David Hearn currently lives in Toronto, Canada and is the President of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. The following interview was conducted at Alliance Theological Seminary in Rockland County while student cohorts were gathered to take classes for the Doctor of Ministry degree.
What prompted you to pursue your Doctor of Ministry degree?
I’m leading at a level that I’ve never lead at before. I feel this overwhelming sense of inadequacy. I recognize fully that the Holy Spirit of God is the one who equips you and fuels you and inspires you, but I also knew that I needed further education. I learn best in an institutional environment. When I heard about the program here at Alliance Theological Seminary—and that it was focused on leadership, there was just an immediate hunger. Something in my soul said, I gotta figure out how I can make this happen.
Is this the first and only Doctor of Ministry program you considered?
I considered a few others, but this one went to the top of the list very quickly.
What were the things that made the Doctor of Ministry degree stand out for you?
You know, I think I put it this way: Zander Murray, in 1901, made a very startling statement. He was speaking to a group of missionaries and he said, “the key to the missionary problem is the missionaries.” And then he went on to say, “they have a good theology of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, but they lack the experience.” There should never be a ministry that is not full of the presence and power of God. I think in many of our Alliance circles we have a great theology of the Holy Spirit, but we have a very truncated experience. Alliance Theological Seminary was offering something that I think was vitally unique—not just a good theological perspective, but an invitation into the experience—an invitation to go deeper in my relationship with Jesus—an invitation to experience more of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. That is an irresistible pull. How do you stay away from that? So I knew it would be about more than just getting information, but really getting a heart transformation, and that’s what I was longing for.
When you thought about what you’d gain from the Doctor of Ministry program by participating in it, what were some of the skills or training you were really hoping to walk away from it with?
I think I’d frame it in two phrases: going deeper and going further. Going deeper: God has been doing a fresh work on my soul, and I felt this incredible pulling of the Spirit to go deeper in Jesus. So I knew putting myself in a community of like-minded people who are all on that journey would give a greater urgency in my own soul not to just let that go to the side, but to really pursue it with all my heart and all my soul. Going further: We are at an incredible time in human history. There is a massive shaking that is going on in our world right now. People—groups that have never been accessible to the Gospel are now accessible for the very first time. The Church cannot be asleep. So as one who leads a denomination, a family of churches, I’m saying, oh God, I want to go further, wake up my soul, energize myself to the core, so that I would be a leader who leads from a level of being contagious. Because I just think there’s way too much at stake. Probably one of the phrases that has moved me the most is in Acts 4:31. It talks about “as they were gathered together they were shaken.” And I’m going to be really blunt with you, there’s a shaking going on at Alliance Theological Seminary. There is a visitation of God’s spirit here that is shaking the students and awakening them to what I believe is a prime time in human history. Part of that is they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. I think our emphasis on the deeper life or emphasis on the filling of the Holy Spirit is so powerful, but not just as an isolated reality for the sake of proclaiming the Word of God with boldness. You can never separate the filling of the Spirit from a desire to reach the nations of the world. I just think this is our time. This is our moment in human history. And so I think coming to Doctor of Ministry program was coming back to my Alliance roots and being reenergized at the core of who I am as a leader for such a time as this.
When you think about the people that you’ve met, whether they be members of your cohort or professors, what are some of the words or images that come to your mind that you think really capture who the people are that you’re meeting?
When I first entered into the cohort, I recognized that only myself and another guy were from Canada. We call ourselves the token Canadians. And what I loved initially was the incredible diversity. These are people that I normally wouldn’t associate with and normally wouldn’t connect with. Yet, in a very short period of time, we just became really close friends. And, in fact, tomorrow night we’re going to a movie together. We don’t have to hang out together. Right? We could just do our studies and get our grades if we wanted to. But there’s a sense that our lives have touched at such a deep level, and part of it is that this learning experience is not just about information. It really is about issues of the heart, issues of the soul. So in our cohort we’ve shared some pretty deep things—stuff that we probably haven’t shared with many other people, if any other people. When you engage in that level of community, something happens in your soul; there’s just a deep connection. So, yeah, I fell in love with my cohort. We look forward to being together and just connecting at a heart level.
It sounds like relationships are pretty important. Is there anything else that you gained in your time so far with the Doctor of Ministry program that you feel is valuable that you?
One of the things about the cohort model is that because you’re bringing people in from all kinds of diverse backgrounds and experiences, I’m connecting with people that (as I said earlier) I wouldn’t normally have conversations with. Their perspective is so valuable. A couple of our pastors are from the inner city of New York. I have no concept of the inner city of New York. Yet, as they talk about the realities of what they face and the challenges that they go through, my whole ability to see the world just gets expanded, and I think my heart begins to beat a little bit more in sync with their hearts. So this program has expanded me as a person, not just relationally, but in terms of the context of my experience, it’s really broadened through being here at the Alliance Theological Seminary.
