Go to the people, live among them, learn from them, love them; start with what they know, build on what they have; but of the best leaders, when their task is done, the people will remark “We have done it ourselves.” —Chinese Proverb
George Brown, Educator of the Year 2012, fits this Chinese proverb to a T. He can also be assessed by three Cs: character, credentials, and competency.
In evaluating George’s character, it is clear to see that George is a leader of leaders, he inspires and encourages, teaches and learns, listens and laughs and he radiates Christ in all he thinks, says and does. A gentle lovable spirit, he is always ready to advocate for the values in which he believes. An excellent husband to Willa, father to three sons and grandfather to five grandchildren, George has been a mentor to many people through the years.
Many speak of George’s character, but George’s credentials speak for themselves. At Western Theological Seminary, George’s interest in Christian education was sparked by an introductory course taught by professor Hugh A. Kops and deepened by a year long internship at Bethany Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI. This led George to pursue further graduate study at Princeton Theological Seminary. Working on a Th.M. degree at Princeton one day a week, he also served as the pastor of a congregation. This helped George integrate Christian education theory with practice, invaluable in his teaching in the classroom. His curiosity for learning and seeing things in fresh new ways was contagious and he inspired curiosity in his students as they explored models and methods to make the gospel come alive through Christian education.
George’s more than 40 years of ministry have been divided between congregation and seminary. Ordained in the Reformed Church in America, he has always viewed his ministry through bifocal lenses. As the pastor of a small membership, rural church he viewed himself as a pastor-teacher who went about his ministerial duties with an educational imagination. As an associate minister on the staff of a larger, urban church, George viewed himself as an educator-minister, engaging the church’s education ministries pastorally. One of his parishioners said, “George is a true crusader for holding up Christian education and educators as a central part of congregational ministry.”
When Western Theological Seminary initiated its revised MRE degree program, George was hired as an adjunct professor. In 1988, George became a full-time member of the faculty, serving first as dean of faculty and teaching courses in Christian education and later as G.W. and Eddie Haworth Professor of Christian Education and Associate Dean.
George credits Arthur O. Van Eck—APCE Educator of the Year 1990—with mentoring him as a young Christian educator by providing opportunities to participate in denominational and ecumenical Christian education projects. Christian Education: Shared Approaches (CE: SA) of the 1970s was one of those endeavors. George chaired the design team for what became Interpreting The Word, one of four “tracks” in CE: SA. He continued to be involved in this curriculum project for a decade, serving on the resource development and evaluation teams, participating in the teacher training phase, and writing curriculum resources for Knowing The Word and Living the Word, two other CE: SA tracks. He was also involved in the development of the RCA’s Heritage & Hope curriculum.
George knows resources. For a number of years, George compiled annotated bibliographies of new books in the field for pastors, church educators, and seminarians. With the support of a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., George and his former teacher and mentor, Cam Wyckoff, collaborated in compiling Religious Education, 1960-1993: An Annotated Bibliography (Greenwood Press, 1995).
George’s first contact with APCE was in 1982, when he, along with Craig Dykstra and Heath Rada, was a keynote speaker in Louisville. Since then George has led workshops at many APCE annual events. He has also written several articles for the APCE Advocate.
George has served as president of CERCA (Christian Educators Reformed Church in America), was recognized by CERCA as their 1996 Educator of the Year, and in 2009 received CERCA’s Life Achievement Award. A CERCA member said this about George, “There is an energy and a bond among Reformed Church Educators because George continues to encourage our gathering whenever possible each year at APCE.”
George’s character and credentials clearly demonstrate his competency for ministry, education, and leadership. Keith Derrick, a student of George’s and now a colleague, said that George envisioned a new model of how people learn and is now watching the impact of this new theory with a specific group of leaders and leadership teams from churches in five states in the mid-west region of the RCA.
There is one more C, and that would be chocolate. George loves chocolate. We encourage you to bring chocolate from your region to the Annual Event in Grand Rapids. Give it to George when you congratulate and thank him for the character of Christ that he has emulated, the tremendous credentials he has earned and shared, and how competent he is in helping the gospel come alive through the educational ministries of the church. Knowing George, he may even offer to share the chocolate with you.
Kirsty DePree is coordinator of discipleship for the Reformed Church in America and a member of the APCE cabinet.