What is a Seventh-day Adventist college or university?1 What are its defining traits? These are crucial questions. It is all too easy for the current of secular society to buffet a school, tug at its moorings, and dilute its unique mission and identity. Peer pressure can affect institutions as well as individuals.

Over several decades, I have had the opportunity to interact with Adventist colleges and universities. As I reflect on these experiences, certain distinctive traits begin to emerge, a special character that reflects constituency priorities and that conveys a certain authenticity as a Seventh-day Adventist institution.

These defining characteristics seem to be embedded in six key commitments, crucial areas around which the educational community can rally and in which important developments can take place (see Figure 1).

Commitment to Intentionality

In a Seventh-day Adventist college or university, there is a core commitment to intentionality. The board of trustees and the administrative team purposefully focus on how the institution might best fulfill its God-ordained mission, how it might develop and implement a distinctive Seventh-day Adventist identity, and how it might contribute in meaningful ways to the strategic priorities of the gospel commission.2

Based on this reflection, they develop and periodically review the guiding documents of the institution, including its statements of mission and vision, which then serve as the foundation for strategic planning, assessment, and continuous improvement.

While the administration and the board of trustees play a leading role, it is vital that all stakeholders be involved in casting the vision of the institution. This ensures that the strategic initiatives upon which the college or university embarks are those that emerge from shared values and understanding. In this process, however, leadership serves as both catalyst and facilitator. This involves listening carefully, asking questions, building bridges, encouraging partnerships, providing support systems, and focusing on the assessment and evaluation of outcomes in the fulfillment of mission.3

Based on this reflection and with input from the various stakeholders, leadership develops a strategic plan in harmony with these goals, a plan that is not merely updated once a quinquennium but also provides a dynamic window to the future. The intent is to continuously and consciously enhance institutional efficiency and effectiveness in fulfilling mission through strategic initiatives and system redesign.

A commitment to intentionality also implies that the board and the administration thoughtfully assess emerging trends in higher education, maximizing those that are consistent with the Adventist philosophy of education4 and that align with mission, while proactively anticipating and mitigating trends that pose a threat to the institution and the implementation of mission.5

Overall, the commitment to intentionality seeks to foster a strong culture of institutional reflection, planning, and assessment that leads to data-driven decision-making. It results in a school configured by design, an institution advancing with mission-focused intent.

Commitment to Excellence

A Seventh-day Adventist college or university promotes and affirms excellence in teaching and learning. This involves advancing whole--person development,6 promoting high-level thinking,7 forging strong links between theory and practice,8 and employing authentic assessments.9 It calls for thriving programs, cutting-edge fields of specialization, an engaged learning community, a robust core curriculum that conveys institutional identity and values across disciplines, and a global perspective, all operating within a strong faith commitment.

Excellence in an Adventist school cultivates a biblical worldview throughout courses and programs,10 as well as cocurricular activities, with a goal of forming Christlike character and of connecting knowledge to its Source.11 This is evidenced in teachers who approach disciplines from a biblical perspective. It is seen in faculty and staff who engage students in faith conversations and who pray with students and with one another. It is found in programs of study that incorporate key beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,12 as these intersect with the various disciplines.

A commitment to excellence also creates a setting, within the context of faith, in which research and creative endeavor are nurtured and recognized.13 This includes promoting collaborative faculty and student research, as well as providing grant-writing support to facilitate external funding. It further orients scholarship so as to make meaningful contributions to the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and society. Overall, the commitment to excellence develops an institutional culture that prioritizes continuous quality improvement and focuses on essential outcomes as the key measures of excellence.

Commitment to Stewardship

A commitment to stewardship seeks to ensure that the college or university is financially sound and that institutional resources are directed in support of mission. This includes developing strategies that contribute to financial resilience, prioritizing the budget in harmony with institutional goals, and identifying effective strategies that result in increased giving to the school. It implies periodically conducting an efficiency and effectiveness analysis of the various areas of the institution, including the academic programs.14

Stewardship involves caring well for the young people of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.15 The college or university consequently develops and implements strategies that will allow it to serve an ever- increasing proportion of Adventist young people, taking into account institutional capacity and points of optimal financial return.

