The Table Podcast

Leadership in Uncertain Circumstances

In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock, Mark Bailey, and Mark Yarborough discuss Christian leadership, focusing on leading Dallas Theological Seminary while navigating a global pandemic.

Bailey’s reaction to the news of COVID-19
Yarborough’s reaction to the news of COVID-19
Bailey's advice on decision-making in uncertain times
Yarborough advice on decision-making in uncertain times
How DTS staff responded to the changes
How the changes impacted faculty and students
Priorities and staying on mission
How do you make decisions without all relevant information?
Perspective and looking toward the future
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. And let me welcome you to a new layout for The Table. Normally, you’re used to seeing a big table, a big microphone, and in the background a logo that says Table Podcast. But alas, as all of you know, we have been quarantined for quite some time, and we’re recording during this time of quarantine. And we’ll be recording remotely, and we’ll be doing this with some shows in the future. So that’s a little preamble to where we’re headed. But our topic is actually very related to how this is all coming down to you today.

We are gonna be talking about leadership in the midst of what might be called the twilight zone in quarantine, where you don’t know what’s going on, when you’re making decisions that relate to the future without all the pieces in place that you normally have to make those decisions. So leadership in the context of uncertain circumstances is what we’re gonna be talking about today. And I couldn’t think of two better people to have this conversation with. Mark Bailey, who is president of Dallas Theological Seminary, and is winding down his term as president. He’s … I guess less than two months to go, right Mark?

Mark Bailey
That’s right. My wife has a clock on her phone, but I don’t.
Darrell Bock
And then Mark Yarbrough, president elect, who has his hands reaching back for the baton that Mark is about to hand him. And while Mark’s clock I guess is running down, Mark Yarbrough’s clock is perhaps running up, or being set to zero. I’m not quite sure how that works. I know Mark Bailey’s been handing off stuff to Mark Yarbrough all along the way. So the baton imagery, it’s a long baton that’s being passed.

And I haven’t figured out what the best way to address you two, since you both have the name Mark, and we’re on a podcast, and we’re also having to do this each in space, so that you know who I’m talking to. I’m not quite sure how to do this. Mark B and Mark Y is probably how I’m gonna do it. That’s probably the best we can do.

Mark Yarbrough
Go for it.
Mark Bailey
That seems to be the way it’s working on Internet and email, that’s for sure.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Well, thank you guys, very much, for being a part of this. We really appreciate you joining us today and helping through this.

So I want to take you back, I guess it would be to February … you can tell me if I’ve got the date, time right or whatever … when words of this virus started, and I guess the description would be wafting in about what was going on and what the school might face, and how you initially began to process what was going on. We had, obviously, the same challenges at the Center with a small group of staff that I work with. But I’m curious to hear how you all coped with this, and this is a question, I guess to you, Mark B, first. When did the clouds start to form?

Mark Bailey
That’s a great question. I think we didn’t understand the seriousness of it until the first week of March … end of February, first week of March … when we were out of a class. We all finished the classes we had a week of World Evangelization Conference that was viable on campus. And then, it was really coming toward the end of that week that they started talking about this thing is more serious than we expected. And so the next week was what we would normally have called spring break. And so we were all functioning in the office probably during that week, listening, waiting, wondering.

And I remember, I’m obviously preparing to move out of my office and vacate that so Mark can move in. And so I was getting a lot of work done that second week of March, into the first part of the second week. And then it hit that, middle of that week was … they were gonna start shutting things back and shutting things down. And so it was pretty sudden. Dr. Yarbrough was overseas in Israel. And so there was a question of travel, and we started hearing airlines canceling flights. And so it all hit, I would say, about that second week of March. And we suddenly realized, this is gonna be different.

And so the immediate, which everybody was doing across the country was, “Well, let’s get our handle on this. Let’s extend spring break for a week,” we thought. That might do it. We could fix this thing in a week. And, lo and behold, that didn’t pan out. But it was a very sudden onslaught of shut this place down, shut the country down, shut the travel down, and let’s start looking at mitigation, containment and mitigation kind of strategies. And so that was all new for everybody.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. Mark Y, before I turn to you and what it was like to deal with this from an overseas slot, I was in the same situation in terms of being overseas. I had gone to Germany for a week of ministry that I committed myself to, way back in the back woods of West Germany, that some of the driving that I had to do in my rent-a-car up till 12:30 in the morning, is something I probably haven’t told my wife about and probably never will, unless she watches this.

