Tim Keller, who was the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, died last week. Starting and growing a church in Manhattan takes talent. I am reading Tim Keller’s biography by Collin Hansen through the lens of Tyler’s Talent book.
How did a successful leader and famous speaker get started? Keller is not described in the book as an outgoing child. Although academically gifted, “He grew up socially awkward, a wallflower…”
In 1968, Keller started at Bucknell University. Keller, who would go on to write multiple best-selling books, may have refined some of his writing skills through his coursework. From my reading, the most important aspect of his college experience was not the classes but the chance to be a leader of a campus (religious) club and having so many peers close by to practice “working” with. “Some 2,800 students lived within short walking distance of each other…[on campus].”
He planned retreats and invited famous guest speakers who appealed to his audience. He got feedback on the effectiveness of different messages and programs. Due to Keller’s efforts, the college club chapter meetings more than doubled in size. You can see the beginnings of the man who would go on to manage a large organization and attract over 5,000 people to hear him on the Sunday after 9/11.
In the debate over the value of a college education, the value of the experience students gain from holding officer positions in campus clubs is underrated. The information or credentials that can be obtained through online classes doesn’t build this kind of social capital. For leaders of organizations, college clubs are how some of them gained momentum and developed confidence.
Students can learn in a low stakes environment. For example, an ambitious club president can get 20 students to show up for pizza instead of 8. Club leaders get to make the key decisions and solve the problems that determine the success of their organization, because the faculty are too busy to micromanage club meetings. This gives students accurate feedback on the success of their own ideas.
In-person campus-based education is more than acquiring knowledge from textbooks. It is a dynamic environment in which students can develop social skills and form their network for future professional support. By participating in these organizations, students learn collaboration, decision-making, problem-solving, and mentoring — skills that are transferable across various domains of life.