In the whole-person paradigm, a focus on stewardship prioritizes an institution-wide emphasis on health and wellness.16 This includes the promotion of a healthy lifestyle throughout the academic programs and student services. It incorporates the provision of health and wellness facilities and staff that highlight the institution’s commitment.

An Adventist college or university also exercises responsible care for the institutional environment. This includes developing, renewing, and expanding campus infrastructure so that it fulfills the expectations of a quality educational institution, in accordance with the institution’s strategic plan. It also involves moving the school toward a “green campus,” with the goal of advancing the institution as a leader in sustainable resources and stewardship of the environment.17

Commitment to Community

A Seventh-day Adventist college or university is committed to forming a supportive, caring community where individuals feel that they are valued, loved, and respected. Venues are created for leadership, faculty, and staff to connect with one another and with students, and for students to interact and collaborate, especially with students from other disciplines and programs.18

Throughout the various areas of the institution, faculty, staff, and students sense that leadership is accessible and willing to listen. This is the case because administrators have established a priority of conversing and consulting, of listening to and learning from the school’s principal stakeholders. To this end, leaders establish consultative forums that meet periodically to provide informal, open-ended input. These forums include groups of students, faculty, and staff, as well as alumni and individuals in the immediate community.

As noted so far, shared vision is based on shared understanding. For this to develop, however, it is necessary for administrators to nurture relationships and engage in conversations to understand the background, strengths, needs, and dreams of the various entities and individuals within, as well as those closely connected to the institution. As a result of these interactions, certain themes begin to emerge—themes related to the institution’s identity, positioning (where it is and where it wants to be in relation to its goals), and planning (how it might reach these goals). These themes are then incorporated as key elements in the strategic planning process.

The commitment to community also affirms diversity within the biblical framework and celebrates its contributions to the college or university family.19 It fosters cross-cultural sensitivity and understanding and seeks to develop a robust international and multiethnic community of scholars. It also provides for the exercise of a biblical concept of freedom within the framework of institutional identity and mission.20 As a corollary, administrators endeavor to build capacity throughout the institution. This involves providing opportunities for professional development and personal growth. It also includes the development of leadership within the institution through mentoring and succession planning.

The ultimate aim is building community for the fulfillment of mission. When a cohesive community becomes focused on fulfilling mission, significant results are attained.

Commitment to Engagement

With engagement as a priority, leadership, faculty, staff, and students strive to expand the presence and reputation of the college or university in the local community, as well as regionally and internationally, in a mission-directed way. To this end, the institution identifies and implements strategies to meet the needs and add value to the surrounding community and to its broader constituency. It organizes and hosts professional conferences and church-related events. It promotes Adventist education in partnership with other Seventh-day Adventist schools, colleges, and universities, contributing to a systems approach within Adventist education.

With a commitment to engagement, institutional leadership widens avenues for students, as well as faculty and staff, to engage in witness and service activities in local settings and beyond. Academic administration fosters service learning in courses and programs, while various entities within the institution promote volunteer service and community engagement through a variety of formats.21 As a result, graduates understand that the purpose of life is to make a difference for God in the world.

Institutional leadership also endeavors to meet constituent needs through offering both formal and informal programs and courses. This implies conducting market surveys of needs and interests, as well as holding conversations with church leadership, especially that of the constituent fields. It may also suggest exploring innovative approaches for educational delivery.