Anyway. And watching this hit Italy, and then begin to move north, which is what was happening while I was in Germany, was how I found out about it. So I was initially overseas, came back, and actually was planning to go to Romania in the middle of March, and actually canceled that trip two days before I was supposed to get on the plane. So, very sudden for us, as well. And then we began talking about it … we were talking about it at the Center in between my time in Germany and my time I was supposed to go to Romania.

And Mark Y, you were in Israel. So, what did that mean?

Mark Yarbrough
Well, it was pretty much the same, about the same pace that we were on in the US is what was happening in Israel. And so, obviously, we got on the plane, knowing that the Corona virus was real and rampant in certain places. But we were watching, and still talking to the State Department, and all their … the cautions were always there, but no parameters had been fully set at that stage in the game. There had been no borders that were closed in that regard. And so we loaded the plane and had 50, 60 people, and we took off and had a great time, and started up in the northern areas. And so we’re up in the Galilee and had a wonderful time up there.

Now what was interesting is that tours behind us had closed. And so they had been canceled just right after us. And so we were … we realized we were not the last ones in the country. And so when we made it in, there was a bizarre thing. And since all of us had spent a lot of time in Israel, going to the sites in March, and you’re the only ones there, is a little on the eerie side. So let’s put it this way. We went to places and we were the only bus, where you would normally see a parking lot of buses. You would have open access. They were happy to see you, because they knew, now, that tours had been closed behind us. So we felt like we were being chased by something, but we weren’t sure what.

So we’re starting in the north, and we’re running down south. We made it to the Dead Sea. We left the Dead Sea, and we were planning on doing a couple stops along the way, because we had to divert because of, interestingly enough it turns out to be a closure at Qumran. We didn’t get to see Masada. And so we were gonna do those on the way into Jerusalem. That morning when I got up I had a meeting, and it was just an amazing thing. So we pulled into Jerusalem. We made it to our hotel. And people could leave the hotel for one day, and just walk on their own.

They had now … Netanyahu … So this was an amazing moment in history, because not only did we have the Corona virus, but they were having the change in the prime minister. So now, all of a sudden, the vote went down, literally the day after we made it to Jerusalem. So not only was there the Corona virus parameters being set up, but they had just announced the new change in the governmental leadership at that stage in the game. So it was an amazing moment. We were in it.

We ended up being in lock down at our hotel in Jerusalem for four days before we could get out. So as I, I joked, I went into Bible teacher mode, because we were all locked in the hotel, and I didn’t want people glued on to watching Fox News or CNN or just watching too much television as all this unfolds, ’cause we are in another country. So it was an amazing moment, to be perfectly honest. So I was teaching sessions all day long in order to keep people occupied. I think we walked through all 66 books of the Bible.

So, we actually ended up being the third last plane leaving out of Tel Aviv. So we left on a Thursday morning. There was a plane that went out that afternoon, and then one that went the next morning. And then for a season, they completely locked down the airport.

Darrell Bock
Oh, wow. So you barely got out. It was pretty clear that had I gone to Romania, I might still be in Romania. So anyway, a very odd time in lots of ways. And you knew pretty much immediately that this was not a very normal situation, and was gonna require some things. But how deep and how long it was gonna run was up for grabs. So that brings me to the second round of questions, and that is you all are trying to communicate with one another about what should be going on, trying to make decisions, trying to decide, do we come to class or no? Am I gonna be teaching face to face with my students, or is the decision that you make gonna put me in a situation where I’m online, et cetera. And there you are.

So I’ve shifted the time frame. What went into the decision making process for that, and how did you all manage that as a group? I’m also on the board of Wheaton College, as you all know, and they were making decisions very, very quickly. And they actually formed a crisis team to deal with this. They had someone on their top level staff who the president asked, “Okay. If you were in the corporate world, what would you do?” And he said, “We would have a crisis management team formed immediately, and we’d be off and running.” And that’s what Wheaton did. So what happened at Dallas?

Mark Bailey
Well, that’s a good question, and in fact, it’s very parallel. We felt probably not so much as the decision making was in the functionality, and I’ll relate to that and then let Mark speak into that, as well. But we felt there was gonna be a real need for us to have a clear, concise, and consistent message coming out to our constituents, which includes our faculty, staff, students, board, donors, alumni, et cetera. So we appointed what we called a COVID-19 task force. We asked Dr. Ed Herrelko, who heads up our Marketing and Communication Division at the seminary to chair that. And we have a very diverse, diversified and cross section of the departments represented on that COVID-19 task force, and they have done a phenomenal job meeting daily, to start with, then two or three times a week, then at least weekly now, and probably more so just intermittent communication. But I would say that was probably one of the most strategic things that we did.

