Interview with Mike Kilgallin

By Brad Dupray

As the newly appointed president of Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota, Mike Kilgallin is crafting a vision for what Crossroads College can do for the churches of Minnesota and beyond. Mike brings a broad base of experience to his new role, having served as the senior pastor of churches in Minnesota and Illinois, as the head of the Business Department and as staff development officer at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian College, as a regional vice president with Church Development Fund, and most recently, as the vice president of church and faith-based services with Fifth Third Bank. Mike and his wife, Debbie, have been married 27 years and have two sons, Micah and Uriah.

Why leave a bank to go to a college?

It was the calling of God. I feel like Jonah in the Nineveh experience. I wanted to stay at the bank because the career there was fulfilling and the opportunity for advancement was significant. But to again be part of something that will help change the world, that gets me excited. Making more money is nice, but that’s not what excites me. Seeing students come back and being part of something that’s so much bigger than you, that’s fun. I never saw myself as being a Bible college president. I don’t know why God has called me here, but I don’t want to miss this calling.

It appears the source of your motivation is clear.

It is, and it’s because the battle matters. Although my presence in the corporate setting was important, the battle there wasn’t like the epic battle of kingdom work. I come to the office every day and do battle, knowing it really matters. Braveheart is one of my favorite movies. In that movie someone asks Wallace if he is afraid to die, and his response is, “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” William Wallace showed that some battles are worth fighting. This battle is, and my showing up matters. If my sword is drawn, those who serve at Crossroads also draw their swords. If I sheath my sword, they sheath theirs. Knowing that I have to come and put forth my best effort is exhilarating. Here, it matters.

Is your vision different as a president than it was as a professor?

Oh, it’s a lot different. Being a professor was a lot of fun and hard work, too. Keeping abreast of current events and keeping students interested are challenges. Being a professor was a great ride. As president, my responsibility is to make certain professors and other staff have the resources to keep abreast of their field to keep their students motivated. I have to shield them from the daily pressures of the grind of administration. They don’t have to worry about where their paycheck is coming from, keeping the lights turned on, or even criticism—the administrator takes that. The biggest difference for me is, to paraphrase the apostle Paul, “On top of all that, I face the daily pressure of my concern for the churches.” On top of everything else—appeal letters, accreditation bodies, writing thank you notes—I’m concerned about the employees of this college and making certain they have all they need for the good of this college and our mission.

What motivates students today?

You’ve got to get inside each individual student to figure that out. Today’s youth are looking for heroes, and parents are at the very forefront of that—what is success in Mom and Dad’s eyes? Most young men want to be successful in the eyes of their parents. We need to keep heroes of the faith in front of our youth—those whom young people can admire, follow, and emulate. Of course, nothing motivates like success, so we need to look for ways to make students and others successful.

Is Bible college the best means for a Christian young person to get an education?

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. I don’t necessarily think Bible college is the best means. There’s a book by Thomas Shaw, College Bound, about helping parents and kids choose a college. Shaw says there are 4,168 degree-granting institutions. If someone wants to be a CPA or a lawyer or a doctor, there are other schools you might want to consider. However, there are CPAs and lawyers and doctors who started with a Bible college education. I think it’s a great place to start. Is it the place to finish? That depends on where you’re headed. With 4,168 institutions, you can customize your education according to the chosen profession. Bible college is a great place to start and in many ways it’s a great place to end.

What makes Bible college a great place to start?

Bible college is a safe place to get an education. Most students (94 percent) who come to Bible college, who are Christians, leave as Christians. They keep their faith through Bible college. That can’t be said for those who go to secular universities. Some of the statistics I have seen are that one-half to two-thirds do not retain their faith. If you are looking for a doctor for heart surgery and one doctor said, “Fifty percent of my patients get better,” and another said, “Ninety-four percent of my patients get better,” whom are you going to choose?

How does Bible college help someone who might not have aspirations to be in the paid ministry?

The greatest book ever written is the Bible. It is the Word of God. Why wouldn’t we want that taught to people going out into the world? The Bible was written for people to have success in the world God created. It certainly is applicable for those who aren’t going into vocational ministry to have that as a core part of their education—all the while walking alongside Christian professors who live it out every day.

I have had people ask, why did you leave the ministry? I didn’t. I brought the ministry to Fifth Third Bank. Ministry is not a profession; it is a life given over to Christ and lived out regardless of profession. A person might not aspire to be a preacher, but ministry is the calling of all God’s people. So we want students to bring that ministry into the bank, or the sales position, or wherever they go. If the statistics I mentioned earlier are correct, 50 percent of those who entered colleges as Christians are not taking ministry into whatever vocation they’re choosing. Ninety-four percent of Bible college students are taking that Christian worldview and the study of Scriptures into their chosen workplace. For parents who want their kids to have success in the vocational realm, that can happen with a Bible college education. I know of doctors and CPAs who started with a Bible college education, and that education did not take away from any of those goals; in fact, it enhanced them.

Are Christian churches “over-Bible-colleged?”

That’s like asking, can a city be over-churched? I don’t think that’s possible. If students are being taught in a Christian environment and are being prepared to impact the world, how can there be too many places to do that?

Could a smaller number of Christian church colleges provide a higher degree of quality in education?

I’ve heard some suggest that we should have fewer but larger and more influential colleges. Maybe those larger colleges would attract better resources that some of our smaller colleges don’t.

Right now our model is a grassroots model, with colleges established in regions as needs were identified. Since we’ve never had a central authority that establishes Bible colleges or any parachurch organizations, the colleges are geographically close to supporting churches. Most of our Bible colleges were started when proximity mattered.

