Dr. Chris Confer received his bachelor’s and Master’s of Divinity from Anderson University and his Doctorate in Higher Education from the University of Arkansas in 2011. He has served as the Dean of Students at AU since January of 2015. Confer and his wife Michelle have a daughter, Caroline, and a dog, Molly.
Where are you from? Can you describe the culture you grew up in?
I was born in Franklin, Pennsylvania, and lived there for a few years and then moved to Denver, Colorado, and lived there for a couple of years, but the majority of my life has been spent in St. Joseph, Michigan.
I grew up in a pastor’s family. We were deeply rooted in the Church of God and in our faith. The foundation of our culture was very much influenced by scripture and allowing God to work in us and through us in our circumstances.
How did you come to Anderson, and where else have you lived?
I felt the call on my life to go into full-time ministry when I was a freshman in high school.
There was a Church of God youth convention in Phoenix, Arizona, where a man named Dave Sebastian, who later became the Dean of the School of Theology, had a conversation on how to know and understand the call on your life.
I felt very moved and even came forward at one of the services to commit my life to the Lord and full-time ministry.
At that point in my life, I was on a path of following in my dad’s footsteps, and when it came time to graduate, I knew I wanted to come to AU and major in Biblical studies. I also got accepted into the University of Michigan.
My mom wanted me to go there because it’s a hard school to get into, and it would set me up for success later on, but I said that God was calling me here. So she told me to interview five pastors and ask them what they would do differently if they could do college over again.
I assumed it would be easy, and they would all tell me to major in Christian ministries, but every single one of them told me to get my business degree.
They said even though they were very faithful to the Lord, some of the most painful decisions they ever made were business decisions that didn’t go well. Whether it was working with contractors or just managing the church budget well, they said if you can figure out that part of it, you’ll be in much better shape. So I came to Anderson and majored in business and minored in public relations.
What is some advice you wish someone would’ve told you in your college years?
I didn’t take myself too seriously back in my college years, but I was always thinking about the next step or the next three or four steps down the road.
I would’ve told myself to just slow down and really enjoy and be present in the moment.
Some seniors told me as they were leaving to cherish every moment on campus because you won’t get another experience like college in your lifetime.
At that point, I knew I was going to keep doing college ministry and student life and that I could keep being involved in college life, but it’s definitely not the same. I still love it, it’s definitely what I’m called to, but I would like to have relished those moments even more.
You’ve studied business administration, public relations, received a Master’s of Divinity and a doctorate in higher education administration. Were each of these areas of study leading you to this position?
When I was in college and even going into the School of Theology, I was convinced I was going to be a senior pastor.
During my last year of seminary, I co-pastored at Maple Grove Church of God, and I loved that experience. Maple Grove was an awesome congregation.
They didn’t have a college ministry at the time, and because I was deeply involved in college ministry, I started inviting some people to come to church with me.
As that got going, I could tell that working with college students was really what I was called to.
College is the time where you are trying to figure out what your faith looks like and how to make it your own, how to figure out who God is calling you to be and where He is calling you to go. I love the opportunity to be in the middle of that season and help students understand where things are going.
Even the conduct conversations I get to have are part of my deep desire for students to be shaped. We have to talk about conduct and discipline, but for me it’s about how I can form and shape you and what kind of things I can put in your life to get you to where God is calling you.
Almost every year I have a few students who come through the conduct program that I personally mentor. I feel the Holy Spirit nudging me to spend time with them, and for me, there’s joy in what I get to do. In a weird way, I’m still sort of a senior pastor to college students.
You talk a lot about calling; can you elaborate on what that means to you?
There’s a Frederick Buechner quote that says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
To me, that really culminates the idea of calling. For me, calling is identifying the skills and passions that I have and identifying what the work is that utilizes those things. When I talk about calling, I believe God opens opportunities for us when we are willing to listen.
What has been one of the most challenging or lifegiving experiences of your life?
When I was in elementary school, I was running on the playground and my kneecap dislocated. I later learned that I would have a kneecap that dislocates regularly.
I’d be walking or running, and all of a sudden my knee would lock on the side of my leg, and I would go crashing down. That affected me all through school. I couldn’t play sports, and I desperately wanted to. But it got me into music.
I played in marching band and sang in choir, and it led me to those things. A whole other world opened up to me as a part of that. And through that, I found that one of the ways I connect most deeply with the Lord is through singing and worship.
What writers and thinkers have influenced you the most? What do you happen to be reading now?
One of the books from seminary that still rings true in my mind is by Walter Brueggemann about the Old Testament. He really helped the Word come alive for me and helped me understand how to look at scripture in a different and very real way.
“Blue like Jazz” is another book I’ve really enjoyed reading.
“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek is a book that has helped me ask questions about why we do what we do.
A book that I’m reading right now that has had a profound impact on what we do is called “iGen” by Jean Twenge. While I don’t totally agree with all of her statistical analysis, she identifies things about the how and why of the “i” generation. I believe it will have an impact dramatically on how we do orientation and how we ask questions about what skills students need.
What do you do for fun?
I love to fish, fly fishing specifically. Anytime I get to do that I am a very happy camper. I love any opportunity to be out in nature and to just disconnect. When there’s no cell service it allows me to detach for a little bit and get unplugged. I come back so much more refreshed.