On that force, we represented everything from academics, to finance, to communications, to HR, to the Business Office, the president’s office, operations. So, it’s a real diversified group that allowed a lot of, I would say, constituents to speak into the process, to give us input along the way. But that’s been a huge help right up front.

I think of four words, and then I’m gonna turn this over to Mark for the academic flex, but when we started thinking about this there were four variables. One was how are we gonna take care of our people? Number two, what’s gonna happen to resources, both the … the question, obviously for us, we only had two major rives of resource. That’s tuition and gifts. So what will this do to resources? And nobody knows that total yet. But it obviously is an immediate question. A third question was the issue of mission. How do we maintain our mission? And that’s probably even higher than the others, but immediately you think of people, functionality. How do we keep on mission? And I would say the fourth one was it’s gonna require a significant change in method to accomplish that mission.

And so I think back, and this has been a part of our testimony,15 years to a conversation with a Chinese businessman in a downtown dinner facility at the top of a high rise in downtown Dallas, where 15 years ago we said we’d love to start thinking about distance education for international students. And he said, “How much does it cost?” At the time it was $100,000 a course.

UNT, University of North Texas, Dallas Baptist University, University of Dallas were all starting to put some things together. And so it was quite expensive to hire the personnel, to get the licensing to create an online course. He leaned over, whispered in my ear and he said, “I’ll take two.” And he helped launch our first online course, which won course of the year in distance education that year. Wonderful provision of the Lord as we look back that allowed us, then, to have some flexibility, some technology, personnel and resources, and I would say the minds and hearts in the room to be able to make the shifts that we did. So Mark, why don’t you tell him what kind of shifts that took for our faculty, our classes, and then I’ll talk from the staff side.

Mark Yarbrough
Yeah. By the time we rolled into spring break, I think it was starting to become clear. And obviously there’d been some mandates that had been given throughout the country, and certainly within the state. We knew we were not coming back into a normal classroom environment. And so as we extended spring break, that bought us really somewhere about seven days to convert all of our courses over into a digital format. And that’s in essence what we did. So in about a seven day window we had an incredible team. And I remember, friends, this is the entire team at Dallas Seminary.

It was first and foremost an online education department and a group that handles the structural modes to that. It was the incredible staff who ramped that up to help and assist, and it was the faithful faculty to say, “Okay. We’re gonna have a new model as we move forward.” Some were very familiar with all of the tools we were gonna ask them to be doing, because as Dr. Bailey just said, we have been in the online education, distance education, digital world of courses for many, many years. And because of that I think there was a large sway behind this to help one another out along the way.

And so, in about a seven to ten day window, we converted, roughly speaking, about 350 courses, and got them into a digital format. Some of them, again, were already there. Others we were doing new recordings. We were getting the next units and modules ahead. We were teaching some new technologies to some faculty that had not done that before. But again, the team surrounded them, so that a faculty member was not left alone, and it was the grace of God, and we really think that the Lord, through all those years ago, had put in motion those things so that at that moment in time we were prepared to make that fast of a change. And so here we are at the end of the semester, wrapping that up. And it has been an amazing thing to watch the faculty adapt quickly, teach efficiently, and for students to learn effectively. And so we’ve seen that along the way.

Darrell Bock
Well Mark, you said you were gonna talk about the staff. Go ahead.
Mark Bailey
I think, obviously, you start to thinking if we’re gonna be … We’ve all learned a whole set of new vocabulary, from shelter in to shutter in, to quarantine, to self quarantine. 2020 is going to be the year of the expansion of the dictionary, of American terminology for crisis management. But for all of us to start thinking, how do we function remotely and effectively, and seriously thank goodness for things like WebEx and Zoom and other technologies that are in place. I’ve been very amazed with a national necessity to use this kind of technology that we’ve not had more downtime than we have. It’s been amazing that we have stayed up and running, and there hasn’t been a lot of crashing of the technology. So kudos to whoever has been keeping all of this running from that standpoint. I take it from the Lord as a gift, whoever did it. And so very, very grateful.

But what can we do, what should we do, what we have to do from a remote standpoint with our administrative assistants, with finance. If you can imagine, on the business side, how do we process checks coming into the seminary when you can’t come on the campus to empty that box, et cetera? And so the shift that that’s taken to not only guarantee your fiscal responsibility, integrity, accountability of having at least two signatures, two eyes on the accounts, the ledgers from Accounts Receivables, to Accounts Payables, to donations, to paying bills, a phenomenal amount of creativity and work to make that a possibility. And it functioned well. So again, from our staff side, unbelievable.

