“A Sending Agency”: Covenant College Majors in Faith and Intellectual Formation
By Megan Fowler
Brad Voyles

In October the Covenant College board of trustees announced that it had voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Brad Voyles as the next president of Covenant College. Voyles has served Covenant College in different capacities since 2005, most recently as interim president. He attends Chattanooga Valley Presbyterian Church where he has served as a ruling elder since 2008.

ByFaith spoke with Voyles about what makes the PCA’s denominational college unique, the challenges to Christian higher education, and what excites him about life on Lookout Mountain.

You earned a M.Div. degree from Reformed Theological Seminary and considered becoming a college pastor. Tell us about your journey from pastoral ministry to college administration?

I had an EPC pastor who was an RTS grad while I was in grad school working on my master’s degree in educational administration and serving as a resident director. That’s where I was introduced to Reformed theology. The Intervarsity grad school leaders were Reformed, so they handed me [James] Boice’s book “Foundations of the Christian Faith.” I had a lot of conversations and wrestling and prayer as I was reading that book.

It was during this time that I was encouraged by my pastor to consider seminary; we’d had conversations about what ministry as a college pastor could look like. I had never heard of RUF until I got to seminary, but the idea of ministry to college students appealed to me. 

While I was in my first year of seminary I learned about Belhaven College [now Belhaven University] and heard they had a resident director opening. I was hired and then had the opportunity to advance and gain more responsibility. Within a couple of years, I was dean of student life, overseeing resident directors, health and counseling, discipline, and student services. I was there a total of seven years.

A friend let me know about the Covenant job [as dean of students]. I was not real familiar with Covenant College, but I applied after learning more about the distinctive mission and location.

It was a blending of multiple passions, in a sense. I enjoyed college and the formative season of life it can be. There is a servant leadership element to administration as evidenced by its Latin root “to serve,” and I feel that I am exercising all those gifts and passions in higher ed and administration. 

You have worked at Covenant College since 2005. What has kept you at Covenant all these years?

For me, it comes down to the mission. When I look at the mission of Covenant, embedded in that mission are the words “We offer.” That word offer has always stuck with me. We are ultimately a sending agency, and we have the opportunity to form students, equip them, and send them out as signposts for the Kingdom. 

There is eternal impact and generation-to-generation impact. These students are the future of the church. We get to explore and express the preeminence of Jesus Christ in the classroom and outside the classroom. 

We are training our students to walk the hardest path, biblical truth with a biblical approach – Christ’s Word communicated with Christ’s heart.

I always hoped my children would choose to attend here (we never forced it on them). And now we have one who has graduated, one who is a senior, and one who has started her freshman year. My wife and I have watched year after year how they have been shaped by the curriculum, the co-curriculum, and the community. One small way you can tell your kids are maturing in their faith is by listening to their prayers.

What we’re pursuing here at Covenant isn’t just the transfer of information, but transformation. Discipleship is what you bump up against the most. Here, you’re bumping up against other believers: the faculty and staff, the chapel program, the community standards, programming that is fun but formative. Students are bumping up against fellow believers and being formed, sometimes unconsciously, by those things. We want what happens here to last, to be durable. 

What are the college’s challenges right now?

With all of higher education there is a value proposition going through people’s minds right now. Is college worth it? Many people want the credential, and they want it cheap, quick, and easy. That is not how we operate. If you are interested in shaping a person — shaping their heart and loves in a way that lasts — that takes time. So much of what we do here is person to person. 

One of the most important things I do is hire. We want to hire people who are qualified to teach at the highest levels, but they teach here because they love Jesus, they love the Bible, and they believe it is true and speaks to all of life. 

Covenant is more than a Christian college. It is a coherent, confessional, Christian college, and that coherence is not an accident. We hire faculty who have to annually subscribe to the inerrancy of Scripture, the Westminster Standards, and our Statement of Community Beliefs. As students move from course to course and class to class, the coherence is clear in the creation-fall-redemption-consummation framework from which our professors teach.

People can go to a college and just get that degree, but with our formative project you can come out knowing your discipline with a biblical framework that will prepare you for every job you’ll ever have. 

Another societal challenge we are dealing with is the distrust of institutions such as the press, politics, higher education, the church, etc.  And we are a college owned by the church, so that’s a double-whammy. We’re also aware of the challenges of government funding and religious freedom. We are grateful to be the college of the PCA as we benefit greatly from the guardrails that provide for mission faithfulness as well as mission protection.  

Another challenge is preparing our students for an increasingly polarized society where there is little room for nuance. We are training our students to walk the hardest path — biblical truth with a biblical approach — Christ’s Word communicated with Christ’s heart. 

Our student population is about 48% private school, 24% public school, 28% homeschool. We intentionally mix students of all ages in our campus housing. There’s no freshman hall or athlete hall. We are almost making it so you can’t group yourself by certain identity markers. Our children are being discipled and catechized by the culture and what they bump up against. They are watching the adults in their lives display a lack of nuance, lack of civility. 

We are trying to show that if we truly believe the Scriptures are infallible, that Jesus is the one in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, we are free to explore every area of knowledge. There are no problems we cannot investigate, no questions we cannot ask, no answers we need fear. We can boldly step into that, but with Christ’s heart. Hopefully we are modeling that with humility. 

And the college enrollment cliff is coming. There are fewer students, the same number of colleges, and everyone is fighting for less students. Colleges like Covenant that know who they are and can clearly communicate that are situated well. 

What excites you most about leading Covenant College in this capacity?

I look at who the Lord has assembled on this mountaintop, it’s just an astounding collection of people whom he has called. People who are expertly gifted but love the Lord and his church and are energized by what is happening here. There is tremendous potential to unleash here, even compared to other Christian colleges, if we continue to remain true to our mission. We seek to mature our students in three ways: their identity in Christ, biblical frame of reference, and service that is Christ-like.

We are a sending agency, and we send them to go, to serve, and to give themselves away as gap closers in service to the church and the furtherance of the Lord’s work in making all things new.  That is what has me excited to lead for however long it is, to maintain mission faithfulness.

Our professors are teaching Sunday school, having students into their homes, leading Bible studies. And that makes for a very special formula. 

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