It's a new GCU ministry for Spiritual Life director

Erik Nelsen is the new Director of Spiritual Life at Grand Canyon University. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Erik Nelsen has a new title at Grand Canyon University – he’s moving from Welcome Programs Manager to Director of Spiritual Life.

But one of the many things he likes about the campus is that his mission really won’t change that much.

Erik Nelsen's work as Welcome Programs Manager taught him the importance of inviting students to join the GCU spiritual community as soon as they've moved in. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

“What I’ve enjoyed about GCU, especially in the Student Affairs world, is that we’re all doing ministry to some degree,” the Phoenix native said. “When I was in college and from a young adult age, I felt called to be involved in ministry to young people.

“Fortunately, I’ve been able to do that in Welcome Programs, but I’ve been drawn more and more to support and influence ministry programming for college students.”

Nelsen’s Welcome Programs role involved helping students get acclimated during Welcome Week and orientation and further assisting them if they struggled to connect after being on campus for a while. But it has been spiritual in nature.

“In some ways, the things we do in Welcome Programs are very ministry-minded because as we invite new students and families to Welcome Week and orientation, we’re trying to invite them into a really good biblical community,” he said. “I’ll just be joining in the great efforts Spiritual Life is already doing to share the Gospel with students and take their faith deeper.”

Indeed, Nelsen’s background is ideal to his new job. In addition to a Master of Science degree in Leadership from GCU, he has a Master of Arts degree in Biblical Leadership from Phoenix Seminary. In addition, he has been a director in student ministries at Scottsdale Bible Church.

Dr. Tim Griffin, Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor, said Nelsen was a clear choice for Director of Spiritual Life.

“Erik’s passion for ministry, collaborative spirit and unique skill set made him a wonderful candidate for leading the Spiritual Life team,” said Dr. Tim Griffin, Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor.

“As we went through the interview process, it was clear that this was the right time for him to have the opportunity to provide both leadership and vision to the department. We are very excited that Erik accepted the role and are expecting great things from his service to the staff and students in the years to come.”

Nelsen’s bachelor’s degree is in something entirely different – he studied recreation management and tourism at Arizona State University. But it’s an important piece in the puzzle, too.

“Studying recreation and hospitality lined up well – create meaningful experiences for people and being very hospitable and welcoming them to church,” he said.

The key to what GCU does, he added, is working with students hearing the Gospel for the first time as well as those who want to grow deeper in their faith. In Welcome Programs, he taught student leaders to never say, “You should go to Chapel.” Instead, they should say, “Why don’t you come to Chapel with me?”

Chapel is one of the programs Nelsen will be managing.

As Director of Spiritual Life, he will manage the three main worship services on campus – Chapel, The Gathering and The Sanctuary – as well as Local Outreach, Global Outreach and the Life Group program.

“I really love what we’re doing,” he said. “I have been able to observe and witness from the side the amazing ministries that are happening. It’s easy for me and our team in Welcome Programs to promote these great opportunities for new students. We just say, ‘Hey, if you’re new, go to your life group, go to Chapel, go to these life-changing experiences.’”

It all comes down to one thing for Christians, in Nelsen’s mind: Just be happy to be in relationship with Jesus.

“As believers, we should just be really joyful, and it should be contagious,” he said. “That’s one of the great things I see here at GCU – that joy is contagious, and I want to continue to encourage that.”

It’s that joy that makes him tick.

“I like to say that I’m very enthusiastic about life in general, and I think that goes back to that joy,” he said. “The thing that jazzes me up about GCU is, in my years in Welcome Programs, I have been able to partner with campus leaders and staff across the entire organization for the sake of Welcome Week and orientation. Being part of a community that is really supportive and really trusting, especially as the University grows so large, it really does feel like family. I think of co-workers as family, in some sense.

“Being around college students who are very passionate about changing the world and glorifying God, it’s just so life-giving.”

It goes both ways. And for students who get involved in GCU’s many Spiritual Life programs, it’s life-changing as well.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Campus returns to full schedule of worship services

GCU Today: Experiencing the sights, sounds of Welcome Week


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