By Ryan Synoground
From an early age, Dr. Phil Petersen felt a call to ministry. Coming from a family of pastors, Dr. Petersen’s father and grandfather served in ministry. After attending Taylor University College and completing seminary training at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dr. Petersen served 11 years in pastoral ministry. “As a pastor, I was always operating in the gift of teaching.” Dr. Petersen says. After some time, he started a Bible institute at his church through Bethel college in Indiana. He was often investing in young men and helping them engage in ministry.
While completing his Doctoral work in Detroit, Dr. Petersen started a job search. Dr. Petersen’s wife, Debra, respectfully asked, “please don’t apply to any positions in Canada or Minnesota. That would be too cold.” Lo and behold, Dr. Petersen found a job opportunity in the magazine Christianity Today, a teaching position at Crown College. In 1989, Dr. Petersen worked at a Missionary Church, a sister denomination to the Christian and Missionary Alliance. At first, Crown felt it would be best to hire someone within the Alliance directly, but after further consideration, the President of Crown flew out to Michigan to meet with Dr. Petersen. After a spirit-filled meeting, Crown College offered him the position. Dr. Petersen and Debra talked through this offer together, and after seeking the Lord, the Petersens knew that Phil would fit best teaching people and equipping them for ministry.
Time at Crown
For over 32 years, Dr. Petersen served at Crown College. Throughout his time, he served as Chaplain, Chair of the Christian Ministry Department, and Professor of Pastoral Leadership. Crown was a wonderful place for the Petersens. “Crown is a place where you can receive an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement. You can talk about theological issues and personal issues.”
One of Dr. Petersen’s favorite memories at Crown was when God visited Crown in 1995. Dr. Petersen served as the Chaplain then and worked with student development. A revival had been spreading across the United States, working its way up the Mississippi. After the student senate-speeches in chapel, students from other campuses shared what was happening across the U.S. To close the chapel, Dr. Petersen invited the students to stay and seek the Lord as they desired and prayed over the student body. For about 30 seconds, nobody moved. And then it happened. Students began coming forward and confessing their sins. Prayer broke out among the people, and the chapel continued until 3:00 pm. The campus reconvened at 9:00 pm that night and worshipped until midnight. This schedule lasted for several days, with prayer and worship breaking out every morning and evening. Dr. Petersen describes that time as “a time of real peace and kindness and love, you would walk through the hallways, and people would stop and pray for you. It was one of those things that is really hard to describe until you experience it.” At the close of the weekend, Crown students went out to local churches, and the revival continued to spread.
As Dr. Petersen looks back at his time, the National Office trips are among his fondest memories. For 28 years, Dr. Petersen would lead a trip with ministry majors and take them to visit the National Office of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Nearly 700 students made that trip throughout Dr. Petersen’s time. “I felt like I was there when I was in ‘the room where it happened.’ Many of those students would feel the call of God on their life and get plugged into ministry.”
Dr. Petersen and his wife, Debra, often had students over for dinner, where they would hang out and talk. “Any time a professor is able to connect with their students outside of the classroom, it’s good. I always enjoyed walking alongside our students.” As Dr. Petersen reflects on his time at Crown, he will miss the people the most. He prays that the community will continue to be Christ-centered and make Jesus a priority.
“It is more than just knowing about Him, it’s about truly knowing Him. Seeking Him through His Word and living out a life of obedience is crucial to the Christian life. We must know Him so that we may show him. As our culture becomes increasingly secularized, it can be easy for us to fall into despair, but we don’t have to be afraid of culture. We don’t have to stay quiet. Let us be confident in who we are in Christ. Following Jesus is truly a better life. We can have this joy, confidence, and hope knowing God owns the future.”
As Dr. Petersen transitions away from Crown, he is still excited about Crown’s future. “I’m leaving too soon; the administration has a great vision and a great heart. As I pass the baton to the next generation, It’s not about me. I know God is doing something new.”
When Dr. Petersen packed up his office over Christmas break last winter, he couldn’t help but feel overcome by God’s goodness. “The words ‘thank you’ wafted over me. I was so grateful that God allowed me to stay in one place for so long. I was filled with thanksgiving and gratitude.” While Dr. Petersen received many job offers over the years, he faithfully trusted God in keeping him at Crown. “There is a lot of value in staying in one place.”
While Dr. Petersen is retiring from Crown, he certainly plans to stay busy. He will be running a weekly class at Parkside Church in Waconia this fall. Dr. Petersen currently lives in Saint Bonifacius with Debra. He will continue to rest in His presence as he listens to what God has for him and Debra. His desire to come alongside the church will never go away.
Dr. Petersen’s impact on the Crown Community cannot be expressed in one article. The lives he has touched over his three decades of service will forever be grateful to the man who listened to the call. We will always remember humble servants like Dr. Petersen, who showed us God’s goodness and grace daily. Thank you, Dr. Phil Petersen.