And we’re not … if I could say this, we’re not immune to the stresses that isolation causes. You’ve heard me talk with our faculty and our staff, I’m very sensitive. We have a number of people just like you would in any congregation of a church, or any company who don’t do well isolated, who thrive on relationships, who can go into depressive moments and cycles if they’re not careful. And so just trying to be pastoral with them through our departments, and maintaining communication. And that’s why, ironically, Zoom is tremendous, to be able to see facial expressions and body language, as opposed to just listening to a phone conference. They have their advantages and disadvantages, but just being sensitive to those aspects, trying to reach out.

One of the things that we’ve done with our staff is regular chapels for our students and our staff on a weekly basis where we have a short message, some music, some humor, even by those who are hosting it. But we’ve had great chapel attendance over the last month. We’ve had the best faculty attendance we’ve had in faculty meetings, ’cause now everybody knows if you’re there or not. And so accountability has been higher.

Darrell Bock
That’s exactly right. You’re one of the Hollywood Squares or not.
Mark Bailey
We joke between Brady Bunch and Hollywood Squares. And now we’ve got the Zoom backgrounds, so we’ve got people sitting in the Millennium Falcon when they’re talking, not just their closets or their studies or their living rooms. But I think just the personnel side of that of the need to stay in contact, communicate, encourage … I see that as a major responsibility for us as leaders, departmentally, all the way up to the administration, even with our board, keeping the board involved. So every memo we’ve ever sent out to the faculty and students, we wanted our board to see that and to know what’s happening with that.

So it’s really, I think, probably one of the bigger … the burden of this time of being isolated is to, you can’t over communicate, and you can’t overemphasize in that sense. So I think, from the staff side, they’ve been great. We’ve had to shift the responsibilities, ’cause there are some that we would call … it’s real humbling to know, as a president, I’m not essential to be on the campus, [Laughter] but the janitor is. And so that’s a good lesson for us, of servant leadership. But some of those who have to be there, and the risks that come with that, some who don’t have to be there, and how to make some of those decisions as to what is essential, what isn’t.

So we’ve moved our police presence, which would be our normal security folks into the library, so that our campus community that lives on campus can still have a place to study. And that’s probably been one of our biggest concerns, is that the tight confines, when you have roommates and they’re sharing roommates in an apartment complex. At DTS our apartment complex probably functions more like a dorm in many ways than it does an apartment complex, if you were in a secular apartment complex where rarely knew your neighbors.

But when you’re going to class and you’re doing life with people next door, that can appear more as a dorm. At the same time, we need to keep the safety factors as if it’s an apartment. So that’s the delicate balance on the cleanliness and the community spacing, the social distancing. Those have been challenges that our staff has had to deal with on the staff side that was totally unexpected. I think the words unexpected and unprecedented are probably our two biggest adjectives for the year.

Darrell Bock
You’ve talked about new vocabulary. I have a sentence for you that I think summarizes our time, and it goes like this. I should have Zoomed when I got Skyped. [Laughter] So, we’re just dealing with all this communication in a different style. I’ve had a Friday night class that runs for three and a half hours from 6:30 to 10:00 on Friday nights. We’ve nicknamed it Friday night lights, ’cause there’s no football in Texas right now. So you gotta do something on a Friday night. And we’ve been going through the Gospels, and it’s been quite an experience.

The personnel challenges, there are two things that you mentioned that I think are important. One is your care for your personnel. When we started, when this first started, we knew we had two situations in our team that we had to be sensitive to. We have one of our gals in our staff who is asthmatic. And so she has an underlying condition. We have a second person on our team who’s pregnant. She still hasn’t delivered. It’s not until the end of the month. So we had two situations that we knew were particularly sensitive that we had to be aware of in the team that we had in our group. And so we were pretty quick to send people home, and to not put them at risk. So that’s one thing.

And the second thing that you mentioned was the keeping on mission. The challenge that we’ve had and what you’ve been describing is you almost have to redefine yourself. All the things that you do that were a normal part of your everyday operation are suddenly gone. You are not doing things the way you normally do them. You might have been doing some of that on the side, but it’s not the main thing that you’ve been doing. And all of a sudden, the minor thing becomes the main thing. And Mark Y, why don’t you talk a little bit about that transition, ’cause I think that’s actually one of the harder aspects of this to deal with. And then the next thing I want to turn our attention to is how do you make decisions when you don’t have everything in place that you need to make the decisions that you need to make? That’s like magic. So, Mark Y, why don’t you take on the mission reconfiguration issue?

