An interview with Bryan Born, president, Columbia Bible College
Bryan Born brings a holistic view of Bible education and discipleship to his new position as president of Columbia Bible College , Abbotsford, B.C. In fact, the existence of Columbia’s practical, hands-on internship in Year 3 of a 4-year intercultural studies/mission curriculum was a major factor in his decision to come to CBC in the first place. He served for eight years as a highly regarded professor of mission and community development. Now, he is president of the college.
Born says Jesus trained his disciples by teaching them, sending them out, then bringing them back to talk about their experiences. “That model is broader than just for a mission class,” he says. “When CBC students return from internships, their questions are no longer hypothetical. Including practical experience in a curriculum brings education to life.” Practical Christianity, practical faith are the goals.
He believes foundational principles in education should guide the development of young adults. At its basic level, he believes a Bible college like Columbia must intentionally foster a student’s personal relationship with Christ. “My commitment to Bible education arises from my own experience,” Born says. He speaks of his “ultimate values”:
• It’s critical that a student be in right relationship with Christ, leading a life rooted in Scripture and engaging in mission. (He adds, “For many young adults, one or two years may provide that basis.)
• Born wants to help students “fall in love with the biblical story.”
• CBC tries to foster strong and healthy relationships, so education is about people and real life.
• Columbia works to help develop a student’s sense of vocation: “What is God calling me toward?”
These four components need to be offered to every student, in Born’s view, “because it’s a foundation for life.”
A sense of call
In the broad sense of vocation Born speaks about, there is a sense of call, a passion for how God has formed each person. That call can include formal ministry or secular occupational pursuits, but always in the context of being part of Christ’s body, and being active in a church relationship. The broad view of vocation fuels Born’s enthusiasm for Columbia’s efforts to provide solid bridges to other post-secondary institutions like University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) and Trinity Western University. Already, credits for a number of CBC courses are transferrable, and Born wants to build on that foundation.
There’s a practical reason, as well as a theological reason, for those bridges. “Relevance is a ‘live’ question in Bible education today,” he explains. “In the past, parents would say, ‘A year of Bible school will be good for you.’ But now, parents ask economic questions, too: ‘Will this training also get my kid a job?’ Parents have asked me that question many, many times.”
The old concept of Bible school as “a gap year” before a young person gets on with life no longer fits, but Born believes Bible school can still be exciting and effective in preparing young people for fruitful and productive lives as active Christians.
“We must pay attention to both faith issues and occupational service,” he says. The approach is holistic, and “CBC’s identity as a Bible college will remain, no matter how practical our programs might become.” To develop in students a “love for the church and for the mission of God,” he says, “goes to experiential learning and a strong mentoring component.”
Perhaps influenced by their 12 years in Botswana with MB Mission, neither Born nor his wife Teresa ever looked at their ministry as a 9–5 job. They frequently ministered together, and were glad for the chance. “We don’t turn it on and off,” he says. “It is not God’s intention for his church that Christians just attend for one hour per week.”
Born says one of CBC’s pillars is that students exist and grow in a Christian community because, at the core, Christian life has to do with ministering and contributing in community. “You have to have a strong base to work from.”
He is not troubled by claims that community is impossible in an environment where online learning and distance education are rapidly growing. Working in community is a core value, he says, and working online to acquire information can fulfill another core value. They’re complementary; it’s not “either-or.”
As Born moves into the president’s office, he recognizes what Columbia already does well and what it could improve upon, such as:
• Build awareness in each student (already begun in a new, required first-year course) that they’re part of a church in mission. “It’s critical that students get that.”
• Further develop relationships with UFV and other institutions.
• Connect more intentionally with Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite churches. (Columbia is owned by the B.C. MB conference and Mennonite Church B.C.) “We want to do it deeper and stronger.”
• Find opportunities for synergy, growing students’ options, helping CBC “tell our stories,” and developing the college’s base of technological skills.
• Increasingly use media in worship arts, allowing CBC to be a resource to its supporting churches.
• Improve and build upon student enrolment through better communication and strong programs.
• Continue to develop a formal program in leadership.
• Develop online and distance education initiatives.
About his predecessor, Ron Penner? “We’ve already hired him,” says Born. Penner agreed to continue with CBC on a quarter-time basis, working in development with friends of the college. “Ron’s capacity to work sometimes intimidates me!” Penner’s predecessor Wally Unger also continues to assist in a similar capacity. “Donor relations will always be important,” says Born. “CBC is blessed by the generosity of people who partner with us.”
He opens his Bible to Isaiah 41:10, and reads, “I will strengthen you and help you.” Born is amazed by what God already does in his and Teresa’s lives. He says the size of the new job at times seems overwhelming, but so is the multitude of people God has brought alongside them. “The number of people who say they are praying for me – some who started praying for us as missionaries many years ago, and who still pray – is amazing.”
Over the years, CBC will need new strategies not even imagined, yet. “We need to be listening to God. And we’d better be prepared to move.”
—Barrie McMaster, B.C. correspondent
Born’s public presidential installation and welcome will take place Mar. 10 at Ross Road Community Church, Abbotsford, B.C. See “New president sees hope in young people.“