By Whitney K. Knight
When Mid-America University President Dr. John Fozard struck up a conversation with his van driver in Seattle, Washington, he had no idea that he was about to embark on a life-changing ride with a university alum. As it turns out, President Fozard’s van driver was Ben Shular, chief international officer and director of Global Strategy for Church of God Ministries. Shular is responsible for organizing and interfacing international ministry for the Church of God in eighty-six countries outside the United States and Canada.
With an undeniable heart for ministry and for the Church of God, Shular is a great advocate for MACU’s online program—he has two degrees from his time as an Evangel—and an even greater witness for what God is doing through the ministries of the Church of God around the world. President Fozard realized quickly that God had a hand in this special drive to his Ministries Council meeting as the van wheels turned and Shular shared his incredible story.
From childhood, Shular had a calling to serve and put others’ needs above his own. When he married his wife Kelli (Lander) on May 20, 2000, the couple went on a mission work team trip for their honeymoon. The first thing they wanted to do as a couple was to serve the Lord together. This pattern of service continued in their future; as their friends visited exotic locales for their annual family vacations, the Shulars went on mission trips.
Shular’s work ethic was forged under the discerning eye of his contractor father. Life was good, and Shular was content in his career, managing electrical construction projects. But like the best of friends tend to do, God sometimes calls when we least expect him to, and Shular felt compelled to leap out of his comfort zone and into cross-cultural ministry. In 2004, after time spent preparing with basic theological and cross-cultural education in Colorado and Florida, the Shulars found themselves serving the Church of God in the eastern African country of Tanzania.
“Though it wasn’t my primary plan, I really felt called to a larger role in mission work,” Shular said. “If I have learned anything in life, it’s that God’s plans are better than my plans.”
The Shulars partnered with the Tanzanian Church of God on education-based programs. They managed and continued to grow the Aldersgate Education Center, a private Christian school of over 900 students; the Babati Bible School, a three-year pastoral education program taught in the local language of Kiswahili; and Children of Promise, the Church of God child sponsorship ministry. While operating these programs was the daily job, the end goal with the Tanzanian Church of God was to leave it self-sustaining in both finances and leadership. During their eight years in Tanzania, the Shulars worked to bring each of these large programs to an indigenous self-sufficient level that continues to this day.
As he worked to improve education for others, Shular felt he needed to continue his own. “I had heard of the flexibility and quality of the Mid-America Christian University online programs, but I thought I was too busy,” he said.
That’s when he remembered the advice a friend gave him. “He told me that I had to attend MACU now—that I was always going to be too busy. But if I started now, in a few years I would be busy with a degree or busy without one.” Shular enrolled in an online degree program, often waking up at two or three in the morning to participate in chat rooms with his classmates living in the United States.
Shular said he had several instructors and classmates who left an undeniable impact on his life, including Greg LaPat, a tough—“in a good way”—professor who encouraged Shular through his coursework. The business and quantitative analysis skills learned in LaPat’s digital classroom played a key part in preparing Shular with tools and strategies to focus on solving global issues.
His hard work and dedication to his classes paid off in the form of a bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries in 2010. Three years later, Shular earned a master’s degree in business administration. Then, in 2014, his time as an Evangel led him to his grandest adventure yet.
It was then that Church of God Ministries asked Shular to join their executive team as the new director of the international ministries portfolio. Shular said that as the chief international officer, his mission is to make Jesus the subject in every country of the world by training up indigenous pastors to be Church of God leaders in their own countries. “There will not be the continued effort to have North Americans travel to another country and create a North American church in a foreign country,” he said. “That creates no ownership. It will not be successful in self-sufficiency or self-propagation.”
Shular said the eighty-six countries (and growing) where the Church of God is present are currently divided into five regions, each with a regional coordinator on the ground to organize Global Strategy missionaries and partnerships with national leaders. Those regions are Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. The strategy and approach for each area is different. The work is conducted underground in some Asian and Middle Eastern countries, but is experiencing significant growth. Global Strategy missionaries are establishing connections and empowering the people of these nations so that they can self-circulate the Word of God in the local language and culture. In other countries, the church is more established and Global Strategy’s role is more one of advice and encouragement.
“In Germany, we are partnering with a very established Church of God to minister to the Syrian refugees moving into their German neighborhoods. We are assisting to proactively build relationships that lead to life change and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Shular.
One of the most important parts of global ministry, Shular said, is to work with and through the national leadership of the Church of God in each country rather than around or against them, which would build distrust of Global Strategy and Church of God Ministries. “We want to build more successful partnerships with lasting efforts and be a valuable benefit for that country. I ask our missionaries to have the mindset of a consultant that brings specific knowledge and expertise to empower the leadership of an organization, but not to take it over.”
He said MACU’s global learning program helps ensure the success of that mission by making the tools necessary for ministry accessible to people around the world. Shular hopes to see that program grow even further as MACU maintains its reputation as a “pastor-producing college which trains Biblical, spiritually based leaders for the kingdom ministry.”
If others can absorb anything from his story, Shular hopes that it is to listen to God’s calling for their lives, to step out in faith and take action immediately.
“I reflect back on my life and see both the good and bad experiences that have formed me into who I am today. Success and failure are both learning opportunities. Letting go of our wants and following Jesus’ example to put others’ needs above our own is a great guide. I strive to have the nature of Christ as Paul describes in Philippians 2:5–7.”
Shular underscored the difference between serving and being a servant. “You can serve doing what you want to do, when you want to do it. But a servant does what is needed, when it is needed, even if it’s not what you want to do. The example of Jesus Christ was of a servant doing what was needed, when it was needed. We as Christians are to follow and emulate this example of Christ.”
He encourages others to continue their education now instead of later, and he hopes that he can inspire students to take action, the way his friend encouraged him to, and enroll at MACU. “It truly is never too late to further your education and make your dreams come true. You will always be busy, just choose to be constructively busy and empower yourself for the call God has on your life.”
Although Shular’s work connects and sends him around the world, he currently calls Anderson, Indiana, his home. He travels one to two weeks every month while his wife stays at home with their three sons, ages eight years, six years, and eighteen months. Over the next few years, Shular said his biggest personal goal is to continue empowering Church of God congregations around the world and to find a balance between his family, work and travel.
MACU asks that you continue to keep the Shular family in your prayers as they continue to do the Lord’s work both at home and across the globe.
Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), MACU is a private, Christian liberal arts college of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) that’s experiencing unprecedented growth. MACU offers a range of programs, such as behavioral science, counseling, business administration, Bible & theology, teacher education, leadership, and criminal justice, all taught from a worldview that promotes Judeo-Christian values and ethics. Learn more at www.macu.edu.