Overall, a commitment to engagement affirms that the educational institution is a strategic partner in fulfilling the global mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Commitment to Faith

In a Seventh-day Adventist college or university, the overarching priority is the commitment to faith. Thus, leadership upholds Scripture as the highest standard of the institution.22 Faith is presented as the foundation for all disciplines and courses, the rationale for each initiative and program. Leaders pray fervently that the Spirit of God might pervade the campus and direct each activity and decision.23 The result is an institutional community that seeks to fulfill the gospel commission and that upholds the beliefs and practices of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Throughout the institution there is an intentional and comprehensive focus on spiritual life. With the input of faculty, staff, and students, a spiritual master plan is carefully designed, implemented, evaluated, and frequently updated.24 The focus is to strengthen faith through active spiritual programming and by involving students in spiritual leadership. The desired outcome is for students, as well as faculty and staff, to deepen their relationship with Christ,25 commit themselves to the study of His Word,26 experience life transformation,27 and engage in the mission of the church through worship, witness, and service.28 In essence, the school focuses on the formation of disciples, and, in turn, disciple-makers.

In their commitment to faith, leaders ensure that each area of the institution aligns with the distinctive, faith-focused mission of the school and, by extension, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Together, the institutional family explores and extends ways to nurture faith through teaching and learning, as well as through creative and scholarly activities. Ultimately, the spiritual and moral character of the institution is held as the defining measure of its success.29


In order to fulfill its God-given purpose and effectively serve its constituency, a Seventh-day Adventist college or university must develop a special character. It must be distinctive by design.30 In this process, as we have noted, certain commitments are key.

In sum, the board of trustees, the administration, and the educational community at large must intentionally define the unique focus of the institution and clarify those defining characteristics that will set it apart from other institutions, public or private. The institution as a whole must commit to a spiritual understanding of excellence, where scholarship, teaching, and learning are Christ-centered, Bible-based, student-connected, and socially applied. The college or university must be a place where resources are focused on mission, where community is developed, and where the institutional family is engaged in witness and service.

Overall, an Adventist college or university must be a place where faith is affirmed,31 where students are taught not only about God but by God.32 It is insufficient for young people in an Adventist school to simply prepare for a profession or a career. They are candidates for heaven. Consequently, a Seventh-day Adventist college or university must provide young people with an education that is consistent with faith—that aligns with biblical principles and values, that develops a biblical worldview, and that forms character to endure the test of time.33

Authentic Seventh-day Adventist education is distinctive. As Seventh-day Adventist educators and leaders, we must value the genuine above the counterfeit, the true over a pretense. Will our students be taught of God? Will they be educated for eternity? Our choices today shape tomorrow.

This article has been peer reviewed.

John Wesley Taylor V

John Wesley Taylor V, PhD, EdD, is President of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A. Prior to this election, he served as Associate Director of Education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists since 2010. Dr. Taylor earned a PhD in education from Andrews University and an EdD in educational psychology from the University of Virginia (Charlottsville, Virginia). This article is based on a presentation at the Conference on Adventist Identity, October 13-15, 2022, at Andrews University. He may be contacted at [email protected].

Recommended citation:

John Wesley Taylor V, “What Is the Special Character of an Adventist College or University?,” Journal of Adventist Education 79:2 (January – March, 2017). Available at https://www.journalofadventisteducation.org/en/2017.2.5.


