Anderson University President John Pistole shares his journey of excitement and discovery, how he was called upon to serve in the highest levels of government after 9/11 and how his faith has given him strength at each stage of the journey.

John S. Pistole became the fifth President of Anderson University in 2015. Pistole earned his bachelor’s degree, cum laude from Anderson University in 1978. He went on to earn a juris doctorate from the Robert H. McKinney School of Law at Indiana University before going into practice for two years.

In 1983, Pistole began his 26-year career with the FBI. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Pistole was placed in charge of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, eventually becoming the FBI’s Executive Assistant Director for national security. In 2004, Pistole was named Deputy Director for the FBI, and two years later was awarded the Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive.

In 2010, Pistole became the Administrator of the TSA, in which capacity, he led a 60,000-strong workforce and the security operations of more than 450 airports throughout the United States. In June, 2015, Pistole was appointed to the Homeland Security Advisory Council, and became President of Anderson University. Locally, he serves on the Boards of the Madison County Foundation and St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital.

“Be open to how God may be working in your life even in ways completely unforeseen right now.”

“Christ-in-me is talking about myself.”

“What higher calling than to be doing exactly what God is leading you to do?”

Key Takeaways:
1. Keep saying “yes” to the opportunities.
2. Pray your D.E.W.S – Discernment. Encouragement. Wisdom. Strength.
3. Know the way; Show the way; Go the way.
4. No problems, only opportunities to demonstrate character.
5. Be rooted and grounded in Christ.
6. Be distinctive, compelling, and relevant.

Anderson University

Full transcript:

Ray: Well, hello everyone. This is Ray Hilbert and I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith where we have the intersection of faith and leadership and business in the marketplace. And if you’re a regular listener, welcome back to the show. If you’re a first time listener, thank you for joining us. We get an opportunity here at Bottom Line Faith to travel the country and interview some of the most amazing, godly leaders who are using their experience, their skillsets, and their passions to live out their faith in the marketplace. We get to interview entrepreneurs, and CEOs, and government leaders, and athletes, and coaches.

I am really excited about today’s episode for a couple of reasons. One is I am on the campus of Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana, and I’m in the office of the president John Pistole. We’re going to get to meet John in just a moment, but this particular setting has great personal meaning to me. I am a 1988 graduate of Anderson University, so I am on the campus of my Alma mater. And I am really excited because you all are going to be greatly encouraged and blessed as we get to know John Pistole. John is the fifth president in the hundred year history of the university. So John, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.

John: Hey, Ray, thanks so much. I’m just curious, how many times were you in the president’s office while you were a student here? Or was that the Dean of Student’s office? Yeah.

Ray: Yeah, that was the one.

John: That was the one. One of those. That’s right.

Ray: I know I was certainly in financial aid, my fair share too. As a young student working my way through, they were… It was a great experience. I got a business degree and it’s an honor to be here.

John: Well thank you. And I happen to be a 78 alum also, grad of AU. My dad was a professor here and so it’s just a joy and honor to be here as president, but especially to welcome you and your powerful show and just the way that God has used you and worked in your life to be a blessing to others.

Ray: Oh that’s so kind of you. Thanks. Well, you’ve had a very interesting pathway to end up here as president, the fifth president, as I mentioned at Anderson University. And I want to get in, in just a few moments. We’re going to talk about the university. Some of the powerful things that you’re doing here that really transform a culture, and the history, and where we’re headed as as an institution. But let’s talk a little bit about your background. How did you end up in this place?

John: Yeah, so I mentioned my dad was a professor here. So I grew up a block and half from the campus of Anderson University, which is just 45 minutes outside of Indianapolis. I was the youngest of four kids and my mom was a godly woman along with my dad. He’s just been a godly man, so raised in a great home. We went to local church here and was baptized when I was 12 years old and just on fire for Jesus as a young guy. But unfortunately, that fire not only waned, but it actually went out, I would say from my perspective. And so by the time I was 13, I was really rejecting my parents’ faith and just, it was all about me and just partying all the time. I was really leading a double life.

