Mark Young shares his history with WorldVenture missions, where God has lead him since and the vision for Denver Seminary, stating, "At Denver Seminary, you have to come face-to-face with the Real You, in the context of Real Relationships, so that you can minister in the Real World." ~Mark Young
HANS FINZEL: Hi, this is Hans Finzel, president of World Venture based here in Littleton, Colorado. Our website is WorldVenture.com. Welcome to our radio program, Missions on the Frontline. This radio program is part of our initiative to make you aware of new and exciting ways you can be involved in missions. WorldVenture supports over 1,000 mission projects and missionaries in 65 countries. We’ve been living out the Good News of Jesus Christ around the world since 1943. I’m so thrilled today to have in my studio here Dr. Mark Young who is the new president of Denver Seminary. Welcome Mark!
MARK YOUNG: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
HANS FINZEL: It’s great to have you here in Colorado and I want to just begin by talking about your background. You were actually with WorldVenture as a missionary.
MARK YOUNG: That’s right.
HANS FINZEL: In your first career.
MARK YOUNG: That’s correct. We were appointed with what was then CBFMS (WorldVenture) in 1981. We had been married a total of six weeks when we were appointed as missionaries, and then in 1982 we went with WorldVenture to Vienna, Austria.
HANS FINZEL: And that’s where you and I first met. You landed and my wife, Donna, and I hosted you in Vienna, took care of you in those early months, found you a place to live. By the way, why did you and Priscilla decide to pursue a career in missions when you were newly married?
MARK YOUNG: You know in 1979 I was between my second and third year of seminary. And frankly, I didn’t have any sense of missions; any sense of what God was doing in the world. But really, almost on a lark, a classmate asked if I would be interested in going to Poland to work with Polish youth in summer camps. So kind of as an adventure more than anything else I went that summer; spent six weeks in the Polish mountains – southern mountains of Poland – and really exposed that my motives and my seminary training were more selfish than focused on the needs around the world for sure. So I came back to seminary convinced that God would have us go back to that part of the world and be involved in some type of training ministry. I didn’t know my wife at the time but when we met our first conversation was about both of us having a real heart to pursue God’s will in ministry around the world.
HANS FINZEL: Of course she grew up as a missionary kid in Africa.
MARK YOUNG: That’s right.
HANS FINZEL: So she had a real passion for missions.
MARK YOUNG: Yeah, it’s a good thing we hadn’t met before that because she had told the Lord she wouldn’t date anyone who didn’t have a passion for the work of the Lord around the world. So once we became a couple she was willing to turn north out of Africa and move with me to Austria and we got married and moved right ahead with WorldVenture at that point.
HANS FINZEL: You and I have both had a really exciting career in the ‘80’s. That’s getting to be longer and longer ago. More and more people listening are like, “The ‘80’s?”
MARK YOUNG: Exactly.
HANS FINZEL: I wasn’t alive in the ‘80’s but we were in Vienna and in eastern Europe during the fall of communism and those exciting days of helping the struggling, persecuted church. When communism fell in the late ‘80’s, you and Priscilla moved into Poland. Just tell the listeners a little bit about the exciting ministry you did there in Poland.
MARK YOUNG: Sure. We were actually living in Poland before those changes.
HANS FINZEL: That’s right. You moved before the fall.
MARK YOUNG: That’s right. That’s right.
HANS FINZEL: What year did you move in?
MARK YOUNG: We moved in the spring of ’88.
HANS FINZEL: Okay.
MARK YOUNG: What a lot of people, I think, forgot along the way with all the excitement of the Berlin wall that it was actually in Poland that the first democratic elections occurred in 1989. I remember in June of 1989 there was all this social unrest and people were demanding these elections, we were living in Krakow, Poland at the time. Gorbachev positioned four armored divisions along Poland’s eastern border. So the question was, “Is he going to intervene in Poland like the Soviets had done in Prague in ’67 and Budapest in ’66?” It was pretty tense.
HANS FINZEL: I remember. Yeah, yeah.
