by Frank Brazell
Recently, we sat down with alumna Mackenzie Gear (Christian Leadership, ’18) to discuss her experiences as a student, and how it has prepared her to be the Director of Student Ministries for one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the United States.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Mackenzie first felt God calling her to full time vocational ministry as a teenager, specifically the call to work with students. Mackenzie first found out about Manna University from her fiancé, now husband, Brady. The military brought Brady to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he began attending a local church affiliated with Manna U; he told Mackenzie about Manna University soon afterward. When they were married and settled in their new city, Mackenzie began taking classes at Manna U, earning her Associate of Arts in Christian Leadership in 2018.
“I really enjoyed the fact that I could get my whole degree online… You can get your whole degree either all in class or all online.”
Mackenzie started by taking on-campus classes but had to switch to all-online courses when she was hired for a staff position at her local church. Getting hired was a direct result of being a student at Manna U. A faculty member, who also happened to be an Associate Pastor at Mackenzie’s local church, noticed her work ethic and commitment to God’s call on her life, and connected her to an administrative position where she could still fulfill God’s calling for her: working with middle and high-school students.
Since then, Mackenzie has completed her Associate’s degree, worked with students while serving in an administrative capacity, and has recently been promoted to Director of Student Ministries. We asked her what that role entailed, and how her time as a student at Manna U prepared her to step into that role.
“Now I get the opportunity to work with leaders at other sites [church campuses] in helping them and guiding them into leading them and growing their students at their sites, get to work with RUSH [Campus Ministries] in the local schools, and all things students at my local church.”
While still working weekly with students at her local church campus, Mackenzie now has the opportunity to mentor six adult leaders at that campus and five other site directors at various locations across the Fayetteville, North Carolina region. She works in conjunction with local pastoral staff to create a space for students that is a part of the local church.
“One of the biggest things I learned in class was through the Servant Leadership class with [Professor] Stefanie Ertel. In order to lead like Jesus you need to serve like Jesus. That’s something that I’ve been able to apply from my time at Manna U to the role I’m in now.”
While a student, Mackenzie enjoyed not having to learn things on her own, but being surrounded by a group of like-minded people who want to grow and develop in their relationship with God.
“To be a pastor doesn’t mean that you need the title Pastor. You can do pastoral work in your everyday life, and I think that all of us are called to be somewhat pastoral in our interactions with people.”
Looking forward, Mackenzie is confident that God’s call on her life when she was 15 has brought her to where she is today. Now, she has the opportunity not only to lead students but to lead leaders, multiplying herself not for her own sake, but to advance the Kingdom of God faster and more effectively. While she may not know what the future holds, she never could have imagined where God would bring her and how He would bring her here.
We also asked Mackenzie what advice she would give to people who think God might be calling them to be a student at Manna U. The calling that started when she was a teenager wasn’t put in place overnight, and her journey still isn’t finished; but the journey has been incredible, and God has been faithful through the whole process.
“It’s a big decision committing to school. If you’re on the edge of it, and feel like God is pushing you, it doesn’t hurt to try. Your efforts aren’t going to go to waste, and you’re going to learn something. The Lord can open up a lot of things, but we have to be willing to take the step forward. As long as you’re pursuing Him and seeking Him, He’s not going to lead you down a path that isn’t the right one for you.”