Would Crossroads be better off becoming a part of another, larger school as an adjunct location?

I’m curious about a model like that. With churches, that multicampus model is working, but I have not seen it work with our Bible colleges. Colleges have a hard time, it seems, supporting ministries long-distance. Even as virtual as our world is, there’s still no place like home. It’s hard to manage something out of your immediate region and thus out of day-to-day influence. Large Fortune 500 companies have sufficient resources for communication, leadership, marketing, and other management functions. I don’t know that any of our colleges have the resources to manage and maintain other campuses from long distances. It would be great to see a model out there that would succeed, but I think it would take a herculean effort.

What sets apart a small college, like Crossroads, from the crowd?

A laser focus. We’re not distracted by having to be all things to all people. We are focused on ministry and ministry training. Also, in a high-tech society, we are high-touch. There is a very personal touch to Crossroads College. Our faculty and staff are involved in the lives of our students. We know their parents, we know their grandparents, their churches, their preachers, even the cars they drive. When a student does something, good or bad, we know about it. This really resembles a theology I have. It seems to me that Christ was pretty high-touch.

Does the education received in a regional school best serve the student’s future in that region? (That is, are you preparing students best to fit in the Minnesota culture?)

Yes and no. Education is more than just a one-stop shop where you get an education and you quit. Education is ongoing. The education is global, but the network is more regional. Most of our trained ministers stay in our region. The old adage is, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” A lot of it depends on the entrepreneurship or the adventurous spirit the student has if he wants to enter cross-cultural ministry. We have students who have gone far outside our region with great success, but they are also committed to lifelong learning. Is it specific to a region? Yes, from the standpoint of our network, but no, the study of Scripture has universal application.

How do you stretch beyond the state of Minnesota in recruiting, and then in providing ministry support to a broad range of churches in other parts of the U.S. and the world?

Networking. G.A. Cachiaras said, “The sun never sets on the graduates of Crossroads College,” which is true. We have students serving around the globe. We do stretch. We do that with networking. I look for trustees around the nation so that we have more of a national influence. We invite nationally known preachers to speak to our students on campus so our students can establish a relationship with them. We have the national seminars that are part of a larger network that we do in conjunction with Standard Publishing and others. We have online classes that have no barrier at all around the world. Anyone who has access to the Web can take a class at Crossroads College. At the North American Christian Convention, presidents of the colleges get together, and we talk about Christian colleges and students and we all try to expand our network and a national presence.

Besides sending money, what role do local churches play in supporting the school?

Brag on us. Families and the church are the only two institutions established by God; Bible colleges were called into existence as an extension of the church, and it’s always nice to hear your parent brag about you. Also, send us students. The local church really needs to encourage students to attend Bible college for the sake of the student, the sake of the institution, and the sake of future leaders in the church—both paid and unpaid. It would be great to have elders, deacons, deaconesses, and church leaders who have Bible college educations. Our recruiting is only in addition to what happens in the home and in the church. I would love them to be challenging their students to ministry and into a Bible college education.

When we have seminars, for example the Energizing Smaller Churches Network in conjunction with Standard Publishing that’s coming up, it’s great for churches to come and support them. When we have graduation, we want churches to come and shake hands with our graduates and cheer.

Have you received your share of criticism as you’ve entered this role?

Bible colleges can sometimes be lightning rods for criticism. We have constituents with a wide variety of opinions, and it isn’t realistic to believe we can please all of them all of the time. It would be nice to hear words of encouragement: “Thank you, Crossroads College, for being there”; “You are our college and the region is better because of you.” Although we make mistakes, our motives are pure. It’s nice to know we have people in the state cheering for us even when we err. That’s a huge one for me.

Think forward 20 years, how do you see Crossroads College?

That really depends on our churches. We don’t exist just because we have existed. We exist because the church called us into existence, as I said earlier. Local congregations have established Bible colleges in order to help them in training for ministry. In 20 years we’ll continue to exist and provide what our churches need; what we look like will be determined by what the church needs us to be.

How will that be carried out practically?

We’re going to have to look for better ways to be tentmakers. Bible college education is not just for church staffs. If I am a salesman or an actuary, how do I take this ministry to the marketplace? I think there will be greater sharing among our colleges with advances in communications. I’m interested in having virtual professors show up on our campuses. I think some of our best professors in various disciplines will have national opportunities to teach at a local level without having to get on an airplane. We’re attempting to do some of that with online courses, but as technology advances there will be better opportunities. A professor’s location in California will not diminish his or her opportunity to teach in Rochester.

There will be better opportunities to prepare people for ministry—whether it’s vocational ministry or in world professions. We have so much written about how we can be mentally healthy, but we have more mental health issues than ever. I think the pressures of globalization will increase the need for the touch of Christ.

We’ll have seminary training, not necessarily a seminary, but seminary opportunities through collaboration. There are people in town who would like to see how we could better partner with the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. We need to figure out a way to partner with them.

What is the relationship of Crossroads to the Restoration Movement?

I love the Restoration Movement and I still believe we are a movement and not a destination. Crossroads College is part of the Restoration Movement. It’s much like the very beginning of the Restoration Movement when people were saying we need not be attached to a denomination, we need to be a part of something greater, which is being part of Christ’s church.

What can Crossroads College do to impact the Restoration Movement churches of the state of Minnesota?

By fulfilling our mission and doing all we can to help effectively train and equip people to serve Christ. Many denominational churches are dropping their denominational title to be just “Christian.” The Restoration Movement has had the right method for a long time. We don’t have to retool, just evangelize.

Brad Dupray is senior vice president, investor development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.

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