ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
He may have just happened upon the online job posting for his newly created position at Tabor College, but Kevin Johnson is completely intentional in his first year of work helping students pursue Christian spiritual formation-both during and after their time at Tabor.
“Intentional development” is indeed a favorite phrase for Johnson, who brings seven years in student development and two years in pastoring to his Tabor position as director of spiritual formation and campus pastor.
“It was something of interest that blended pastoring and student development,” said Johnson of the posting for the new position.
“So I decided to drop them a line and see if it would work out.”
Once both parties decided that it would, Johnson made the move in August to Hillsboro from his home in St. Pierre, Manitoba.
The native of Brantford, Ontario, had only visited the United States once prior to this, he said.
“Moving into a new country, even though Canada and the United States share a lot of the same pop culture, there are pretty significant differences,” Johnson said.
“The American ethos seems to have a stronger association with Christianity-religion is something that’s a lot more easily talked about here.”
That’s helpful for Johnson in his daily job, which centers on engaging students in discussion about their own growth as spiritual persons.
Johnson’s educational training lines up well with his job requirements-he graduated with a bachelor of religious education from Tyndale College and with a master of theological studies from Tyndale Seminary, both in Toronto, Ontario.
But his entry into student development was somewhat of an accident, he said.
“I was (a resident assisant) in college for three years, and out of that came the possibility to be a resident director, which I did for four years,” he said.
“I found out that people actually do this for a living and not just as something to get through school.”
Most recently, Johnson has worked as director of residence life at Taylor University College in Edmonton, Alberta, and as director of community life for a year at Providence College in Otterburne, Manitoba.
After marrying wife Melanie three years ago and moving to her hometown of Lowe Farm, Manitoba, Johnson also “fell into” pastoring at Emmanuel Gospel Church when no student development position was available in the area.
“I always had pastoring in the back of my mind, so we decided to do that,” he said.
“But then I decided to get back into higher education and do teaching and student development.”
So far, the transition for the couple and 16-month-old daughter Charis to the Tabor and Hillsboro communities has been a “friendly” one, Johnson said.
“This has been the most friendly environment to come into, very friendly and welcoming,” he said. “(But it’s) friendly in the sense of people wanting to offer the gift of friendship, to be a friend.
“My wife and I have been very surprised at that,” he added. “Tabor has a lot of people who have been around here a long time, so their relational plates are quite full-but they have still been willing to allow us to be a part of that.”
And slowly but surely, Johnson is getting to know the students as well, he said.
“Early on, I met most of the students leaders and have gotten to know them,” he said. “Now I feel like I’m starting to get to know (other students.)
One avenue in which he does that is through this year’s revamped chapel program, now held for a half hour twice a week.
The services replace the previously hour-long, separate Monday convocation and Wednesday worship services.
“Right now, we’re spending a fair amount of time trying to get the new chapel program going,” he said. “We’re trying to put a focus on more of an intentional spiritual growth…trying to bring variety and get a lot of student involvement.”
Johnson said he hopes to involve not only students but faculty and staff as well in an ongoing, campus-wide discussion about what it means to cultivate spiritual formation and character development at Tabor.
That kind of “discussion” includes the chapel services as well as campus ministries such as mentoring programs and discipleship groups, but extends to what he calls an “ethos” of intentional spiritual pursuit that Johnson hopes will become “woven into the DNA of Tabor,” he said.
“Everybody’s talking about spiritual formation,” he said. “Hopefully, the Christian tradition puts that intentional bent on it.”
Although only a couple months into his work on Tabor campus, Johnson is already making his own voice heard in the local discussion on that topic.
“We just really want to create an ethos on campus where it becomes normal to develop as a intentional follower of Jesus.”