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Vision Magazine│Redefining Community with Chris and Jan Beard (’89)

June 1, 2015 | Bryce Wilks


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Chris and Jan Beard are spreading a reconciling message and pulling people together in the heart of their city.


You can’t rattle Chris and Jan Beard — they’re too comfortable with being uncomfortable.
The 1989 Evangel alums have learned to embrace discomfort through 25 years of ministry together, especially when it’s for the sake of sharing a distinctively reconciling Gospel with everyone who will listen.

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The Beards came to campus last semester while Chris participated in a panel discussion called “Courageous Conversations” and delivered a chapel message that challenged students to pursue unity in Christ.

Familiar faces greeted them, as six of Evangel’s current students hail from Cincinnati, Ohio and Peoples Church, where Chris has served as lead pastor for 14 years. Though each made their college decision independently, Beard says it’s no coincidence they landed at Evangel together.

“Receiving unconditional love from a place of truth is so healthy and so Kingdom oriented,” he said. “It’s attractive to young people who want to influence the marketplace, and it’s a common theme for both EU and our church.”

The group’s common bond was formed at Beard’s multi-ethnic congregation that is made up of members from more than 30 nations.

Those cultures fuse together at weekly gatherings that The Wall Street Journal described as having “hands of all hues reach toward the heavens.” But getting there, in the midst of a city with extreme social, economic and spiritual segregation, wasn’t easy.

“I had a friend tell me once that every important change is one difficult conversation away,” Beard said. “And I never get tired of having difficult conversations because I see how much they better our community and change lives in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Beard’s calling led him to Evangel, and his experience prepared him for a life of ministry that looks radically different than he imagined.

A NEW CALL

As a high school senior, Beard attended a service at First Christian Assembly in Cincinnati that changed his path.

With eyes set on medical school, he was considering multiple options. But that night changed his mind after the speaker’s message confirmed that he should pursue vocational ministry.

Having already applied to Evangel based on his parents’ recommendation, Beard decided EU was his top choice while visiting campus and having conversations with Bible and Theology faculty members.

“I was so intrigued with their fresh approach to theology, life, ministry, society and history” he said. “I wanted to be of the same mindset.”

EU-C.Beard{MWP}-24Beard’s time at Evangel shaped him, in large part because he met an Intercultural Studies major named Jan (Grage).

Since both had come from missions backgrounds, they envisioned their future including an assignment with Assemblies of God World Missions.

But when Beard completed his master’s degree and received an opportunity to minister in Bulgaria in 1992, the couple couldn’t shake Cincinnati from their hearts and minds. They believe God divinely placed that feeling in their hearts to pave the way for the work they are doing now.

“Jan and I had prepared to pursue international missions, so staying in Cincinnati was a shift and sacrifice of sorts for both of us,” Beard said.

He called First Christian Assembly, the place he had originally felt called to ministry, to ask the pastor if they had any openings. The church obliged, and Beard has been on staff since, serving as associate pastor for eight years before being named lead pastor in 2001.

A NEW NAME

Four months after Beard became pastor, Cincinnati experienced an important civil rights moment when a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man named Timothy Thomas less than two miles from the church’s campus.

A city-wide call for justice followed, and in the midst, Beard’s heart was convicted to see his church behave more like heaven on earth. Nearly every member at the time was Caucasian, though the surrounding neighborhoods had the melting pot make-up of most major cities.

“We weren’t quite doing the Great Commission at that time,” Beard said. “So we began to articulate a vision from scripture for all nations coming together as a racially reconciled church in the spirit of Revelation 7:9.”

That meant some big changes, including an intentional effort to hire diverse staff members and a reluctance to embrace political ties that would alienate certain groups of people. All of it, Beard says, has been worth it.

“The benefits of a diverse church body are still blowing my mind,” he said. “The richness of perspective, the wealth of unique talents converging, and the worship experiences are exceptional. It’s a phenomenon that is attractive to those who are far from God, which is who we are trying to reach.”

For Beard, seeing the church stretch and diversify has confirmed that God didn’t waste the passions he and Jan had as students.

“I see now that all of those desires we had, from engaging unreached people groups with the Gospel to caring for the poor, are being fulfilled now through our church. It just looks a bit different than we imagined.”

By 2012, the vision of racial reconciliation had become reality. The church decided to adopt a new name that reflected its broad composition. First Christian Assembly became Peoples Church, no apostrophe, celebrating the newly found generational and racial richness.

As what Beard calls an anchor church in the heart of the city, Peoples Church is pushing ahead as a catalyst for bringing people together and closer to God.

“Through the reconciling Gospel of Jesus Christ, we want to address racial inequity in our city, be it in the areas of education, economics or criminal justice,” Beard said. “Biblical justice, because of Christ in us, is a huge value for us.”

A NEW DAY

Following the animosity of 2001, Cincinnati signed a collaborative agreement that has been a healing measure for everyone impacted. The agreement brought the community, police forces and the federal government together in a more intentional effort to have better oversight, accountability and supportive training for police officers.

Other cities, including St. Louis, have been asking to study the agreement in hopes of beginning to tackle their own challenges. Beard is also working with community leaders and other clergy to develop an additional agreement for the prosecutorial and judicial systems.

His involvement in difficult discussions has led to opportunities. In 2014 alone, Beard conducted interviews with CNN, ABC Nightline, The Wall Street Journal and numerous magazines. All of them wanted to know how he was guiding people through divisions and into a united effort to live out Christian faith.

“It’s crucial that people of the Gospel are involved in coming up with solutions to these problems we face in our nation,” Beard said.

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Grant Barnes (right) is a sophomore Biblical Studies major. As he prepares for seminary, his goal is to unite different denominations in more strategic efforts to care for urban neighborhoods.

At Evangel, students from Beard’s church are emerging as they prepare to tackle issues of their own.

Grant Barnes is a sophomore Biblical Studies major who’s preparing for seminary. Like Beard, he has a heart for urban churches trying to reach the city.

“I’d like to work on ways that churches from different denominations can come together and minister to their communities more effectively,” Barnes said.

He’s honing his skills as the assistant director for activities and events of Crosswalk, Evangel’s student-led ministry organization.
Like Beard, he says faculty members have left their mark on Barnes and his preparation.

“Coming here, I knew I’d be getting a lot of history about Pentecostal theology,” Barnes said. “But I never realized how much relevant help I would receive for how to prepare for ministry, regardless of what type of church I’m walking into.”

Stevie Smith is another of Beard’s students, a junior who is preparing to work in the marketplace as a Journalism major and Marketing minor.

“My focus is to travel and to love the people I connect with the way Christ loves them,” she said.

Producing students with hearts like that is a mission Evangel, and the Beards, can be comfortable with.


Article originally appeared in Spring 2015 edition of Vision Magazine.

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