Ray: Wow.

John: I was still going to youth, some youth activities at church, but was really just about partying and doing things that I knew were wrong, but I didn’t really care. And so that really came to a culmination, the senior year of high school where I was number one player in the high school tennis team and hoping for college scholarships someplace. I was going to be a starting forward on the number one team in the state for basketball, which back at that time was one class. It was a big deal.

And then two weeks into my senior year I was involved in a car accident, which I ended up with a broken neck and I didn’t think I would survive, or if I did, I’d be paralyzed. Because I had a friend break his neck on the high school trampoline the year before, and he was paralyzed from the neck down for a week and then he passed away. So I had a real fear of dying that night, first night in the hospital. And I was literally scared to death of going to sleep because I knew I had rejected God.

And I wasn’t even trying to bargain or negotiate. I knew that I had rejected God. And I knew if I went to sleep that I was not going to wake up.

Ray: Wow.

John: And I was going straight to hell and that I was beyond redemption. So I also did wake up and I really saw it as an opportunity to start a new life. And so I feel like God gave me not only a second chance in life physically because I had a full recovery. They did spinal fusion, fused through my vertebrae together, but I was actually able to play four years of basketball and tennis in college a year later, starting a year later. So God gave me a complete physical healing and recovery. But more importantly, he gave me a second chance spiritually. And I know not everybody gets that.

I don’t know why I did and my friend on the trampoline didn’t. But I have embraced each and every day as literally a gift from God to say, “Okay, God, what do you have for me today? How can I be a blessing to others? And how can I honor and glorify your name?”

Ray: That is so powerful. And so you went on to get a law degree?

John: Yes. Yeah.

Ray: Let’s talk a little bit about your college days.

John: Yeah. So I was a pre-law major and then thought that, I guess there was still the human side of me, even after the accident and the coming back to Jesus. But my goal was to be a rich, famous lawyer. And I wasn’t all that concerned about the famous part, but I just thought, well, lawyers are rich and everything. And so I went to three years of law school, and graduated, and started practicing. And after my first year of practice I thought, wow, I made a mistake.

I’m having cases against attorneys who’ve been doing this for 30, 40 years. And yes, I’m helping people who are in bad situation whether divorce, or bankruptcy, or they’ve been sued for something. So I thought I was doing some good, but I just didn’t have a sense of this is what God was really calling me to do. And so I decided to look around some of the other opportunities and I knew two former attorneys who had joined the FBI as FBI agents. So I talked to them and they said, “Boy, if you’re looking for a change of pace, you know, you’re not going to be in a courtroom practicing law per se.” But what I found out, most of the lawyers don’t do that. You know, they’re behind a desk, doing the paperwork, doing the wills, and estates, and trusts, and all that. And so yeah, I decided to apply for the FBI and that’s a long story. But eventually a year later, after twice being told they wouldn’t be able to hire me. Once because of my broken neck and the doctor didn’t certify. And then another situation, but they eventually did. And so that started almost a 27 year career with the FBI and doing things as I never dreamed to do, would be doing and yeah. I felt like God was able to use me in ways that I wouldn’t have never been used if I’d stayed and practice law like I started off.

Ray: Yeah. And you had the incredible blessing. You reached really the pinnacle. Won’t don’t you tell us a little bit about that?

John: Yeah. So after 9/11. So I’d been in… I came, started with the FBI 1983, so by the time 9/11 happened, I’d been in 18 years and had good experience within a leadership role. But then with 9/11 happening, there was such a shift to counter-terrorism obviously. And so the day after 9/11, Robert Mueller, who had been the FBI Oval Office for a week before 9/11 happened, went to the White House to brief then President Bush on what the FBI knew about 19 hijackers. And 15 of the 19 were probably Saudis and trying to piece it all together. And President Bush cut him off pretty quickly and said, “Well that’s all very well and good Mr. Director, but I want to know what the FBI is doing to prevent the next attack?”