Mark Yarbrough
I think that on the … let me talk, first of all on the faculty side, because I think … now, I’m gonna say this, and if we have a whole bunch of faculty that are watching this, I may get into a lot of trouble here. So, …
Darrell Bock
I think you may be safe.
Mark Yarbrough
The reason I say that is because I think on the faculty side, as difficult as it was for some courses to move into a digital format, there may have been a little bit easier than other positions on the campus. And the reason I say that is because a course has papers and readings and lectures, and you have material that you are covering, and you have a goal. It’s at the end of the semester, there are course outcomes. So as difficult as the modality change may have been for some, and the environmental change may have been for some, from a faculty standpoint, I think that it may have been a little bit easier, because they’re still saying, “Here’s the methodical material that I’m covering.”

Now, when I talk about students, that’s a whole different topic, because for some students, it was, “Okay. I can handle this. We’re doing great.” Other students, incredible challenge. Their occupation immediately changed. Their relationship with their children immediately changed. The ones that I think I feel for more than anything else were the moms and dads that are full time students, or one is a student, they’re now both working at home, and their children that were either at a day care or in school are now present. And they’re trying to be a student, a mom, a worker, a spouse, and a parent all in a geographic space that may be a small apartment. That’s tough.

And so, one of the things that we started talking to … and you two can attest to this … when we in our faculty meetings are saying the word is … and you guys go ahead and know what the word is … it’s what? It’s grace. And I said that a million times, because I was trying to make the point that we need to extend grace in as many ways as possible to our students. We went in and instigated a pass/fail for students. And we’ve had several hundred that have taken us up on that.

So I think, from a faculty standpoint, it may have been a little smoother, in spite of the pedagogical challenges. For students, depending on who they were, it was a challenge. And then certainly for certain occupations, certain roles and responsibilities at the seminary, it radically changed who they were and what they did. Some jobs literally can’t be done in this format. Dr. Bailey, you made reference to that a minute ago. If you’re talking about someone who faithfully cleans the rest rooms, or sweeps the sidewalks. When those jobs are off, and we’re on lock down and quarantine, you just can’t do those jobs.

So, I think there were a variety of ways that it impacted the community in so many different ways, depending upon who you are, what you did, and when your responsibility needed to be executed and carried out. So, those are just some initial thoughts there, Darrell, as you think about the variety of ways that it impacted us.

Darrell Bock
Now one of the things I’m having to cope with here because we’re in this setup is that the people mowing my lawn have just hit my back yard right outside my door, here. So if you hear a little noise in the background, that’s what’s going on. You just gotta live with the results. So I didn’t pay them to do this. So. But I am paying them, but not to do this.
Mark Yarbrough
It’s okay. My wife had to run in the room a minute ago.
Darrell Bock
I saw that. Yeah. I almost wanted to wave. Anyway. So, Mark B, let’s talk about reconfiguration. And I’ll quickly just say, what we … at the Center, virtually everything that we did came to a halt, what we normally do. We couldn’t do our leader board. We couldn’t do our conferences. We had to put off stuff. Everything that we normally operate. We couldn’t get access to the studio where we do these podcasts. Everything went to ground zero with nothing to do. Well, how do you function and do what you do when you have nothing to do?

So we literally have had to reinvent ourselves during the break. And we looked for some ministry opportunities that we could create, in terms of we built a relationship with a church, and we’re now ministering to high school students during this time in a way that we probably wouldn’t have had time to do had we been on our normal schedule. You can see the result of what we’re doing with the podcast. And it’s actually generated some interesting things that we think on the other end, when this is at least different than it is right now and we’re not as sheltered as we are, we will still continue to do because they are good things in terms of mission that we were almost forced to come up with in order to fill the gap of what’s going on. What else have you seen in that regard, Mark B?

Mark Bailey
It s a great question. I think, with some of our staff, since Mark talked about the faculty, and I is one [Laughs], I have been used to doing online classes and live classes. And so my live class shifted to an online. And that was a whole new experience to take that group of people to an online format, get them comfortable with it, figure out how to interact with them, meet with them in Zoom during normal class times part of the time. But the advantage I had is that course was also video. We had it all captured. And so I could have them look at lectures, and then we could make more Q&A in that. So some of that flexibility creates some opportunity for the future for pedagogy experimentation in hybrid deliveries and things like. So like what you were saying, some things we’re not gonna want to change on the other end of that.

