I will always treasure the faculty and staff members who planted seeds in my life and cultivated them not just in classes but through their personal friendship and involvement. That mentoring continues even in my current position in this community of people who love Jesus and want to see the life of the Spirit released in every student.