Doug Balzer works for the Christian Missionary Alliance in Canada. He is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary. The following interview was conducted at the Rockland County campus of Alliance Theological Seminary while student cohorts were gathered to take classes for the Doctor of Ministry degree.
What are you doing professionally and/or in ministry in addition to being a student at Alliance Theological Seminary?
I work with the Christian Missionary Alliance in Canada out of a district office, and my primary responsibilities are overseeing our church-planting strategies. The other half of what I do is championing renewal in our district and across the country.
What was it that prompted you to pursue your Doctor of Ministry?
I started the Doctor of Ministry program a year ago. A year and a half ago, if you’d told me that I’d be in a Doctor of Ministry program, I would’ve laughed at you. It was not on the radar. It was actually the fingerprint of God on a few situations that heightened my awareness. Some dreams that God gave to people that were only explainable by His guidance and which made me understand or realize that this is the next step of development that He wanted for me.
Was it an easy decision for you to make, or was it a bit of a struggle or challenge to?
The decision to pursue Doctor of Ministry studies was probably about a three or four month process at a minimum. I had to go through the different phases of consideration: the time element, the financial, and, quite frankly, the question: Do I have what it takes? So insecurities would bubble up to the surface even in the process of considering coming to Alliance Theological or any Doctor of Ministry program for that matter.
What was it that drew you to the program at Alliance Theological Seminary?
I’ve known Martin Sanders for quite a number of years, and I’ve been tracking with Rob Reimer as a mentor for some time. So they were twisting my arm to come to Alliance Theological Seminary. I didn’t want to come just because they said so. So I actually researched about eight to ten Doctor of Ministry programs in North America, looking for any other schools that consider the Holy Spirit the catalyzing agent in the transformation of a leader. I could only find one other, and even that one was peripheral in its approach. I wasn’t looking for a whole lot more information. I don’t even use the information that I have. I was looking for more of a transformational environment, and that’s why I chose Alliance Theological Seminary.
Once you made the decision to come to Alliance Theological Seminary to pursue your Doctor of Ministry, what hopes did you have for yourself and for what this process would be like?
In coming to Alliance Theological Seminary, I was looking forward to the internal work of God in the life of a leader in my life. In short, there was a lot of noise in my life that had been there all along—for decades—a lot of internal, condemning thoughts—matters of shame.
What else were you hoping to gain from this experience?
When I was approaching Alliance Theological Seminary, I was really looking forward to subjecting myself to an environment where they would invite and I would invite the Holy Spirit to go to places in my heart and soul that I know He needed to go to. Living for forty-plus years, there had been a lot of noise in my mind. I never knew a quiet mind for over forty years. A lot of noise of condemnation, residual shame, and feelings of rejection that I just carried with me and I thought were normal. And I started to realize these aren’t normal and that the freedom that Jesus intends for each person is real. And I needed to walk with people who knew how to walk with people towards that kind of freedom.
When you think of the time you’ve spent at Alliance Theological Seminary so far, are there any words or images that come to mind as really capturing what this place is like and what it’s meant to you?
The faculty members at Alliance Theological Seminary have helped my mind to become quiet. And when my mind becomes quiet, I can hear the voice of God. And when I can hear the voice of God, I can see what He sees, I can hear what He hears, and I can better step into the calling that He has for me.
Has anything surprised you in your time at Alliance Theological Seminary? Have there been any unexpected experiences or benefits to the Doctor of Ministry program?
Yeah. I have been surprised by how deep the Holy Spirit has gone in my life. What I thought would have been the basement, was not the basement. There were even deeper places that He wanted to meet me and bring freedom, bring light, and bring renewal to. I’ve been really surprised by God’s grace in the middle of an academic program. Yes, there’s knowledge. Yes, there’s study. Yes, there’s reading. But it is all fused with a deep partnership with what the Spirit of God wants to do in a woman or a man.
Is there anything you can identify as contributing to Alliance Theological Seminary being a place that’s so conducive to going deep?
Okay, let me think about that for a second. What’s unique about this place—what I have noticed is unique about Alliance Theological Seminary, and at least the Doctor of Ministry program that I’m a part of, is that it’s an organization—it’s a school that has leadership that’s committed to being rooted in the word of God and moving deeply in the Spirit. It’s not just one or the other; it’s both. And when these things come together, there’s power there. I’m really grateful for faculty who walk in this, who have journeyed through it, and who are very committed to the students that they serve—to walk with them deeply in and out of class.
In addition to the quieting of your mind and the depths you’ve gone to in terms of self-knowledge, can you identify any other ways being at Alliance Theological Seminary has impacted how you approach an aspect of your life, whether it be your ministry, your personal life, or your relationships? How has the experience of being in the Doctor of Ministry program affected other areas of your life?
How has my Alliance Theological Seminary experience affected other areas of my life? There are probably a lot of things that have been going on in my life that have been changing me. Alliance Theological Seminary would be the larger fixture in the last year. My relationship with my teenage boys has never been better. Again, it’s quieter here (points to his head0, so I can listen to others better. In the last three or four months I’ve had a half a dozen people come up to me and say, “Something’s different about you. What has happened? You’re leading differently.” And I am. I’m more patient. I’m more content with who I am. I actually love myself because God loves me. And Alliance Theological Seminary had no small part in helping to lead me to these places of freedom.
Has your plan for yourself changed at all? Have your goals changed as a result of the Doctor of Ministry program? Have you taken anything back to the ministry work that you do?
Yes, but how do you quantify it? One of the effects of my studies on my vocation is I’m viewing things further than I ever thought I could. I used to view my vocation and what God might do in me or through me through a limiting lens. But more so I really don’t see many limitations. I possess a higher confidence in Him, a greater boldness in Him, and a greater freedom internally to let Him lead my dreams where He would want them to go.
Have you met people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise? Have you been exposed to points of view that you might not have been had you not come to Alliance Theological Seminary?
Let’s try this on for size: One of the fun things about Alliance Theological Seminary, in my experience, has been the diversity of the people in my cohort. Women and men from a variety of countries and a variety of ministry backgrounds and the fusion of that sharpens all of us and gets us out of our narrow-minded bubbles.
You mentioned that you were invited to come here. If you had the opportunity to invite others to consider Alliance Theological Seminary, what things would you want them to know about the Doctor of Ministry program?
If I had the opportunity, well I think there are five people from my district that are in cohorts behind me, so I think I’ve been an active recruiter for Alliance Theological Seminary.
What have you said to them?
For prospective students, I often say this: There comes a point in many people’s vocational lives where if they don’t receive new stimulation for moving them further in their personal journey with Christ and in their vocational function, they’ll plateau. They’ll flatten out. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to do a Doctor of Ministry program, but what I say to a lot of leaders is this kind of environment will move you from a place where you are in danger of plateauing and will provide stimulation to your mind, your soul, and your spirit to take you to new places. So I was in my mid-forties when I said yes to this and thinking I had twenty to thirty years of productive ministry in front of me, but that I’m going to need some new tools internally and externally to get there.
Can you summarize some of those tools that you’ve gotten through the Doctor of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary so far?
I’ve picked up a lot of good tools at Alliance Theological Seminary. Among some of the best of them is that as I have been discipled here into a deeper journey of transformation, I now feel equipped and actually confident to help other people allow Christ to access their deeper places for deep, real-life transformation. That used to be nebulous to me. It’s now accessible and usable, and it’s real. And I’m able to see other people multiply in the same way. My ministry used to be more about me simply helping people. Now I find I’m in a place where I can equip people and they can multiply themselves. And that’s truly what it’s all about.