Interview with Dr. Easley, Eighth President of Moody Bible Institute

Last month, Moody Bible Institute (MBI) in Chicago, Ill., welcomed its eighth president, Dr. Michael J. Easley, to continue the legacy of the institution founded in 1886 by the world-renown 19th-century evangelist D.L. Moody.

On April 11, 2005, the Christian Post had a chance to speak to Dr. Easley about his past 20 years of pastoral service and his vision for the future as the leader of the MBI.

The following is the full text of the interview with the Christian Post staff:

It's been a little over a month since you took the office. How do you feel?

Moving from overwhelmed to getting excited.

I heard that you were out of the country last month. Where did you go and how was the trip?

One of the professors from Moody and I had been in Egypt and Jordan for 2 weeks. Dr. Charlie Dyer does quite a few tours in Israel. He and I have traveled a number of times together. This is a trip we had actually planned about 10 months ago. It was a combination of people from my church in Virginia and friends of Dr. Dyer who are constituents of Moody family. It was a great trip. We had a great time.

As the new president of Moody, what kind of goals and visions do you have that you’d like to fulfill under your presidency?

For almost 119 years, Moody has been training men and women for Christian vocational service. Education of course is the front piece of Moody and we’d continue in that. So that’s not a new vision or goal. That’s who we are and what we’ve been doing. I feel very strongly that we’ve been handed a legacy and we will handle that with great care.

Along the way, Moody became a publishing house as well as a radio broadcasting ministry. So those two aspects of the ministry are very important education goals of Moody. Whether it’s publishing, radio broadcasting, or education, we’re doing all that to provide vocational training for men and women for the next generation.

So that’s not going to change.

The First thing I’m doing as a goal is learning. I’m trying to learn the organization, the history, what Moody is doing well around the world and to continue doing that.

Secondly, we’ll re-educate ourselves on the visions we’ve had in the past, on who D.L. Moody is and what his dreams were for what has become Moody.

Thirdly, I would say we’ll take a look at excellence in everything we do. From the way we relate to men and women who help us financially to the way we educate the students, to the way we do radio broadcast, and to the way we publish.

How did you react when you first heard about your opportunity at Moody?

I’ve been pastoring right at 20 years and I was totally content in that role and had no interest in leaving. When Moody started talking to me, it was a huge process for my wife, Cindy, and me. It was not an easy decision. We spent a lot of time in prayers and talking to mentors because I didn’t see myself in this role.

So it was a real submission to what God had placed in front of me. Then it became a ministry of stewardship. If God has given us an opportunity that the trustees felt we were able to do and with God’s kindness, maybe we can do this. Then it was for me an issue of stewardship and obedience.

Did you have previous teaching experience prior to coming to Moody?

The local churches that I pastored are Bible teaching churches. They’re more so preaching churches. The teaching I have done is not in an academic setting, but certainly a pulpit setting for the past 20 years.

What are some of the “traditions” at Moody that you will uphold and continue?

If I think about our legacy, I think Moody is about training men and women for ministry. For example, I shared with the faculty last week and encouraged them to keep on teaching them how to study the Bible and how to teach the Bible. Skills for Bible study and systematic theology study have not changed. If you want to call it a tradition in sort of a Classic Christian education mindset, we’re trying to keep that tradition alive.

In churches, I make distinction between “traditionism” and traditions. Traditions are good things that we do but traditionism refers to things that we do just because we always did. I would distinguish those two a little bit.

Recently, there has been a paradigm shift in the seminaries where the focus is placed on the laymen and the seminaries are reaching out to the lay leaders. According to a recent report, there has been a significant increase in students graduating in pastoral counseling or teaching whereas the number of students going into church ministry has been in the decline. Would you like to comment on this?

I would say in Moody’s part case, we have about 1400 in our undergraduate program and we’re turning students away each year. We can’t take all the qualified applicants who apply. We have about 500 in our graduate program and other 1500 plus in our distance-learning program.

The increase in men and women applying for distance learning is due to a number of reasons. One is that they may have a full time career, the older students working on a degree. Moody is seeing an increase in applications.

In regard to counseling and other things, there are lots of schools in the U.S. where you can get a fine Christian liberal arts education. Moody is going to stay very strong on a vocational training, in training men and women for full time ministry. A wish in my heart is putting them back in local churches.

I still think church is a Christ organism. I don’t think He meant “I will build church buildings” when he said “I will build my church.” But, I do think He meant “I will build a community” of followers of Christ who come together under the same moniker of his death, burial and resurrection and they are our only hope. That will not change under the trustees and under my term here. We would train men and women to take the gospel into their lives and in their careers.

Moody is one of the oldest and leading seminaries in the U.S. Moody is really in the position to lead many seminaries across the nation. How do you plan for Moody to continue leading the American seminaries?

My particular heart is to bring the Bible back as the centerpiece of Christianity in America and around the globe. My concern is, as I’ve watched ministry over the past twenty years, the entertainment value has become important in local churches. They’ve moved away from scriptures in lots of ways. I’m not saying you have to be a Bible beating fundamentalist.

But, to teach accurately the very word of God. At the end of the day, when I retire, if people say Moody enhanced our Bible teaching, we increased people’s knowledge in the scripture, and equipped students to handle the Bible accurately, if those things are said, I would die a happy man. Because I think that our hope is in the very word of God.

Not in the entertainment, not in clever ministry, not in who’s smarter in ministry, but are we putting people in front of the very word of God, trusting his spirit to change us to be more like Jesus Christ. That to me is our only hope.

I came to read about how you came to Christ during your high school years. It was through the reading of the Bible that you came to realize the amazing grace of God. Can you share more about your experience?

I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic home. I’m sure Gospel was taught but I never heard it. It was through an experience of going to Sunday school class where the Sunday school teacher wrote John 3:16 on the chalkboard and handed out a copy of the Gospel John to all the students.

I said to him, "Are you telling me all I have to do is believe?" He said, "What does the verse say?" "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." I said, “Are you telling me all I have to do is believe?”

To every question I asked, “What about these things? What about doing this and doing that?” He would just refer back to “what does the verse say?” I trusted Christ at that moment. There was a life change when I understood that it was by faith, not by works. It took a couple of more years before I understood what it meant and to grow. Ephesians 2:8-9 became watershed verses for me. That it was not by anything that I can do but only what Christ has done was I going to have eternal life in Jesus Christ.

To understand that was a growth point for me. I was saved by grace by grace alone. It was not by anything I can contribute. And to live a life as a thank-you gift back to Christ for what he has done for me becomes our mission.

That was in Jr. High School, in between eighth and ninth grade.

Is there anything you’d like to say to the young seminarians in the U.S. today?

Put their nose back in the Bible. Get back to the word.

The interview with the president concluded with his final remarks:

This has been the biggest decision for my wife, Cindy and me to come to Moody. It’s a very humbling honor to be a part of this institution and see how God is going to use us in the next 15 to 20 years is very exciting.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in Houston, Texas, Dr. Easley earned his B.S. Ed at Stephen F. Austin State University and a Th. M and D. Min at Dallas Theological Seminary. He also received a John G. Mitchell Award for outstanding doctoral research in 2003.

His successful ministry experiences of 20 years began while a college student at F. Austin State University. After college he served as a Youth Pastor Intern at Trinity Fellowship in Dallas. He then served as a Senior Pastor at Grand Prarie Bible Church from 1984-1993 and at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA from 1993-2005, during which he has also served as National Conference Speaker at FamilyLife Marriage Conferences.