Did anything surprise you during your time in the Doctor of Ministry program—thinking about yourself or the experience itself?
I think that during the very first cohort in the Doctor of Ministry program, when we were dealing with issues of soul care, I didn’t realize how much debris I had in my heart. I thought I came in pretty good shape, and with a lot of those things resolved. I mean, I’m fifty-eight, I thought I had put a lot of it behind me. But I was faced with a whole bunch of unresolved layers of my soul. Jesus has been so good to me. So I began to process those. I think one of the realities, just being very honest, was that I lived with a lot of shame. And that may surprise some people because, you know, here I am leading a denomination. What do you mean you’ve got shame? But yeah, I’ve lived with shame. Being here I was coming into an environment where I could begin to deal with some of the roots of that shame. And understand, I am absolutely free. I’ve not experienced shame in my life for over eighteen months. Here’s one of the valuable lessons that I learned: Secrets in your life lead to shame, and shame undermines your spiritual authority. But when you begin to walk in the light, as He is in the light, you actually break the power of shame, and what you get is spiritual authority. I have felt more empowered, more alive, more riveted on my calling, more passionate about what God has called me to in the last eighteen months than I’d say in a lot of years previous. That was a great surprise.
In addition to renewed passion, can you think of any ways that your time in the Doctor of Ministry program has affected your leadership and how you’ve gone back to your role in your denomination?
Well, when your life goes through a significant transformation, it can’t help but spill out. So my core team back in Canada, the people that I lead with, have all been exposed to the same renewal that I have. In fact, some of the things that I’ve learned here at Alliance Theological Seminary are transferrable. So I’m now teaching them. I’m now living them. I’m now encouraging my core leaders in Canada to embrace them. The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada is going through a period of renewal. This is a cool season for us, and part of it is because our core leaders have been embracing the deeper work of the Spirit. So this stuff is fueling my heart here in the Doctor of Ministry program, and is also actually bringing some increased fire to what’s happening in terms of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. So this is a perfect season for me to be here. What’s happening at the seminary isn’t just engaging a student, it’s engaging a denomination. It’s contributing to a movement. That’s pretty cool.
When you look forward to the rest of the Doctor of Ministry program, are there any things that you’re anticipating—that you’re looking forward to, hopeful about, excited about, or that you’re still hoping to gain?
Okay, one word you didn’t use was the word terror. You know, I’ve never written a dissertation, and so just being blunt with you, I’ve got a lot of fear around figuring out how I’m going to pull this off. In a very busy leadership world, how do you fit all this stuff in? But having said that, the things that I’m learning are fundamentally renovating my soul. So at the end of the day, even though the work is hard, and even though there’s pressure, and even though there’s the angst of: How will I do? Will I survive? The gift of this moment in my life is setting the trajectory for the next decade. I think my next decade will probably be my best. Because there’s a lot of ego stuff that I don’t worry about anymore. A lot of stuff’s been purged from my soul. But what I’m being offered here in the Doctor of Ministry program is actually establishing a new platform, a new space for me to grow to the next level. So I’m very excited about what I’m learning, but more than what I’m learning, what God is doing to reformat the fabric of my soul into that which is alive, passionate, and full of optimism. I love what A.W. Tozer said, “we need to declare war on the mood of non-expectation.” I’m doing that, and I’m coming into this new season of ministry with higher expectations than I’ve ever had before. Jesus is building his Church. The gates of hell will not—they are not prevailing against it. I am just so eager to see our churches rise up into a new time, a new season of unprecedented opportunity. Being blunt with you, the nations of the world are waiting. This is our time. This is our moment. We’ll have to seize it.
In speaking to someone who’s considering starting the Doctor of Ministry program, what would you tell them about it by way of introducing them to the program, helping them to understand why it’s important, and what they would gain from it?
I would say that this program—and I did look at a lot of other doctoral programs— this program will, I think, offer you something unique in that it will provide you with a good education. It will provide you with good theological information and lots of great strategies, and it’ll give you some great methodology. But more than that, it will change you. You will be more alive. You will be more in tune with the work of the Spirit. I’d probably put it this way: In my stage of life, I’m convinced that what we probably don’t necessarily need is new strategies or even more effective methods or even a more compelling vision. What we are desperate for is men and women full of the Holy Spirit and fire. I think what Alliance Theological Seminary is offering is an experience of the work of the Holy Spirit that kindles fire in your soul. And I’ve got to believe in my heart that’s what people at our churches are desperate for. That’s what people in our communities are desperate for. That’s what my neighbors are longing for. They know I’m a believer. They want to know that I’m still passionate about Jesus. That’s what my three daughters long for: Dad, are you still on the edge of your seat? I believe what the seminary is offering is something that will move you, not just deeper in terms of your education, but it will expand your soul. It will really expand your soul. So put your seatbelt on, because it’s not business as usual if you come to ATS, it’s an encounter; and we are desperate for an encounter.