On July 1, Dr Andrea Luxton took office as president of Andrews University (US), the first Briton and the first woman to do so.1 But who is Andrea Luxton as a person, and what can we learn from the spiritual walk of this gifted woman who is known internationally as being a kind and visionary leader? Can we, here in the South Pacific Division (SPD), learn anything from her global vision and passion for sharing the gospel in secular societies as she presides over educating post-graduate students and Church leaders from 100 nations?
As a child Andrea enjoyed being an Adventist, even though she grew up in the only Adventist family, among very few other Christians, in a little village in England. She spent all but one year in Adventist schools and it was in this environment that she learned how to speak up for her faith, being baptised at the age of 14. Her parents were teachers and she used to play “teaching” by setting up class—using 300 buttons in her mother’s button tin as her “students”! At the age of 18 Andrea attended a secular university but found the teaching shallow compared with a Christian education context that includes the way we think and who we are. Moving to Newbold College (UK), Andrea studied a BA with double majors in English and Theology, receiving a valuable education in the ministry and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. At that time she had no inkling of what God would require of her years later. During her year as a volunteer missionary in Nigeria, her faith deepened and deepened as she placed greater reliance on God, transforming her spiritual life. In all of her challenging times Andrea seeks and finds God, relying on Him at a deeper level, and this continues to develop her faith. While furthering her studies in English at Andrews University, she met people from around the world and she became even more aware of diversity.
We have to ask ourselves about the current generation . . . and find where we can connect with it.
Andrea studied for her PhD at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, where her doctoral thesis was based on the Epistle to the Hebrews and Milton’s Paradise Lost (which includes concepts of rest, Sabbath and the sanctuary)2. During this time she had to dig deeper into her faith, “because the more we learn in higher education, the more our concepts are intellectually challenged. Faith needs to grow beside that, and the whole experience deepened my faith.” What also helped Andrea was her supervisor’s comment on how significant it was that she could study something rooted in her Adventist heritage. The university invited Australian Adventist author William G Johnsson to be part of her dissertation committee, and she appreciated this connection.3
Andrea is no stranger to the South Pacific either, which adds real relevance to the thoughts she shares with us. During her appointment to the General Conference’s Education Department, she visited the SPD several times, including spending time in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Avondale College with Dr Barry Hill (then SPD education director). Andrea acknowledges that the SPD is not the only division challenged with reaching our cultures with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
She finds that “if we use our traditional ways of talking in a secular environment, we end up talking past each other. If people don’t have biblical literacy, using our usual biblical way of approaching them is challenging.” For Andrea, stories are proving to be a great way of communicating with secular people.4 “Although they don’t have the over-arching themes that traditional Adventism has, they do understand the legitimacy of what a story is and the reality of that in someone’s personal experience. Whether it’s stories from a biblical perspective or whether it’s personal stories, it is one place, at least, to start to connect with people and be able to see where their stories intersect with our stories, but it’s slower and it’s different. We have to ask ourselves about the current generation and environment and find where we can connect with it, because we have a strong role to play within that type of culture and community.”
Andrea believes our social connections, social awareness and acceptance of people with social issues—who are crying out for social justice—will entice them to connect with a caring, Christian community. “People still want connection and the more we can do in helping them find meaningful connection, the more validity there is to what we’re saying.
“It seems to me that if our Christian faith and Adventist beliefs don’t make a difference to people’s lives, and don’t connect with people’s lives, we’re not going to make a significant impact with the world that we’re currently in.”
Andrea is convinced that at the end of the day the gospel is worked out in real life so we can make a difference to the issues that are really hurting humanity. “That’s how we become relevant today [by] the way we talk about our message—for me it’s through story—and art and music are great ways of speaking as well; then connecting what we talk about with the realities of what’s going on in people’s lives.”
Andrea believes that another way of achieving a powerful example of the gospel to a cynical world is to create leadership teams with the broadest array of talents and skills, who support each other through the richness of diversity. “If we are going to reach our cultures with the gospel we need to be inclusive through being colour-aware, gender-aware and age-aware, looking to include other people in leadership who have the beauty of their God-designed differences. It is also important that we consciously connect our hearts to our powerful Adventist message because the gospel of Jesus needs to be lived out in our lives.”
When I asked Andrea how she personally practises connecting her heart to Jesus’ gospel, she replied, “Whenever I find challenges beginning to overwhelm me, I do what I have always done since my youth: I go somewhere quiet until I find myself stilled by God.” To find the point of peace in her turmoil, she reads Scripture, prays to God and remains quiet, following His instruction to be still and know that He is God.5 I found it interesting that neither Andrea, nor even her parents, planned for her meteoric rise into educational leadership, but her love for teaching and her God-given leadership was identified by others. Even in childhood she edited the school paper, led the students’ association and captained the hockey team. Striving to serve her Lord with her best meant that professionally others would put her name forward for leadership roles. Looking back, she can see God’s step-by-step leading and she encourages both women and men to prayerfully pursue, to the best of their abilities, what God has called them to do. “God surprised me a lot of times.”
During my interview with Andrea, I found a faithful servant who follows her Leader so that she can lead her followers. I am genuinely inspired by this kind, visionary leader, who practises Jesus’ example of cross-cultural ministry and private prayer, providing us with an example of a woman after God’s own heart.
1. Andrea’s credentials were reported extensively in Adventist Review at the time of her election. <www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story3743-andrea-luxton-named-president-of-andrews-university#.VtYVvs2_cBs.twitter | www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story3779-andrea-luxton-new-andrews-president-sees-difficulties-as-chance-to-grow-faith>.
2. English poet John Milton first published Paradise Lost in 1667.
3. William G Johnsson, Australian theologian/lecturer and missionary, editor of Adventist Review for 24 years until his retirement, author, and one of three 2015 recipients of the Charles Elliot Weniger Award for Excellence. <www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story2356-former-adventist-review-editor-wins-prestigious-weniger-award>.
4. At a recent meeting with Trans-European Division leaders, Andrea was asked to talk about defining Post-Modernism through art and story.
5. Psalm 46:10 (KJV).
H Naomi March has an MA in Pastoral Leadership with emphasis on Pastoral Care to Women.