DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Encounter – Formation – Expression

Written by: on November 29, 2018

I’m a community mobilizer. It’s not just what I do but it’s who I am. I desire to mobilize people to engage local, national, and international communities. And when they engage them, I want to do so in the name of Jesus. I get the chance this in a college setting, and have been for the last eight years. I’ve made a few observations over my tenure, and one of the most startling is that very few college-aged students can articulate the gospel, nor can they understand the basic tenets of theology, despite being immersed in a Christian academic setting.


Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God by Grenz and Olson, is a welcome breath of fresh air in my current setting. Not only does it really tackle the why we need theology, which is lacking in today’s college students, it also seeks to situate it into daily life. In essence, it makes theology attainable, relatable, and generally do-able.


College is such a formative time in one’s life. There are so many big lessons to learn and questions to ponder. By reminding the readers that “everyone – especially every Christian – is a theologian and that every professional theologian is simply a Christian whose vocation is to do what all Christians do in some way: think and teach about God”[1], it helps provide an attainable framework for the exploration of some of life’s biggest questions. While I think University requirements might be what initially draw students toward our office, the fact that we regularly encourage students to engage some of these big questions really develops their theological understanding.


Last night, I was training this year’s short-term missions participants. We always start with “Why” we do, because like Simon Sinek points out, if you can start with why, you better understand your purpose, cause, or belief.[2] We do tell them that throughout their training process, they will learn more about “how” to do this work, and “what” it is they are doing will be continually defined. But if they understand their purpose, they will know why they exist.[3] Part of the way we help them understand the “why” of our office is explaining that we use a model called “Encounter – Formation – Expression”[4] which was developed by Mike Ashcraft, the Pastor of Port City Community Church in North Carolina. At its basic level, what we’re hoping for is that all students have an encounter with the living God, themselves, one another, and their environment, which cause them to process that encounter through a formation of their awareness of new information, and bringing that into alignment with what they know about Scripture. Lastly, we hope and pray that this new information plays out through a different expression of themselves and their faith. It’s why we do what we do.


Grenz and Olson highlighted this concept of “encounter – formation – expression” for me in this book over and over again. They articulated that, “Good theology always makes a difference in how Christians live, and it motivates them as well. As they come to know more about God and his relationship to the world, disciples of Christ are drawn to love God more. As they come to love God more, they desire to serve him more. Good theology always moves from the head to the heart and finally to the hand.”[5] In essence, the more we encounter God, the more we formulate new ways about loving God and God’s people, which then cause us to serve both God and God’s people.[6] I think my students need to hear that theology might just be a way to encapsulate “encounter – formation – expression” in fancier words and that they are capable of theologizing too.


[1] Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 13, kindle edition

[2] Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (lecture at TEDxPuget Sound, May 2010).

[3] Ibid.

[4] “About Us,” Port City Church Wilmington, accessed November 28, 2018,

[5] Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 45, kindle edition

[6] Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 125 kindle edition

About the Author


Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

9 responses to “Encounter – Formation – Expression”

  1. Andrea Lathrop says:

    I love Sinek’s ‘why’ framework and love that you use it in preparation for trips and expression. So wise, Karen. And I do think that God is partnering with you to help these students to become better theologians. As you faithfully offer your life (and theology) to those you lead, I know they will be the better for it!

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Thanks so much, Andrea! It is an amazing framework and one that I reference quite frequently in my personal life and my work!

  2. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Sinek’s work is so timely for our culture and especially for young people. He has discovered ways to draw out intrinsic motivation and keep us grounded through pressing the “why” question. This is such an important concept for theology as well. If we can help people understand why theology matters by helping them understand it shapes their thoughts and practice even when they don’t recognize it that begins to motivate people to become more intentional about it.

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You provide a really practical, interesting perspective of students immersed in a Christian academic setting not understanding the basic tenets of theology nor articulate the Gospel. This sounds like many in our churches (even our Vineyard churches). Perhaps like me, many have and are struggling how to pull it all together in a helpful working construct. You quote Grenz and Olson, “Good theology always moves from the head to the heart and finally to the hand.” I had forgotten this but so appreciate your reminder of this nugget. This seems to indicate that the process of good theological formation will always continue moving from the head to the heart to the hand. Thank you so much for your insights and your calling to inspire your young college students towards good theological formation. Take care, H

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Harry – thanks so much for your kind words! And yes – I have noticed that so many individuals, especially younger generations, really struggle with articulating the gospel. I think books like Grenz and Olson have written can really provide a very approachable and deeper into the head to the heart to the hands!

  4. Mario Hood says:

    Karen, you have provided some great integration and I love the quote, “Good theology always moves from the head to the heart and finally to the hand.”

    When the higher levels of theology are done, I think this is where we get “lost” and as the authors alluded to ruin our faith. We forget that if what you’re thinking, isn’t tied to your emotions, and applied to a community, then we have lost what God is all about.

    I remember being in my undergraduate and declaring I will not be like those “theology” people, but now after reading this book (and going through more school) I realize the benefit and that we all are theology people. How do you think it will benefit/impact them in presenting to them they are (at some level) theologians already?

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Hey Mario – such a great question! I really think that there is so much of theology that is cyclical actually. It’s like the more you know, you move something to your heart and then to your hands, and then the process starts over and goes deeper. I hope that by presenting these concepts to college-aged students, that they take that feedback loop deeper throughout their life – as well as make that process quicker!

  5. mm Mary Mims says:

    Karen, I like that you point out that many young adults can not articulate the Gospel and do not know the basic tenants of theology. I am looking at that for my research with children, trying to figure out how we can change that. I find most parents also do not know how to teach their own theology to their children and rely solely on the church. I like what you are doing, helping them to understand the “why”. I hope to incorporate more of this as I teach the children.

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