  1. While this article focuses on higher education, much of the framework presented is not entirely unique to colleges and universities but may also find application in secondary, and perhaps elementary, schools.
  2. Matthew 28:18-20.
  3. Fulfilling mission in an Adventist college or university links plans and action to the mission of the institution, as well as to the mission and strategic priorities of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with a special focus on the redemptive purpose of Adventist education. The mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church may be found in the denomination’s official statements, “Mission Statement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church” (October 13, 2009) at https://www.adventist.org/en/information/official- statements/statements/article/go/-/mission-statement-of-the-seventh-day-adventist-church/and “Reach the World: Strategic Plan 2015–2020,” available at https://www.adventistarchives.org/reach-the-world-doc.pdf.
  4. See “Statement of Seventh-day Adventist Educational Philosophy,” available at http://education.gc.adventist.org/publications.html, as well as a special issue of The Journal of Adventist Education 73:1 (October/ -November 2010) focusing on the philosophy of Adventist education, available at http://www.journalofadventisteducation.org.
  5. Significant trends may include, among others, increasingly diverse student bodies, an expansion of the modalities used in delivering education, expectations regarding financing opportunities, as well as the increasing secularization of higher education in contemporary society.
  6. Luke 2:52, for example, states that Jesus Christ developed in four areas—“in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (NIV)—in essence, a whole-person development. In this vein, Ellen White wrote, “True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come” (Education [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1903], 13).
  7. When teaching, Jesus would often ask His students, “‘What do you think?’” (e.g., Matthew 17:25; 18:12; 21:28; 22:42). Ellen White also emphasized the importance of high-level thinking: “Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do. . . . It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other people’s thought” (True Education [Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2000], 12).
  8. In Christ’s parable of the house built on a rock contrasted with the structure built on sand (Matthew 7:24-27), the key was that one builder put knowledge into practice. See also Matthew 7:21.
  9. See Proverbs 24:23; John 7:24; 2 Corinthians 10:12; and 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
  10. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 2:12; 10:31; 2 Corinthians 10:5; and Colossians 3:17.
  11. Character formation is highlighted in passages such as Ezekiel 44:23; Micah 6:8; Philippians 4:8; and 2 Peter 1:5-7. God as the Source of knowledge and truth is affirmed in Proverbs 2:6; 9:10; Daniel 2:21; John 1:17; and Colossians 2:2 and 3, among others.
  12. Key beliefs such as Creation, The Nature of Humanity, The Great Controversy, The Sabbath, Stewardship, Marriage and the Family, and The Second Coming of Christ may be incorporated. For an overview of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, see the Beliefs page on the Seventh-day Adventist Church Website at https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/.
  13. Throughout the Bible, we find examples of research (e.g., Numbers 13:17-20; 1 Chronicles 26:31, 32; Esther 6:1; Job 29:16; Daniel 1:12-16; 9:2; and Acts 17:11), as well as research principles (e.g., Job 8:8; Ecclesiastes 7:25; Matthew 7:7). Scripture also presents cases of creative endeavor (e.g., Exodus 2:3, 4; 31:1-5; 1 Kings 3:16-28; Matthew 13:52; Mark 2:4; and Luke 19:4). Ellen White highlighted the importance of creative thought: “As you work, devise, and plan, new methods will continually present themselves to your mind, and by use the powers of your intellect will be increased” (“Go Ye Into All the World,” Review and Herald [June 11, 1895]). “Whatever may have been your former practice, it is not necessary to repeat it again and again in the same way. God would have new and untried methods followed. Break in upon the people—surprise them” Evangelism ([Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1946], 125).
  14. Efficiency factors include the resourceful utilization of finance, personnel, and facilities, among others. Effectiveness is reviewed in terms of product quality and contribution to mission.
  15. As leaders and educators, we must confront the question, “Where is the flock that was entrusted to you?” (Jeremiah 13:20). Unless otherwise designated, all Scripture passages in the article and endnotes are cited from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  16. See 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20; 10:31; and 3 John 2. Ellen White wrote, “When students leave college, they should have better health and a better understanding of the laws of life than when they entered it. The health should be as sacredly guarded as the character” (Christian Education [Battle Creek, Mich.: International Tract Society, 1894], 194).