But I think for some reassignment of duties, that’s been the challenge in our operations side, especially on the campus side. We still have things going on. We have a lot being cleared for our new building, and so there’s things of preparation. But jobs have changed from that standpoint. I think one of the challenges that is facing … and you hear it in the news as well … from it’s first … what has it been, 54 days or whatever it is … we’ve assumed our staff can work remotely. They can to a certain point, and they can’t at a certain level. I think we’ve all been pretty flex in saying, “Hey. We’re not trying to micro manage what they’re doing while they’re at home.” If the job is getting done and the projects are being done, the workflow issue is going to be a long term question, the longer we are. And so some places are saying, “How do we manage workflow without micromanaging personnel?” That, I think, is gonna be a delicate thing going forward, if we are in this too many more months.

In our office, for example, we’ve got mostly project type things, documents that need to be done, processes, communication. It’s easier to watch that than it might be for somebody else. But I think for some, even in our media and arts division, they started doing, because they were shut down, the cameras were shut down, the studio was shut down … so they started assigning who could come up with the most creative … they almost had a game. They did their own March Madness brackets of competing ideas for creativity in media and arts going forward. How do we improve the department? And so they had a competition for new ideas in the Media Arts Center, which … or the Media and Communications Center, which I thought was a very creative way to manage your folks, and to keep them engaged. You guys have been doing creative research as well. But I think that’s an illustration of the challenge for staff.

Again, for faculty, we know what they’re doing in the classroom. We know what it takes to be in the classroom. We’re not worried what they’re studying at home. We know that the peer pressure is to be on, and the students are gonna tell you if you’re not. And so the faculty, we don’t have to micro manage. We know from the classroom if they’re doing the job or not.

A staff is a different side of that, and especially when you have bookstore staff, or the coffee place. Those are starting to reopen at the retail level now, with some of the reopening aspects of it. But those are some more challenges, as far as supervisors being delicate, and knowing what’s going on without pushing because, as Mark mentioned, I’ve got students who have three kids at home. All of them need to be on the computer. So you’re assuming all five people, or four people in the family at least, or maybe five, have computers. And you can’t assume that. And so … And then the noise factor, the pet factor, all of us have been watching.

It’s amazing what late night television, like the Tonight Show, what can be done in this kind of a fashion and still be entertaining enough, even though the quality is less than best. On the one hand it’s amazing how the country has flexed with the limitations. So I think those have been some of the challenges on the staff side. And we’ll be, I think long term, work folks are talking about how do we manage this for the long haul if things don’t open back up? And if they do phase, we’re working on a phased approach, like many are, of rotating staff, coming back safely. But safety, security, health, cleanliness are the high priorities for the workplace. We may never have as clean a workplace. We may have the cleanest workplace we’ve ever had going forward compared to our history because of this. But a lot of it’s we don’t know what we don’t know.

Darrell Bock
Well that makes for a good transition. And Mark Y, since you’re getting ready to handle the baton, I’m handing the toughest question off to you, which is, how in the world do you make decisions when you don’t have everything in place that you need to make the decisions that you need to make? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? That’s that kind of question. So, what have you attempted to do? I think that’s probably the best way to ask this question.
Mark Yarbrough
Yeah. It’s a great question, Darrell. And there a lot of metaphors. One of the ones that I’ve been using is I feel like we’re flying a plane without instrumentation. And I was talking with a friend of mine that happened to be a pilot. And he said, “Just wait till you hit the cloud bank. It’s great as long as you can see the horizon, but the problem is, is when you go down and you find yourself in the clouds. And then you’re flying without instrumentation. That’s a scary place to be.”

I think that … I’m gonna use some statements that, when we hear them, we just go, “Well, of course.” But I do think that this has forced me, personally … so I’m gonna be a little transparent here … my prayer life has gone up. It’s one of the great challenges that scripture teaches us, that it is the good thing about pain. It reminds us of how dependent we are upon the Lord. And I think it’s safe to say, I know with the three of us, and I can certainly know in terms of the discussions that Dr. Bailey and I have had together, it has forced us to pray more. It has forced levels of communication, maybe, that weren’t present. I think that’s a great thing. It forces you to state, restate, and then maybe over state so that clarity is in front of us.