Because there was a real sense that this was just a first wave of attacks, that 9/11 was and there’s going to be follow up attacks. And then there was an anthrax attack through letters and mailings and different things. And that was… There was concern that was Al-Qaeda and all this. And so as a result of that, there was a huge shift of agents and personnel to counter chairs. I was asked to participate in that and so I was named the deputy system director, the number two guy in this newly formed, or I should say expanded, there was a nascent small group of folks in counter-terrorism. And so I started doing things. Yeah. In terms of briefings to the attorney general and briefings on the Hill for Congress and things, and eventually a briefings at the White House for the president, vice president, national security staff. And so I met these people who I had only read about. And then through, over the next several years, five people above me retired and I kept getting promoted, because I was one, I was a warm body. I was a hard worker and I had integrity. And I also wasn’t eligible to retire. So those were some of my best qualities. And so I kept saying yes to the opportunities that I was presented with. So yeah, eventually in the fall of 2004, just three years later, Director Mueller asked me to be his deputy director. The number two person, 35,000 person organization, the senior non-appointed position, senior career position.

Just something I could have never dreamed of. And yeah, I did that for almost six years. I’m still the longest serving deputy director in FBI history since 1908. And so it’s just… It was a remarkable opportunity in a just a way of living out my faith in a way that I just never, never dreamed.

Ray: Yeah. That’s fantastic. I’m really curious though, as I’m listening to this. I just had this picture in my head. I see all these movies. I read novels and everything. So of course without giving away any trade secrets that you know might cause your doors to get busted down by current agents.

John: Sure, sure.

Ray: What would be something that would really surprise people that doesn’t get accurately portrayed, whether it’d be in movies or novels about life at that level. What’s something that stands out to you that would be of interest?

John: Well, I think several things. Just so I was in, dozens and dozens, probably in the low hundreds of meetings in what’s called the Situation Room at the White House and then briefing in the Oval Office dozens and dozens of times directly with the president. And I think part of what I took away and what might surprise people is just the humanity of people, in terms of we’re all people that come in with all of our strengths and weaknesses and some days are good days and other days not so much.

And then how all that comes together and in spite of the humanness and limitations that good things still come out of Washington, at least in my experience. And in terms of policies and procedures. And obviously there’s a lot of different views on that in the current era as far as the politicization of things. But in my experience… And so I left the FBI 2010 when I was asked to go head up the Transportation Security Administration, TSA, and then I spent four and a half years there as the head of TSA. But during that time, I was just continually impressed, not only by the level of excellence and commitment to public service and public duty, but then also from a faith perspective, the number of Christ followers that were there who were open about their faith. And I think I was surprised in general about the government that, well if you’re a Christian, you can’t ever say, you can’t admit that because that’s against the rules.

I found that wasn’t the case at all. So yeah, I was able to share my faith, especially at TSA, widely.

Ray: That’s incredible. And I’ve often wondered what it would be like to every morning, first thing is you’re thinking problems, problems, more problems. How did you, knowing what you knew, what was going on in the world and the dangers that we were facing, how did your faith help you navigate that kind of pressure? You’re a human being, right? You’re fallible.

John: Sure.

Ray: You’re imperfect.

John: Absolutely.

Ray: As is the president, as is every other leader. And by the way, we should be praying for our government leaders-

John: Absolutely.

Ray: Far more than we’re criticizing.

John: Well that’s right.

Ray: Whether we’re conservative, Democrat, we should be praying. And the Bible tells us that. How did your faith help you navigate all that?

John: Yeah, so I am glad you mentioned that, right? Because yeah, I started off everyday early like 4:15 and would have my quiet time at home before I’d leave for the office around 5:00 and get ready for the morning intelligence Intel briefings that we would do for the director and the attorney general, who then would, both of them would then go to the White House to brief the president. Or if they were out, if the director was out, then I ended up going all these times. So I would start off just by giving thanks to God for the day for the opportunities.

We actually developed a phrase or expression in the counter-terrorism division, “No problems, only opportunities to demonstrate character.” And for me that meant to demonstrate a Christlike character, whether I used those words or not, but that I would treat others with respect, that I would always have integrity, that people knew they could rely on me.