  17. At Creation, Adam and Eve were commissioned to serve and preserve the planet and all that was in it (Genesis 2:15). This is a divine assignment that has never been rescinded (see also Deuteronomy 20:19; John 6:12; and Revelation 11:18). The Seventh-day Adventist Church has issued official statements regarding the Christian responsibility of caring for the environment, such as the 1995 environment statement available at https://www.adventist.org/en/information/official-... ments/statements/article/go/0/environment/.
  18. A particularly important dimension involves the creation of community for first-year and transfer students, with a goal of enhancing student retention.
  19. Ellen White wrote: “There is to be unity in diversity. This is God’s plan, the principle which runs through the entire universe. In God’s wise arrangement there is diversity, and yet He has so related each part to others, that all work in harmony to carry out His one great plan in extending the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ whom He hath sent” (Letter 71, 1894). “In the work of soul saving, the Lord calls together laborers who have different plans and ideas and various methods of labor. But with this diversity of minds there is to be revealed a unity of purpose” (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1913], 531); see also Manuscript 67, 1897, paragraph 8; and Manuscript 71, 1903, paragraph 5.
  20. When an orchestra performs a work, there are three liberties involved: First, the instrumentalist does not play mechanically, but rather has a certain freedom to perform as a professional musician. That liberty, however, must fall within the freedom of the conductor to indicate when to begin and end and, most importantly, how to interpret the work. The liberty of the conductor, however, respects and operates within the third freedom, that of the composer who incorporated intent in creating the composition and who expects that message to be faithfully conveyed. Similarly, in an educational setting, there are three fundamental liberties: that of the student to learn, of the teacher to teach, and of the institution to fulfill its mission.
  21. See Matthew 10:8; 22:37-39; John 13:12-16, 34, 35; Acts 20:35; 1 Corinthians 13:2, 3; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:28; Philippians 2:4; and 1 Peter 4:10. Ellen White emphasized: “The true object of education is to fit men and women for service” (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 493). “Students . . . are not to look forward to a time, after the school term closes, when they will do some large work for God, but should study how, during their student life, to yoke up with Christ in unselfish service for others” (ibid., 547).
  22. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20, NKJV). Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. See also Deuteronomy 12:32; Matthew 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:19.
  23. The presence and work of the Holy Spirit is essential. Christ stated, “‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’” (John 14:26).
  24. Spiritual Master Planning: A Short Guide may be found at http://education.gc.adventist.org/documents/Spir itual%20Master%20 Planning%20Short%20Guide.pdf.
  25. See Hosea 11:4; Mark 3:14; John 15:4; James 4:8; and Revelation 3:20. Referencing this saving relationship, Ellen White wrote: “[R]edemption . . . is the object of education” (Education, 16). “The all-important thing should be the conversion of their students, that they may have a new heart and life. The object of the Great Teacher is the restoration of the image of God in the soul” (Fundamentals of Christian Education [Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publishing, 1923], 436); see also Education, page 30.
  26. See Psalm 119:105; John 5:39; 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17; and 2 Peter 1:19. Ellen White affirmed: “The word of God is the foundation of all true knowledge” (Christian Education, 82). Similarly, “The Bible should be made the foundation of study and of teaching. The essential knowledge is a knowledge of God and of Him whom He has sent” (The Ministry of Healing [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1905], 401); see also Testimonies for the Church, volume 6 (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1948], 198); Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, pages 204 and 206; and Fundamentals of Christian Education, page 451.
  27. Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 5:17; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 4:23, 24; Colossians 3:10; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6.
  28. 1 Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 95:6; Isaiah 43:10; Matthew 5:13-15; 18:20; 22:38, 39; 28:18-20; Galatians 5:13; and Hebrews 10:25.
  29. Ellen White observed, “If you lower the standard in order to secure popularity and an increase of numbers, and then make this increase a cause of rejoicing, you show great blindness. If numbers were evidence of success, Satan might claim the pre-eminence; for, in this world, his followers are largely in the majority. It is the degree of moral power pervading the College, that is a test of its prosperity” (Christian Education, 42).
  30. See recommended reading list on pages 26 and 27.
  31. Psalm 78:4 to 7, for example, states: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. . . . Then they would put their trust in God.”
  32. Isaiah 54:13. See also John 6:45; 2 Corinthians 5:20; and 1 Peter 4:11.
  33. Psalm 144:12.

January – March, 2017

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