MARK YOUNG: So we had folks tell us that we need to get out of there and we were listening to the BBC to kind of keep abreast because Polish media was censored. And I remember with Priscilla, just looking at one another and saying, “If this is where God’s called us, this is where we need to be.” So we obviously stayed through that summer. Gorbachev did not bring the troops in and by August of that year Poland had a freely elected government; the first in all of Eastern Europe. I think that was really the first domino that then began to fall – Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany and then finally Romania.
HANS FINZEL: That was so cool, wasn’t it?
MARK YOUNG: It was. Amazing!
HANS FINZEL: And you were involved in really starting up a seminary there, correct?
MARK YOUNG: That’s right.
HANS FINZEL: Tell us about that.
MARK YOUNG: You know, of course, when we went and the situation was under communist rule we had to think of a seminary in a little different format so it was more of a quiet operation; more personal. More informal, let’s put it that way. But as the situation changed we were able to actually start an institution with a profile. It was based in a local church because our philosophy was that training needed to occur in the context of ministry. We opened the door in September of 1990. We had 15 students. To be honest with you Hans, it may be the most exhilarating moment in ministry that I’ve ever experienced with Priscilla. It’s like living out our dreams, you know? A great blessing, frankly, is now that the president of the seminary in Poland and two or three of the faculty were in that first class.
HANS FINZEL: That is so great. And what’s the name of this seminary?
MARK YOUNG: It’s called the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Poland.
HANS FINZEL: Yeah.
MARK YOUNG: It’s the first evangelical school in the region to have state accreditation.
HANS FINZEL: That’s fantastic. That was a wonderful experience in helping the emerging church in Eastern Europe. Then God led you to Dallas Seminary before you just started your new assignment here at Denver Seminary. At DTS you were involved as a mission’s prof.
MARK YOUNG: That’s right. And we really felt that my first and primary calling is in the classroom and so while we started the seminary in Poland and we taught a little bit of everything, I wanted to get back into a ministry that was primarily teaching. Beyond that, frankly, we needed to see that seminary take on more and more of a Polish profile and as long as I was there it was difficult to see that emerge. So we came back to Dallas and I had 14 years in the classroom. I love the classroom.
HANS FINZEL: What do you love about it?
MARK YOUNG: I like those moments when you see students move beyond the limitations that have been set in place. Either by themselves or by the culture that they are part of, or their previous education, or their church (at times) and begin to think in ways that truly set them free than to take paths of thinking that they’ve never considered possible before. A lot of that had to do with missions. So we would teach this introduction to mission’s class and people would come because they had to take it.
HANS FINZEL: Required, yeah.
MARK YOUNG: Yeah. And we’d just say, “Look, this is the message of the Bible. That God is going to bring people to Himself from every tribe, and every tongue, and every nation.” Ding! It’s like the first time they had ever heard that. And then you show them through all of scripture that this has always been God’s plan. It is what the Bible is about and they would begin to embrace, then, mission as a lifestyle. Mission as a way of seeing God in scripture and it revolutionizes their life. There’s no question about it.
HANS FINZEL: So, really, what kind of happened to you when you were still a student at Dallas Seminary and you went overseas on a mission trip… And by the way, I love vision trips because exactly what you described. I think it’s the way God does modern Macedonian calls. He calls people into missions when they go on vision trips. So now these 14 years you were at the seminary you were really trying to expand the horizons of your students, right?
MARK YOUNG: That’s so true. I think that trip opened my eyes to need. There was no question that I saw need that I had never experienced before. And hunger; hunger for scripture. I was a youth minister during that time in the state where I was studying. It was amazing what we had to do just to get kids to come.
HANS FINZEL: Yeah, right, yeah.
MARK YOUNG: To hear the word of God, you know?
HANS FINZEL: Yeah.
MARK YOUNG: So then you go there and you have people who are sacrificing to come because they are hungry to hear what the scriptures have to say. It was a no brainer for me. But then, Hans, what happened to me is, this whole sense of need was just kind of tacked on to the way I read scripture and the way I understood who God was. It wasn’t really, until later in the ‘90’s that I began to put together what I would say is a true mission paradigm. Where I began to see God as a missionary God. I began to see the scripture as the story of God’s mission in the world, and that’s what became so revolutionary in the teaching at Dallas when I was on faculty there.
HANS FINZEL: I want to ask you a question and it’s sort of a philosophical question. Do you believe that need constitutes a call?