In fact, the first time I went with Oval Office Mueller to the Oval Office, Director Mueller was going to be out the following week, so he wanted to introduce me to the president, the vice president, and others because I was going to be in there every day the next week. Director Mueller gave me two pieces of advice. He said, if the president asks you something, say, “Yes, Mr. President,” then give the answer. But he said, “Make sure you don’t overstate whatever the answer is and whatever you do, don’t make it up.” He said, “When people are in with president, they want to give information and they don’t want to appear to be uninformed or are unknowledgeable, so the tendency is to fill in the blank.”

I thought, “Well, I’m never going to do that, but thanks for that advice.” Well, by Wednesday, that following week, my third day in there, President asked me something and I knew the first part of it and I gave it. You know, just nailed the answer. Boom, got it. And then I, in my mind, I started to go on to say some more that I thought was the case, but I didn’t know and I caught myself and said, “But I’m not sure the rest of that, so let me get that and I’ll get back with your staff.” He said, “Okay that’s fine.” No big thing to him, but for me it was a major point. And so just getting back to my morning devotions, thinking about, you know from the book of James about if we lack wisdom to pray for it and God gives us an abundance.

And so I found myself praying for our leaders because here I was meeting, I mean the president, the vice president, attorney general, these, the secretary of state, the secretary defense.

So I found myself praying for each one by name. And then after a couple months of that, it occurred to me one morning, I think God just gave me the grace and the insight to say, well John, you’re a leader also. You should be praying for those things for yourself. And what I came up with is that that old adage about you’ve got to pay your dues to get ahead. And so I changed that. You got to pray the dues and then I changed that instead of D-U-E-S for paying the dues to D-E-W-S: discernment, encouragement, wisdom and strength. Because those were four things that I knew I needed. I was working long, long hours and I was physically tired emotionally, spiritually.

Ray: Wow, yeah.

John: Even just try to keep up with everything. And then I knew these other people that I was in meetings with, both who work for me then I worked for, and then the leaders, you know the president and others, people were tired. And so I was especially focusing, okay, I’m going to pray for them for discernment, encouragement, wisdom, strength, but also praying for the same thing for myself because I knew… And I had a prayer that I’d come across years before and it’s the John Wesley covenant prayer. It starts off, “In utter dependence upon Jesus Christ as my everliving Savior, Teacher, Lord, and friend.” I’m sorry, that’s the covenant prayer. But that whole idea in utter dependence upon Jesus Christ and it says, by God’s grace in these six common disciplines. And I found myself praying that every day in such a meaningful way.

And then John Wesley’s prayer about, “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.” And just what a powerful prayer that is when I was in time of need of discernment, encouragement, wisdom, or strength.

Ray: Wow.

John: And how it was some days it was literally palpable, Ray. I mean it was just, it’s like breathing in. I just felt like the Holy Spirit infilling me. And then, now I don’t know how I came across to others, whether I had any wisdom or discernment, but I felt confident in a way that, because I didn’t have a background in counter-terrorism. In fact, Director Mueller, others had asked me before he asked me to come and serve in that position in the counter-terrorism. And I said, no, because I didn’t have the background.

And I felt like a good leader is somebody who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way. I said, I don’t know the way. I don’t know counter-terrorism. That’s a specialty. And yet when the director asked me personally, it’s kind of like you stand up and salute or you leave the organization.

Ray: Yes, sir.

John: So I decided to stand up and salute and then ask for God’s strength.

Ray: Well I’m taken back to that moment you were just sharing and there you find yourself in front of the president and you could have been very easily tempted to make it up on the spot.

John: Oh, I was.

Ray: Or embellish or whatever.

John: Yeah right.

Ray: However, the consequence to that could have been incredible because he’s
going to make decisions.

John: Right. Exactly, right.

Ray: Based on you’re the expert. Bringing that-

John: Exactly. That’s why I’m there, to inform.

Ray: So I want to just maybe just kind of then correlate that to leadership in the marketplace today.

John: Sure.