One of the things that I have enjoyed … if I can use that word … in the last six weeks of not just it’s forced me to pray more, but it has shown me again the value … I’m not saying that I didn’t know this … but it has reminded me of the value of collegiality, and a team approach to talking about getting the input of other people. The old adage out of the Proverbs of a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Well, there’s some level to that of saying that having the input of others is invaluable. And I don’t always see things the way that other people see it. Jennifer can tell you. My wife can tell you that she does not always see things the way I see it. And so I think that this has helped. And so when I’ve looked at the value of our executive committee … Dr. Bailey, I think you would agree with that … the wisdom, the collective wisdom that has come out, he made reference to us needing to make sure we’re really communicating with the board.

So I want to say that it comes down to this. It’s your walk with the Lord in prayer and a reminder of dependence, listening to the wisdom of other people, assessing your data as best you have. The challenge that I have personally felt on this one is that we do not have the data that we normally have to make decisions. And I think for all the type A’s that are out there, and how we probably collectively in, even as a Western culture, are very data driven. We want to assess the facts as we have them. What happens when you don’t have all the facts? And so that’s where, again, it just forces you back to those other two areas that I’d say, prayer, dependence upon the Lord, listening to the Holy Spirit. And then also listen to the collective wisdom of others around you, to be able to make those decisions.

So it’s been pretty simple for me. I don’t think there’s any silver bullets, if you will. It’s those things of the Lord, others, and assess the data that you do have.

Darrell Bock
So, as you look ahead, and this is probably time for our last question for this. As you look ahead … I’ll let each of you speak to it … where do you feel like we’re sitting? In other words, we have a little better read on where we are than probably we were six weeks ago. I think that’s fair. We have a better understanding of much of what we’re dealing with, but we’re still not out of the woods. We have a little bit of a feel for the way in which the institution has continued to run in the midst of this uncertain period, the way in which people have responded to us. And my sense is, is that people have been actually pretty generous to us as an institution, in terms of the way they’ve dealt with what they’re dealing with in the midst of their support for us, that kind of thing.

Where do you feel like we’re sitting as you look ahead? And although things are changing and not changing at the same time. We’re opening up. That’s a change. But we’re still dealing with the uncertainty that we’ve been dealing with to a great degree. How do you work that, and how do you work that as a team. And I do want to take a second to give a shout out. And that shout out is to Ed Herrelko and the team that ran the task force. He literally dove into a black hole at the beginning of this thing. He … I would sometimes try and communicate with him and I’d get one sentence back and he’d ask for understanding and I got it. But that group of support, and the IT team which helped us turn around in two seconds in the blink of an eye, they’ve been terrific.

The team that cleans the buildings, which were … and they were being asked to clean certain buildings every two hours. There’s just a lot of unseen … it’s unseen people who often work unseen but are really, in many ways, essential to making this work, who ended up being very visible and transparent. Their presence was transparent to everyone. And it’s actually a great opportunity to say thank you very much for making this all possible, the stuff that you do see from the people who you don’t see.

Mark Bailey
Let me go back, too. I think you asked the “How?” question, and then I want to speak to the “What?” issue. For me, personally, just being vulnerable as well, the words that have come to my mind, with this kind of limitation, it is a phrase that’s caused me to value my priorities. And what I thought was important isn’t that important. All of us obviously miss the NBA, March Madness, everything we enjoy about sports, and maybe theater as well. It’s amazing how non-essential, and for me it was a reminder that the Lord’s list of what it takes to be content is much shorter than mine. And when you start paring it down and keep scratching off everything that He doesn’t have on His list that I had on my list, that’s humbling.

But the issue of … I really can be content. I can be happy, and I’m in a great situation with my wife in our house and our home. We’ve had everything hit the fan, if you’re in the spring, in terms of a new roof, an air conditioner, a garage door opener, a root canal. [Laughter] It just has. At the same time, it’s been wonderful to just work and walk through those together. And our prayer time has increased. Our devotional time together. We’ve always done those pretty separately. We’re doing more of that together at night now, using Paul Tripp’s book New Morning Mercies, which I amazed how providential his selections are in that book for this time of the year, even coming through the Easter holy week, et cetera, and in our present crisis. He’s a wonderful writer.

So, I think that issue. And then the question of where does peace come from? How can I be at peace in unknown circumstances? And that relates then to your question of how do we plan for the unknown? And I think at that point wisdom, as Mark said, with a team of people, wisdom’s found in a multitude of counselors. Get all you can get from all the right people you can get it from, besides your primary source, which is the Lord, the Spirit, and the word. And then I would say you have to create some multiple scenarios. You’ll have to think of some, okay, if this happens, what would we do? What’s the … The prognostication of the what ifs, and what would we do if? And to think through those kinds of things as best you can, as Mark said without having the data in front of you that you’d like to have before you make the decision. How do you anticipate without becoming reckless? How do you make good decisions for good preparation, and for the inevitables? And so I think that would be a quick answer, or a long answer to a quick question from that standpoint.