MARK YOUNG: That’s a great question. I think need is definitely a part of a call.
HANS FINZEL: Because it sounds like… I know that’s what happened to me.
MARK YOUNG: Yeah.
HANS FINZEL: I did the same thing. Donna and I went on a vision trip and spent a week in Romania and we thought, “These are living sponges that are so desperate to hear the word of God and in America you had to beg people to come to meetings to listen to the Bible, right?”
MARK YOUNG: The same experience.
HANS FINZEL: So, yeah, how can people know if they should maybe get involved in missions, people that are listening?
MARK YOUNG: You know I think making yourself aware and personally experience the type of depravation; the type of need; the type of ignorance and the type of evil that we see in the world often opens your eyes to how God could use you in ways that you never dreamed possible. And I definitely think that’s a part of the way the Spirit then leads us to further involvement. So I would encourage anyone to take that opportunity to see the world as it really is and then see yourself in light of that world in a way you’ve never seen yourself, and then, ultimately, to see God in a way you’ve never seen God.
HANS FINZEL: If your church happens to sponsor mission teams or mission short-term trips, sign up for one of those. You know, they’re not just for high school kids. And I love to see adults – young adults, adults of any age. You know we’re seeing adults in their 50’s and 60’s being called into missions. In case you’re just joining us, this is Hans Finzel and you’re listening to Missions on the Frontline and I have as my guest today, Dr. Mark Young, who is the president of Denver Seminary. And I just want to put in a note about your website, if you are interested in learning more about Denver Seminary, that’s DenverSeminary.edu. It’s a great seminary here in Colorado and so you had your 14 years at Dallas Seminary. I know you were also involved very much in a local church ministry. Why did you do that? Most professors sort of get lost in the classroom but I think there was some intentionality there, wasn’t there?
MARK YOUNG: No question.
HANS FINZEL: Why were you also so heavily involved in… Is it Stonebriar? Is that the name of the church?
MARK YOUNG: Stonebriar Community Church, yeah, in Frisco, Texas. You know, as I was teaching at the seminary there was a part of my gifts and a part of my passions that weren’t being met and that was my leadership gifts. So when we saw this church begin to emerge we saw people flocking to hear one of the most world-renowned preachers in the world, Chuck Swindoll. And we were invited to become a part of that movement and help create a structure in that church; to create a sense of leadership and movement forward. Chuck’s a great pastor, there’s no question about it, but as the church got bigger he couldn’t do it all on his own. So that gave me an opportunity to express my gifts as a leader and I did thing like strategic planning with the staff, I started an internship program. I did a capital campaign and preached when Chuck was gone. It just allowed me to have a breadth of experience outside the walls of the academy that really enliven me and refresh me in ways that I maybe wasn’t being refreshed in the seminary.
HANS FINZEL: I know you enjoyed that very much. So now I want to fast-forward to now. You are the brand new president of Denver Seminary. In fact Chuck Swindoll is going to be the speaker at your inauguration and why did you accept this challenge? It’s a big challenge nowadays to be a seminary president. Why did you say yes when they came calling?
MARK YOUNG: You know I think the – first all, the answer about being a big challenge is, it is. One of the previous presidents that I was talking with, they said to me, “This is an impossible job.” One president said, “Essentially you have two boulders. You’re in a valley and you have two boulders on either side of the valley that are about to cave in on you. One is money and one is enrollment.” And so you have to give cause and attention to those two. But here’s the thing. I don’t think there’s a ministry that I have ever been involved in that allows me to believe or see the multiplication of my efforts throughout the world like a seminary. So just imagine, if we have the privilege of helping a group of students come to grips with what God’s doing in the world and intentionally move toward being involved in what God’s doing in the world, then what we’ve put in and poured into their lives is going to be multiplied dozens of times. Let’s even dream hundreds of times, if not thousands of times all over the world. So in one place you have people who’ve come who are going to disperse all over the planet for the sake of the Gospel. That’s always been my captivating vision. If you ask about Denver Seminary as a specific place for us to do ministry we’ve always known about Denver Seminary. My former Homiletics professor was one of the previous presidents. Dr. Vernon Grounds, a previous president, is someone I have admired from afar. And so when we began to think about this environment, some of the values of Denver Seminary really attracted us. For example, we’ve always had at Denver Seminary this motto, “At Denver Seminary you have the freedom to think within the bounds of scripture.” Dr. Ground coined that phrase so as an educator, I love this way of educating which says to people, “You need to question. You need to think broadly. You need to ask questions that are, perhaps, uncomfortable for you, always going back to scripture for the final authority in whatever answers you come to.” We don’t start with a given theological tradition. Our doctrinal statement focuses on the core evangelical beliefs and beyond that we’re saying, “Ask all those questions. And then talk about them in a very gracious and charitable way.” That’s another value of the seminary that I love. We have people on different sides with different questions but the ethos – the culture of the seminary – is that we are going to respect one another as we talk to one another. And then to be quite frank, I think the seminary in some ways lost its real sense of engagement with the world. We believed this was an opportunity to help bring the seminary back to a focus globally about what God was doing and how the seminary could be a part of that.