Ray: You know, what advice would you have for anyone listening to this conversation right now who would ever find themselves in a situation where there’s an answer they think they’d like to give because they think it might be advantageous.

John: Sure.

Ray: But they know it’s not A, the truth or B, maybe they are making it up. What advice would you have?

John: Well yeah, I just think you know what we’re directed to do to about being rooted and grounded in love and speak the truth in love. And for me, Micah 6:8, “To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” And if you’re embellishing, exaggerating, even then in my mind, that’s not walking humbly with your God.

Because what I found is I needed to be very closely aligned to what I understood the biblical guidance and direction.

Ray: Yes.

John: And if I wasn’t, then I was going to get in deep trouble as I would have that day in the Oval Office. If I’d gone on and opined about something and it was wrong. Now it might’ve been right, but that would’ve been lucky and worse, then yeah, the president making a bad decision. I mean that would’ve been bad, but then just from a personal standpoint, you lose all credibility if you are not seen as being a person, either of integrity or you don’t know what you’re talking about. I mean that’s why you’re there, right?

Ray: Yes.

John: There’s eight or nine people in the Oval Office and you’re briefing on something that you’re the subject matter expert so you better know what you’re talking about. So you don’t want to admit, “Oh, I don’t know.”

Ray: That’s right. So you know, if you’re in business and you find yourself sitting across the desk from your customer and you really hope to get the sale, or get the partnership, or whatever the reality on what we’re hearing here is if you don’t know the answer, go ahead and admit that.

John: Yes, exactly.

Ray: Right? Just give me a little time. Let me come back to you.

John: Sure.

Ray: Let’s not make it up. Let’s not embellish and so forth. So you had an amazing career in the government. We’ve talked about that.

John: Yeah.

Ray: And then four years ago, you were asked to come in as president, the fifth president here at Anderson University.

John: Right.

Ray: What’s this four year journey been like for you?

John: Oh, it’s been amazing, Ray. Just a journey, one of exploration and discovery since I didn’t have a background in higher ed. And so again, I felt… So when I became the head of counter-terrorism, when I became the deputy director of the FBI, when I became the head of TSA, and now the head of the university, I didn’t feel qualified for any of those jobs. And so if you’re in my office, your listeners could see a plaque over here that says that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. So I’ve had a strong sense of calling, God’s calling, into each of these positions. And so it’s been for an amazing journey of discovery and so, “Okay, God, you brought me here.”

“What do you have and how can I bring honor and glory onto you?” So for me, it’s been both that that journey of discernment. Okay, am I sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and how God may be obviously speaking through scripture of course? But then working through other people and circumstances and then once I have a sense of discernment, am I not only open to but am I obedient?

And for me that’s been the key that I have sensed really in the last 20 years of decisions of saying yes to certain things, and I’ve said no to some things too. They had asked me to head up another federal agency, when I was still at the FBI and I just thought, “No, that just doesn’t seem at peace.” I was interviewed a couple of years ago about a position back in government, and I just didn’t feel at peace that that was what God was calling me to. If somebody asked me about it ten years ago, I’d of said, “Oh my goodness that’s my dream job.”

And it just didn’t seem right at the time. And what I had to wrestle with, well what happens if I was asked to serve and how would I respond? So I actually dealt with that, which is a different story.

Ray: You use the term calling.

John: Yes. Very much so.

Ray: And this truly is your calling, and so there’s an interesting story of how you ended up coming here as president of Anderson University. Why don’t you tell us that?

John: Well, yeah, thanks Ray. Yeah, so I’ve done government for over 31 years between the FBI and TSA. And one day I got a call from a friend of mine who I knew from associated with Anderson University and he said, “John, the president of the university thinks about retiring in the next few years. He’s been here going on 25 years and I want to talk to you about his successor.”