But I think that walking with the Lord just for the sake of personal perspective, so that we’re not rattled, we’re not worrying in the wrong sense of that word. Our concern is legitimate, and it’s not anxiety. And then say, we’re doing the best we can do with what we’ve got, and take it … But I also … For me, the history, one of the principles of the Old Testament, I love it, and David when he’s in the Valley of Elah, he had the faith that God could take care of the giant because how God had taken care of him in previous circumstances, with the lion, the bear, I can take care of this guy as well.

The history of what God has done at Dallas Seminary, the history of what God has done in our own personal lives, there’s a faith factor there that this isn’t the end, this isn’t the way it’s gonna finish. God’s seen us through those kinds of days, God can see us through these kinds of days. And the mission continue, the institution may change, and has to change in the times. But the mission can still be fulfilled in the ways God wants it to be fulfilled all along the way. And so that faith of God having worked through our history is a faith builder for me for future.

Darrell Bock
Mark Y, get the last word on this. How would you think about this? And I do want to just repeat the shout out to the staff that normally goes unacknowledged and unseen, as well as to the supporters of the seminary, who have continued to come forward on our behalf, for which we are most appreciative.
Mark Yarbrough
I think Mark and I would both join you in that. We applaud our faithful, faithful team that we are honored to work with, those that are seen, those that are unseen. We’ve watched the fruit of the Spirit at work in the lives of those that we are privileged to walk with. And that includes those that are employed at Dallas Seminary, those that teach at Dallas Seminary, and those that stand with us. So we join you in that.

I think it gives us … ultimately it comes down to we have a greater opportunity to trust our Lord as we move into the future. If you read the data, and you read what those who are trying to look forward, this is a defining moment in education. One of the things that I read on a regular basis are individuals in what’s called The Chronicle of Higher Education, and they’re looking forward of what this may do in terms of modalities of education, the flexibility that may very well be needed. What do we do if, all of a sudden, this comes back, we start a normal model again? I don’t think there’s ever gonna be a new … Things are never gonna fully be like they once were. I think that the COVID-19 moment is something that in years to come, we’re gonna look back at this moment and say, “That was a turning point in a lot of different things.”

Darrell Bock
Yeah. The old normal is history.
Mark Yarbrough
That is exactly right. This is a new era, but we don’t yet know what the new era is like. Now, when I say that, here’s what I can say. We, of all people, should be incredibly confident in knowing that you know what hasn’t changed? He who changes has not changed. So I think we need to keep saying that over and over again. And so I appreciate the words of Dr. Bailey in saying, the Lord has been with us in the past, and He’s gonna be with us into the future. And whatever comes our way, no matter how deep the waters get, no matter how rough the turbulence, no matter how big the waves, pick your metaphor, whatever you want to go with, God’s got this. And so we’re to keep trusting him every step of the way, and He will not let us down.
Darrell Bock
Well that’s a great word to close off on. I want to thank you both for really just a great conversation on this. One of the metaphors we’ve used in our office is, you just ride the wave. You don’t know when it’s coming. You don’t know whether it’s gonna be big, small, crazy, or normal. But the board is on that wave, and I don’t know whether you’re hanging ten or hanging by your thumbs, but one way or the other you’re hanging, and you’re trusting Him in the midst of it all. So I want to thank you all for that.

And I want to thank you all for joining us on The Table. We hope this has been a helpful discussion to you, and we look forward to seeing you again on The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture.

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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Mark L. Bailey
Dr. Bailey assumed the role of DTS Chancellor after serving for 19 years as the Seminary’s fifth President, and continues his role as Sr. Professor in the Bible Exposition department. In addition to his years at Dallas Theological Seminary, he has pastored various churches in Arizona and Texas. He was a seminar instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for twenty years and is in demand for Bible conferences and other preaching engagements all over the country and world. His overseas ministries have included Venezuela, Argentina, Hungary, and China. He is also a regular tour leader in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Rome. His board service includes Bible Study Fellowship, Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, and Word of Life.
Mark M. Yarbrough
Dr. Yarbrough serves as the President and Professor of Bible Exposition at DTS. Mark oversees all seminary activities related to academics and public representation, including overseeing the extension campuses, extension initiatives, and online education. He received his ThM from DTS in 1996, and PhD in 2008.
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