HANS FINZEL: I know that one of the things that appealed to the search committee in finding you was your missiological experience and worldview and I think that says a lot for the board of trustees of Denver Seminary, because it’s not every seminary that has the privilege of having a former missionary who’s really got his missiological hat on straight to be the president. So what are some of the things you hope to accomplish? I’m sure people ask you all the time - What’s your vision for the seminary? So, hey, Mark, what’s your vision for the seminary? I know you’re still brand new but I’m sure that you have some things you want to build into it; you’ve already shared but what are some more pieces that you hope to accomplish early on?
MARK YOUNG: You bet. I think any vision for any ministry starts with the leader’s vision of God. So if you were to ask me what do I see when I look skyward or I look in the scripture, actually, and I see God? What I see is a God who from the very beginning of history is orchestrating all of human history sovereignly, compassionately, redemptively toward and end that He has seen and will be true. That is that some from every tribe, and every tongue, and every nation will worship Him alone. Well if that’s God’s purpose in human history how could our purpose be anything less than that? So what we want to do is orient theological education outward toward this world, this lost world that does not yet know Christ. So I asked the faculty back in August, “How would theological education be different if we took the lost world more seriously?”
HANS FINZEL: Hmm. If you saw them as your customers, so to speak?
MARK YOUNG: Exactly. And you can think about it this way. As an educator you can see, I think, three customers. One is you focus on the student and so when you do that you teach to see that student’s life changed/transformed. The second customer typically, and most often the primary customer for seminaries, is the church. So seminaries think of themselves as preparing leaders for the church, right?
HANS FINZEL: For the church. Right.
MARK YOUNG: So if the church, if our basic understanding of the church is Christians helping Christians be other Christians, then the seminary is Christians helping Christians learn how to help Christians be better Christians.
HANS FINZEL: (laughing) Yeah, right.
MARK YOUNG: So what’s missing in that equation, right?
HANS FINZEL: Yeah, a lot of lost people.
MARK YOUNG: Exactly. So then you say, “Well what if we say that our customer is actually the lost world?” So now theological education becomes Christians helping Christians create a more compelling presence of Christ in the world, understanding that our students will be counselors, they’ll be pastors, they’ll be teachers, they’ll be engaged in lots of different Christian institutions but recognizing that all of those institutions are means to God’s greater purpose in the world, just as we are as a seminary. So now when we see a pastor leaving the seminary what we want is a pastor who understands that his faithful teaching of scripture, his faithful counseling and compassionate counseling of the flock is all a part of creating a testimony of Christ there and around the world so that more and more will worship Him alone.
HANS FINZEL: That’s amazing. Uh, what would you say… I want to get to China because I know you just took a trip to China but what would you say to potential students – why they should come to Denver Seminary?
MARK YOUNG: You know I think that seminary is distinguished in more than one way but the primary characteristic I think that sets us apart is that we believe education occurs in the context of meaningful relationships so we’ve pioneered a training and mentoring program at Denver Seminary which brings each and every student into meaningful relationships with mentors. Secondly, I think the seminary is known as a place where theology meets the real world. Hans, the real world is lost. The real world is indifferent. The real world is angry at God. The real world is broken.
HANS FINZEL: Also angry at Christians.