And I said, “Well, you know, I’m honored. Let me give that some thought and I’ll call you back tomorrow with some names of some people.” And he kind of chuckled. He said, “Well, no, you don’t understand. A small group of us got together and think that you would be a good next president.” Well then I started chuckling and I actually started laughing because I knew Anderson University was a dry campus, no drinking allowed, but I thought, what are they smoking out there in Indiana? Because I thought the four presidents in the hundred year history were ordained ministers and had a terminal degree, the highest degree in higher ed in their discipline, other than the first president who served 39 years and was described as visionary. And so I said, “Whoa, well that’s crazy, but yeah, let me think about it and get back with you.”

So I went home that night. I almost didn’t say anything to my wife because she’s from the DC area where we lived at the time, of course with the government. And we just had never talked about moving back to Indiana, but I thought, you know, if somebody reaches out for her, I should at least give her a heads up. And so I shared with her, “Hey, I got an interesting call today and a friend asked me if I’d be willing to throw my name in to be considered, not that they’re offering the job, that’s the trustees’ job, for the president of the university.”

And because she’s also a grad and she kind of looked at me and she’s very loving and kind but also direct. She said, “Well, you’re not interested in that are you?” And I said, “Well, no, but it’s intriguing and it’s an honor.” And then she said, “Besides you not qualified, right?” I said, “No, that’s true. I’m not because I’m not ordained and I don’t have a terminal degree.” She said, “Okay, well as long as you understand.” And so I got back with my friend the next day said, “Hey, I’m honored but no, it’s not going to happen.” And then he said, “Well, okay, I just want to make sure because he’ll probably announce it here in the next few months and I just thought, boy, if you were anyway.”

Nothing more. Three days later went home after work, had dinner, sat down on the couch. My wife Cathy was reading a book on one end of the couch. I was sitting there with my iPad catching up on sports scores. She closed her book and turned toward me so I actually closed the iPad even though I was looking over the scores and put it down and turn toward her. Without saying anything else, just looked me right in the eye and she said, “Where you go, I’ll go. Whom you serve, I’ll serve. Your God will be my God, your people, my people.” And she started tearing up a little bit. And I did too. And I got goosebumps.

I said, “Do you know what you’re saying?” She said, “Well, if this is a God thing, shouldn’t we be open to it?” So it meant her moving away from friends and family. So yeah, she went to school here in Indiana, but she was, she’s an East Coast girl. And so here at this point of our lives, when most of my friends and colleagues are retiring and becoming chief security officers at Fortune 500 companies and having frankly, a fairly easy life and all that, she was saying yes to the possibility.

So I got back with my friend and I said, “You’re not going to believe this, but so what’s the next step?” He said, “Well, let me talk to the president.” And so in a nutshell, he then went in and saw the president, took about a week and said, “Hey, I want to talk to you about a potential successor.” He said, “Well, before you do that, I want to share with you.” He’d been talking to a mentor of his, and that mentor said to the president, “If you could pick anybody as your successor, who would it be?” And he said, “You know, the name that came to mind is John Pistole.”

Ray: Oh my goodness.

John: And so six months later, the trustees voted for me as the president of university. And I just… It’s such a God story because it one, it wasn’t on my radar as even a possibility.

Ray: Yeah, yeah.

John: And so just how God is at work. And so I just as encouragement to your listeners, be open to how God may be working in your life, even in ways completely unforeseen right now.

Ray: That’s amazing. It sounds to me like a Holy Spirit set up.

John: Oh my goodness. That’s a great way to describe it, Ray.

Ray: That’s fantastic. I’d like to talk, John, a little bit about, I want to get into what’s so cool and unique about Anderson University, some of the programs and things that you’ve started here since coming back as president.

John: Yes.

Ray: But let’s talk briefly. What are some of the challenges facing Christian higher ed today?

John: Yeah. So and it’s not just Christian higher ed, it’s four year schools, liberal arts schools. There’s so much competition between, for example, online education. So you can get an online degree probably quicker and less costly than you can obviously residential programs such as we have here at Anderson University. And then there’s community colleges, some great ones here in Indiana and in other states. And then so many jobs in this new economy, I’ll call it, you don’t have to have a college degree. So we are challenged. We at Anderson, but again in higher ed across the board, and perhaps particularly so in Christian higher ed where Christianity is frankly under attack. Is that something that’s relevant? So we talk about three things. That we need to be distinctive, compelling, and relevant. So what makes Anderson University distinctive? What makes it compelling that somebody is willing to invest so they’ll get a return on an investment that may be dollars and cents in something, but it may be in kingdom building and it may be in terms of, you know, winning souls for Christ and things that on a balance sheet doesn’t look all that.

