Harry Walls: A pastor’s journey (back) to Master’s – By Samantha Dick

walls

Every student has been there—eyes glazed over, struggling to study for a looming exam with a textbook in one corner of the desk and Netflix in the other.

Near the end of his sophomore year at Brown University, Harry Walls, the new campus pastor of The Master’s College (TMC), was in a similar predicament. With an upcoming test in Organic Chemistry, Walls sat at his desk struggling to memorize over 200 transactions. Not only was he a pre-med student in an Ivy League school, he was also balancing college football and leading a fraternity Bible study.

But for Walls, it wasn’t a battle between “O-Chem” and Netflix. In this crucial moment, his eyes were moving from his textbook to his Bible resting on the corner of his desk.

“I remember thinking, specifically thinking, if I do this—looking down at my chemistry book—for the rest of my life, a large part is gonna be focused on this,” Walls recalled. “Or… I could study that [my Bible].”

Walls had a desire to serve people. He wanted to become a doctor to heal people physically, and he was willing to master Organic Chemistry to do that. The real question for Walls to answer was how he wanted to serve people—and for him, it was pastorally.

Walls remembers thinking: “The ultimate impact outcome potential of my life and study—and all of the effort—was better invested in something eternal rather than something temporal.”

Following his decision to become a pastor, Walls transferred to Liberty University, where he majored in pastoral ministries and attended seminary. He became the campus pastor at Liberty for a short time, where he taught a freshman Bible class and handled the administrative functions of the Student Life department.

He was then offered a position as the dean of men at TMC in 1985, where he stayed for three years until moving to Birmingham, Alabama. There he became the pastor of Shades Mountain Independent Church and served there for almost 30 years, while remaining on the board at TMC. In March of this year, Walls left his church to take his current position at TMC.

Already, there has been some crossover.

Freshman biblical counseling major, Ryan Jack, grew up attending Walls’ church in Alabama and has known Walls, whom he considers a “second father,” for the past 17 years. Even though Jack and his family moved away from Alabama when he was 14 years old, their families remained in close contact. Jack visited the Walls family often.

“After moving and staying at their house for months at a time, you get to know people very well,” Jack said. “All the time [Walls] was serving constantly. … I’d see him go serving the church. Whether it’s in preaching, a death in the church, a marriage in the church—whatever it is, he was there to support it and then he’d come home and do the same thing. It’s like he was a work horse that didn’t stop.”

Walls has always been driven by a desire to care for people. Though most students have never met him before this year, Walls has been investing in TMC from behind the scenes as a board member. Walls’ love for TMC commenced over 30 years ago when he accepted the position as dean of men. Vice President of Student Life, Dr. Joe Keller, who has also served as a board member for TMC, recounts how he’s “always sought Harry’s input and counsel.”

“I couldn’t think of anybody more equipped to be the campus pastor at the Master’s College than Harry Walls,” said Keller. “He comes with 27 years of pastoral experience. He was here in the early days when John [MacArthur] came on as president and set the foundation for how we care for students on this campus.”

When Walls came to Master’s in 1985, he wasn’t interested merely in shaping the students’ outward behavior; he wanted the Student Life philosophy to “address the heart.” Thirty years have not changed Walls in that respect. He was excited to return to TMC this year, despite the difficulty he faced in leaving his church. He described it as being “hard to leave but not hard to come.”

Initially, Walls’ arrival was greeted by some confusion over his role as the campus pastor, a novel idea for those at TMC. Some wondered why a campus “pastor” was needed if TMC stressed the importance of not regarding the college as a church.

Walls does not believe that his pastoral function is to take the place of involvement in the local church. He wants to “build bridges to the local church in order to facilitate [the] students getting into the local church and being a part of a church experience while they’re here.”

Others wondered about the difference between the role of the campus pastor and the role of Student Life.

Pete Bargas, TMC’s associate dean of Student Life, says the roles of the campus pastor and Student Life really aren’t that different. They both exist to care for the spiritual needs of students at TMC. However, Student Life also has to handle activities, events and even discipline.

“I think sometimes Student Life can be a scary place because we do have to handle the discipline side of things. … And for some students, that’s all they hear,” Bargas said. “Because Harry’s not necessarily attached to that, they may feel the freedom to pursue his avenue of shepherding, and we want to encourage that as well.”

Bargas also noted that Walls is responsible for overseeing the spiritual care of not only the students, but also the faculty and staff.

“[H]e extends what Student Life has been accomplishing and desiring to accomplish beyond just the student body, but really wraps his arms around the entire campus as well,” he said.

Echoing the necessity of having a campus pastor, Walls said, “Maybe we need it—if  I could say that from the words of others—because we need seasoned, matured, pastoral support on campus to meet the needs of the students, the staff, and the faculty. That’s what they’ve said. Hopefully I can help do that.”

Walls explained that there is no clear job description for the campus pastor. TMC’s president, Dr. John MacArthur, has given Walls the freedom to do whatever he thinks is necessary to shepherd and care for the needs of students, faculty and staff.

“I think your president really would like to do what I do. He just can’t. I get to. So I kind of feel the privilege of representing his affection for the students as well as my own,” Walls said.

Many students, faculty, and staff have voiced their approval of Walls and his fulfilling of the new campus pastor position. Sophomore English major, Desiree Teichroeb, attends Grace on Campus on Thursday nights. Grace on Campus is a college Bible study of Grace Community Church, led by Walls and his wife, Karen, at their home on Oak Orchard Road, less than a mile from TMC’s North Campus. Teichroeb has enjoyed getting to know Walls in a more personal setting.

“You can tell in all his interactions that he cares for your spiritual growth and that you grow in discernment and a love for God. He and his wife, Karen, are very hospitable and that’s one of the ways you see them act out their love for us as students,” Teichroeb said.

Another student, senior business major, Hannah Michelson, has never met Walls but has witnessed his pastor’s heart from afar through his general presence on campus and his sermons during chapel.

“The thing that strikes me about him is his desire to know the students and immerse himself into the Master’s community,” Michelson said. “It could be easy for him to know specific people but it seems like he’s really making an effort to know the campus as a whole.”

Walls has experienced support from many at TMC. He is grateful that people have welcomed him into their lives so quickly. Bargas believes that one reason for the support he has received is his unique ability to listen and communicate empathically.

“In that empathy you feel like you’re talking to someone who has experienced what you have experienced. … And in a similar manner, that’s what’s so appealing about Christ,” Bargas said. “He’s not a Lord who’s unfamiliar with our suffering or our struggle. …  And I think as believers, as leaders, if you can emulate that to a certain extent … that compassion, care and empathy and yet provide wisdom and words that are convicting—that’s to be sought out.”

For Walls, his role as campus pastor echoes that original decision made so many years ago when he was studying chemistry. How can he best serve others? How can he best love them?

“I want you to know that you are loved as a student and as a student body,” ha said. “My heart for you is that you would maximize what God has entrusted to you as a child of God. That you would experience and love Him and grow in grace and that I could be a help to that—that I could encourage you, I could challenge you, exhort, support, partner, coach, and do what pastors do. … That’s why I go to everything. I go to as much as I can possibly go to ‘cause I want to be a part of your world, your experience. So I can identify with you, but also so I can know you in that environment and you can know me. So that when circumstances unfold where spiritual support is needed or life support is needed, we’re not strangers to each other. You know me; I know you—at whatever level that allows. And you know I care for you and I love you.”

By Samantha Dick

 

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