MARK YOUNG: Also angry at Christians; exactly. So when we educate people at Denver Seminary we’re saying we want you to be able to do more than talk to Christians about being a Christian. We want you to talk about being a Christian that represents Christ well in a world that either doesn’t care or is aggressively anti or opposed to the message or presence of Christians in their community.
HANS FINZEL: That’s awesome. I love the mentoring piece because I know and I went through seminary in a situation where you never really had to talk to anybody. You just go to class; do your work; graduate and go on your merry way.
MARK YOUNG: Yeah, what I like to say is you know at Denver Seminary you have to come face-to-face with the real you in the context of real relationships so that you can minister in the real world.
HANS FINZEL: Wow! I like that. Now I happen to have a super burden for China right now in the last couple of years. I just got back myself from a week there but you were recently there and presented a paper. Can you share a little bit about that?
MARK YOUNG: Sure. This is actually my second time to do this paper or a paper like this. In Bejing there is a Chinese Academy of Social Science. This is an academic academy – they have Ph.D. researchers as well as general researchers about religion in China. There is an Institute of World Religions in China so they sponsored a workshop and asked three Christians to come and make a presentation as to “what positive role can Christianity play in contemporary China?” And three Chinese scholars presented papers about their perspective of Christianity in China as well. It’s amazing! The way we understand Christianity and the role it’s played in the development of our society is completely absent in that setting. When you think about it, Christianity for the Chinese is tough to generalize, as you know in China, but for these scholars Christianity is a foreign presence.
HANS FINZEL: Yes. Western religion.
MARK YOUNG: Exactly. And so to be able to say Christianity can actually be a positive presence in China and show them, for example, it’s actually Christian foundations which create a base for civil law, that’s what Dr. Rick Hess, our Old Testament professor showed these scholars from Genesis chapter one, for heaven’s sake. And then I talked about the Christian foundation for creating public education; education that reaches those who are typically outside the scope of elite education. I used Robert Raikes and the first Sunday school in England which was basically an attempt to bring basic education to the working class who had no access to education.
HANS FINZEL: And what was their response? I mean I don’t know if it’s super academic but how did they react to your papers? Or do they react on the spot or…
MARK YOUNG: Yeah, uh, in these academic type of settings scholars respond to scholars and about half of it is worth listening to.
HANS FINZEL: (Laughing) Yeah, it doesn’t sound super exciting.
MARK YOUNG: Yeah, my part included. But the interesting thing is, this particular group also provides advice to the Chinese government related to religious policy and so we have an opportunity to at least say Christianity can be a positive presence in Chinese society. Uh, the response was cordial, of course, and I think basically what we’re attempting to do and what they are willing to hear us say is that perhaps some of the understanding of Christianity that’s been propagated in China, particularly for the last 60 years or more, isn’t the whole picture; that there’s another way to see Christians in society that’s very positive.
HANS FINZEL: That’s fantastic. That’s awesome. Um, I always like to ask – we’re almost out of time – I’d like to ask how we can pray for you. I know you have a lot of burdens but you also have a great opportunity here as the new president at Denver Seminary. How can we pray for you?
MARK YOUNG: I think the fundamental prayer request for the seminary as a whole is that we would truly cultivate an awareness that what we are doing is a part of what God’s doing around the world. That we would look outward as an institution more than we would look inward. It doesn’t mean that we are going to neglect spiritual formation. We’re going to talk about spiritual formation as a foundation. We’re going to talk about you becoming more committed to Christ as a student but that’s not an end. It’s a means to this grand end of being apart of what God’s about in the world. So pray that we can keep that end in front of us in everything that we do.
HANS FINZEL: A great vision! Thank you, Mark. I appreciate you being with us today. Thanks for listening today. This has been Missions on the Frontline. We’re here to expand your vision and make you aware of new and exciting ways you can be involved in missions around the world. If you’re interested in learning more about Denver Seminary, please go to their website, DenverSeminary.edu and visit our website, WorldVenture.com for more information and the latest news and updates. And don’t forget to drop us a note. We’d love to hear from you. You can write me directly at Frontline@WorldVenture.com. This has been Hans Finzel, president of WorldVenture. See you next week on Missions on the Frontline.