And then we need to be relevant. So are we helping equip students for jobs in the real world? Maybe in ministry, but maybe in ministry in daily life. Like what I feel like I’ve experienced, I didn’t feel called to ministry to be ordained, but I have felt a call in my adult life to be the hands and feet of Christ wherever God put me.

Ray: I love that.

John: And I thought again, I thought I was going to be a rich, successful lawyer for all my career. And so I’m on my third career past that, that I never planned on.

Ray: Yeah, absolutely. So you talked about being distinctive, and compelling, and relevant, right? So with your background, your expertise in your career, you have brought in some really very cutting edge programs here at Anderson. So let’s talk a little bit about that.

John: Yeah. So one of the things I learned is just how things work at the university level. And so when I talked to the provost, who’s the academic dean here, after I’d been here six months, I said, “Why don’t we start maybe a national security and a cybersecurity major? You know, programs in that.”

She said, “Hmm, well that sounds like a good idea.” I said, “Okay, we’ll just tell the faculty.” And she comes to my office then she said, “Well, the faculty will be teaching the classes, right? Unless you’re going to.” I said, “Well yeah, of course faculty is going to do it.” She said, “Well, it’s a good idea to get their buy in on it to make sure that that’s something they think is a good idea.” So I was used to running TSA, a 60,000 person organization. And if I spoke it then it meant it was a good idea. I mean, in a sense. And fortunately I had some good advisors who said, “That’s not such a good idea.”

And so we worked through it. And fortunately we had some gifted faculties with some great background who could put the curriculum together and within a year start offering cybersecurity and national security. And so we’re part of what’s known as the Council of Christian Colleges & Universities, 175 plus Christian universities across the country, and we’re the only one today, even three years later, that offers both national security and cybersecurity. And both of those are huge growth fields. We can’t graduate enough people to do that. We also added computer engineering and sport marketing, which are all both relevant and then a complimentary major in Christian spiritual formation for those who want to go deeper in their walk with Christ, both with an academic perspective, but they’re just also in a very real, real world. What does it mean to live out my faith?

Then going back on the national security side, I worked with some great people and I’ve invited a number of them to campus. For example, we’ve had, you know Robert Mueller, who I mentioned before. We just had John Ashcroft, former attorney general who on 9/11. We had Senator Kelly Ayotte, former Senator from New Hampshire. And then current Indiana governor is our commencement speaker this year. Last year we had former Attorney General Eric Holder, third longest serving first African American, and then John Brennan, CIA Director, and Jim Clapper, and people, regardless of politics, people who have been policy makers and influential people who’ve come and not one of them has charged a speaker’s fee. They come, they do it out of the goodness of their heart. They want to give back. I think they may think I can still put them on the no fly list from TSA. That’s not true, but it’s a good thing to have in your back pocket. Just kidding. “I think you really do want to come speak on campus at Anderson University don’t you?” “Ah, yeah, I guess I do.”

So we’ve been blessed with some, just some great folks who have helped us be distinctive component and relevant.

Ray: Yeah. And I’m sure you never in your wildest dreams anticipated someday you’d be able to come back and not only influence, but bring about-

John: Oh yeah.

Ray: Real change in an institution that’s meant so much to you.

John: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, like I say, I graduated years ago and obviously cyber security and national security were unheard of in those days. Then also again, the Christian spiritual formation. What does that mean?

Ray: Yeah.

John: Because our mission statement is to equip students and to help prepare them for life of service in the church and society. So we still have a Christ centered focus of trying to equip future pastors and leaders in church and parachurch organizations, but we realized most of our students are going out into the secular world and the better we can equip them with understanding what it means to be a Christ follower and we use Romans 12:1-2 as part of our basis for that. So what does it mean to live a transformed life? And how do they live that out?

