Here’s a Q & A post to help you get to know Gil Dueck, who began his new role as Columbia’s Academic Dean on August 1. As Academic Dean, Gil oversees the quality of Columbia’s teaching, leads and mentors our faculty, guides the development of new academic programs, and forges relationships with other academic institutions.
Fill us in on your background. (Where did you grow up? What have been your life/career/ministry highlights to this point?)
I was born and raised in southern Alberta and consider myself a child of the Mennonite Brethren church since I’ve travelled through most of the discipleship and leadership programs the church offered (youth group, camp, Bible college, seminary). I spent 14 years in a variety of roles at Bethany College and see the teaching, mentoring, and leadership development work in that setting as the highlight of my ministry career thus far. I have served in a variety of local church and denominational leadership roles that have produced a deep love for the local church and a desire to see it thrive. I had the chance to pursue my PhD in an international setting, first in Prague and later in Amsterdam and loved the opportunity to collaborate with leaders from around the world and to get a glimpse of different approaches to discipleship, church leadership and mission. My journey with Jesus taken the shape of a Christian “inheritance” becoming a Christian “identity” and this process has been deeply formed by the opportunities I’ve had to connect with wise leaders, to ask big questions and to embrace unexpected challenges – and many of these trajectories began at Bible college.
You recently completed your PhD in theology. What was your thesis about?
My research focused on the question of faith development among young adults. This involved mapping some of the key shifts in the contemporary Western experience of coming-of-age as well as some key ways of taking about how faith matures over time. I argue that we need a renewed theology of transformation that accounts for both incremental growth toward Christian maturity as well as decisive encounters with the Spirit of God. Ultimately I suggest that all change, however large or small, dramatic or ordinary, takes the form of new life emerging from death. If we use this lens of transformation, we will come to see our lives as parables of the death and resurrection of Christ.
What drew you to the role of Academic Dean at Columbia? What excites you about being here?
My life has been shaped profoundly by my experience at Bible college, both as a student and later as a faculty member and leader. So part of what draws me to Columbia is a deep personal appreciation for the kind of impact Bible college can have. My knowledge of Columbia is mostly second-hand but a number of friends and family members have attended over the years and my impression of the college has been overwhelmingly positive. What excites me about the role of Academic Dean is the chance to contribute to a mission that I believe is necessary and urgent for 21st century church life. I’m excited to join a gifted and committed faculty and Lead Team in shaping an academic program that strengthens the witness of the church, that prepares leaders and servants, and that connects meaningfully with the questions and experience of students.
Why are you so passionate about bible college education for young adults?
Early adulthood is an utterly unique stage of life and especially so in the early 21st century. Young adults encounter so much open-ended possibility as they face the future; there is something about this stage that produces a new sense of urgency and responsibility for the shape that their lives will take. And yet it is also an unsettled time that involves sorting through all kinds of mixed and sometimes misleading messages. In the midst of all of this, I believe God wants to speak and I am convinced that Columbia creates great conditions to listen. I believe there are few other contexts where it is possible to do the kind of formation that is possible within a community that is gathered around a common devotion to Jesus Christ and seeking to learn, worship, serve and grow together. None of these functions are unique to Columbia, of course, but it is the integration that is vital at a very fragmented and distracted cultural moment.
What’s one book you would bring on a year-long retreat? (Other than the Bible.)
Gordon Smith’s Courage and Calling. I have returned this book often because it offers simple but profound truths that I need to be reminded of regularly. Understanding God’s calling means taking seriously the life and circumstances that we’ve been given (not the life and circumstances we wish we had). God’s calling includes us – our particular gifts, experiences, perspectives and ways of seeing and acting within the world. We bring glory to God when we offer our these selves back to him and open ourselves to the transformation he wants to work within us. I see Smith as offering a vision of personal vocation that is both honest and hopeful – it frees us from the need to measure ourselves against and imitate others (which a profound temptation in a digital age!) while avoiding some of the pitfalls of the authenticity narrative that is so pervasive in the world around us. I am challenged by Smith’s call to courage and resilience – these are virtues I believe are desperately needed in a materially comfortable yet anxious culture.
Tell us about your family.
My wife Shelley and I just celebrated our 18th anniversary in June. We like to joke that we were an “arranged marriage” since we were set up by her sister and our now brother-in-law (both Columbia alumni). Shelley has worked in a variety of roles with people with physical and intellectual disabilities and generally has an amazing openness to people in all areas of her life. We have three daughters: Julie (14), Lana (12) and Kendal (9) who would all be a bit grumpy with me if I said too much more about them without their authorization. They are a gift from God and we are blessed to have the joy of raising them.
Hobbies? Sports? I love to play hockey and have done so every year but one since I was 7 years old. I developed a love for soccer later in life but am only able to watch given the frailties of middle age. I have loved coaching youth sports. I’m an avid reader. I love good coffee and conversation (and can even endure bad coffee if the conversation compensates J). I like to be outside and look forward to getting to know this beautiful part of the world with my family.