Photos by Ralph Freso
Dr. Joshua Anderson feels he has moved into a mansion.
“That’s what it feels like,” Anderson said after his first few months as director of Grand Canyon Theological Seminary, the graduate school of Grand Canyon University's College of Theology. “And so I’m really grateful for the opportunity and really excited for what is really happening, but also looking forward.”
Anderson welcomes the rapid pace of operating a young seminary – it was founded as a largely online program with in-person residencies in 2016, while its physical space is just a little more than two months old.
His 14 years at Phoenix Seminary prepared him well, as he served in numerous positions, such as dean of students and director of doctoral and online programs.
Plans for GCU’s 17,000-square foot seminary facility near the intersection of 27th Avenue and Camelback Road were not publicly announced until late February, but Anderson has marveled over the seamless pace that enabled classes to start in time for the fall semester.
“That is unheard of,” Anderson said behind his desk. “It usually takes years, three to five years, for seminary to get off the ground. And we already have accreditation because we had it full online, which is huge because that just builds, for lack of a better term, the brand and builds the credibility.
“When people know Grand Canyon Theological Seminary is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, they’ve already put the stamp of approval on it so that they can start sending their people here with confidence. We have the executive teams here starting with (GCU President) Brian Mueller, (Provost) Dr. Randy Gibb and everyone else involved on the executive level saying, ‘Go.’ They are giving their full confidence to this idea and saying, ‘Let’s give it 100%.’ ”
Statistics suggest the timing could be right. According to a Statement of Educational Effectiveness compiled by Grand Canyon Theological Seminary conducted during the 2021-22 calendar year, 88% of GCTS students surveyed said they would recommend the program and that the program met their expectations.
“The new seminary facility has been an incredible blessing to faculty and students alike and provides wonderful opportunities to connect with the local ministry leaders and churches we serve,” said Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of Grand Canyon Theological Seminary and the College of Theology. “After only two months, we have seen a rich, Gospel-centered community emerge as students have begun to inhabit the space and delve deeply into their studies.”
Anderson, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, has served in the Valley since 1994, and he believes his experience as a pastor and theological educator can supplement the leadership established by Hiles and strengthen GCU’s bond with local churches.
“I’m also excited about what God is doing and what God is going to continue to do to prepare the next generation of Christian leaders,” Anderson said.
Anderson envisions GCU serving as partners with local churches and helping them prepare the next generation of leaders. He feels honored when a local pastor visits GCU and tells him this is where he wants to send his future pastors.
“Seminary is a season of preparation for a lifetime of ministry,” Anderson said. “Sometimes it’s going to be pastoral ministry. Sometimes it’s going to be in a nonprofit organization. It might be in higher education. It might be in an elementary school, teaching Bible, theology, whatever that might look like.
“It might be in the mission field, going to another country and seeing where you can serve the local population for the cause of Christ, wherever that is.”
Thanks to their resources and potential growth, GCU seminary is projected as a training ground and as a service to local churches,” Anderson said. The resources include a 4,000-square-foot theological library.
“And it’s not always about numbers,” said Anderson, who is married with three children. “It’s about the quality of student preparing for the work of the ministry. But it’s incredible to see what God is doing here, and I’m really thankful for the opportunity.”
GCU’s large minority online enrollment blends well with its mission to represent the global church and be multicultural. And its ground enrollment is made up of a respectable number of local and international students. That helps a pastor or ministry leader to establish a rapport with more global communities.
“Thanks in large part to Josh Anderson’s leadership, the vibrancy and hospitality of the seminary exceeds my expectations,” Hiles said. “It is clearly a place for serious study and spiritual formation.
“I could not be more grateful for the warmth and wisdom of our amazing faculty or for the joy of watching the way students grow in their knowledge of God and his Word.”
As part of his local and national recruiting duties, Anderson wants to start a rapport with church pastors and let them know they can use the seminary's facilities in an effort to serve them.
“If you have a unique opportunity, I cannot always say ‘yes’ to everything, but I want to at least know what your needs are to see if we can serve you and serve you well,” Anderson said.
“A partnership can enhance students, whether they need internships, mentoring or training. They can get that help in the ministry.”
If pastors need more swaying, they can listen to alumni from the College of Theology.
“Alumni are often our best recruiters because they’ve gone through the school, they’ve gone through the rigors of the seminary experience, but they’ve gone through their education time here,” Anderson said. “And then they’re out in ministry and they see how everything they’ve learned in the classroom applies to the work in the ministry.
“They’re our loudest cheerleaders in places maybe we didn’t know we needed to be. But they will tell people they’re interacting with, ‘Have you thought about Grand Canyon Theological Seminary?’"
GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]