Ray: You talked earlier about the number of followers of Christ that you found-

John: Right.

Ray: Within those high levels of government and so forth, and that was an environment that maybe you would have expected not to be faith friendly.

John: Right.

Ray: So what advice would you have for someone who’s listening to the program, who maybe they’re in a company, or an environment, an organization that maybe they’re thinking it’s not really okay to talk much about their faith. How can they live out their faith in a hostile environment or at least an environment they perceive to be hostile?

John: Yeah. Right. No, that’s a great question, Ray. And so I think my advice would be first, be rooted and grounded in the word and know who you believe in God and Christ, why you believe it, and what difference that makes in your life. And then pray to God. Ask for God to give you opportunities, basically prompts to that somebody would say, “You know, I noticed you’re really calm about this situation. What is it about you?” Whatever that may be, but pray for those opportunities, and then be open to those opportunities, and then be obedient, as I said before, to respond into those prompts. Because if they’re godly given, then obviously that’s what you’ve been praying for. Right? And what higher calling is to be doing exactly what God is leading you to do. So that would be the one thing I would say. And so be open and available.

I was fortunate in TSA for example, going around the country and doing town halls with employees. And inevitably, I’d talk about where we’re going and all this and they’d say, “Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?” So I’d share my testimony. So 8 times out of 10 I would say, God gave me an opportunity. I wouldn’t force it. If nobody said, “Tell us about yourself,” but Christ in me is talking about myself. And so inevitably afterwards somebody would come up afterwards, “Hey, great to know that there’s a Christ follower at the lead.” Or somebody would sent me an email or something. And so just those connections. So again, praying for the opportunities, knowing who you are.

Whose you are. And then being open to and obedient to how God may lead you.

Ray: I love it. I love it. Well John, the last question that we always ask here at Bottom Line Faith. So if you’re a regular listener, you know what I’m about to ask. If you’re a first time listener, the last question that we ask every single one of our guests is based out of Proverbs 4:23 where Solomon writes, “Above all else, guard your heart for it determines the course of your life.” And so let’s say you’re towards the tail end of this side of eternity-

John: Sure.

Ray: And you have a chance to gather your family, your friends, your loved ones, those who are most important to you and you get to pass along one piece of advice. I’d like you to pass along that piece of advice to our audience here at Bottom Line Faith. So fill in the blank for us. Above all else.

John: And what a great question. What a great scripture, Ray, and again, thank you for your program and your ministry here. So I mentioned Micah 6:8 earlier. Just, I just think it’s… You know, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” For me, that really sums up how I feel God has called me in my life and it’s interesting to do justice. So I worked for the Department of Justice, FBI. To love mercy, well I think most people think of law enforcement or even TSA as trying to prevent bad people from doing bad things or trying to fix things after the fact. Well there’s different ways of doing that and you can do it with a sense of grace and mercy that would not be the human side of things. So that’s the grace filled part that comes from God.

And then just walk humbly with your God. In addition to number of Christ followers that I met in government and outside, there was a lot of people who were full of themselves. And what a difference it makes when you come across a humble Christ follower, and I’ve just been so blessed to get to know some. Being a relationship of sharing, of strengths and different things. And so I just think that scripture just sums it up in terms of above all else, do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

Ray: Micah 6:8.

John: Micah 6:8.

Ray: John, thank you for your time.

John: Thank you, Ray.

Ray: Thank you all for listening to this week’s episode here at the program where we’re intersecting faith and leadership in the marketplace. Go to our website if you’ve not been before at We have over a hundred of similar interviews there. And I get asked a lot what is something we can do to help get this message out? I would just say, share this on your Twitter, share it on your Facebook, share it on your Instagram. Whatever social media platforms that you’re on, please help us get the word out about Bottom Line Faith. We really are seeing leaders in the marketplace be influenced and shaped living out their faith. So until next time, I am your host, Ray Hilbert, encouraging you to live out your faith every day at work. God bless and we’ll see you next time.