Looking Back: The Brown Presidency, 2008-2019

Jun 4, 2019


About Western Theological Seminary

Located in Holland, Michigan, WTS offers 16 graduate programs online, in residence, in English, and Spanish for women and men preparing for faithful Christian ministry. WTS was founded in 1866 when seven of the eight members of Hope College’s inaugural graduating class wished to become ministers and petitioned their denomination to allow them to complete their education in Holland. Since that time, WTS has been preparing women and men for a lifetime of ministry all around the world in many ministry and denominational contexts.

By Western Theological Seminary

Back in 2008 when Dr. Timothy Brown was told he had been selected as the next president of Western Theological Seminary, he thought of The Pilgrim’s Progress and Christian’s exclamation: “I rejoice and I tremble!”

Over the last 11 years, those words proved prophetic, as there were days of celebration as well as sleepless nights bearing the weight of presidential responsibilities.

The month he took office, July 2008, the stock market tumbled 1500 points. By the end of that year, the WTS endowment had lost 30% of its value. At the next Board of Trustees meeting, the new president—with only seven months in office—was told to trim half a million dollars off the budget. He did so, making many painful, difficult decisions.

“That year Nancy and I had dinner with Max and Esther DePree,” Tim recalls. “I remember kind of crying in my soup, ‘Nobody likes me!’ and Max said, ‘You know, Tim, boards don’t hire presidents to be popular, and they rather like it if they’re not.’ Well, that jolted me to my senses!”

After that, as Tim describes it, “The Lord took over in terms of our balance sheet.” Donations to the seminary rose, even in the midst of a recession.

That time of trembling led to rejoicing. Dr. Brown led the effort to raise funds to transform the John R. Mulder Chapel. Completed in 2012, the chapel is a beautiful artistic expression of our worshipping community’s theological values.

Later, he led the Development team in raising $27 million for a combined building and endowment campaign, which resulted in a totally renovated campus with a new learning center.

“I have thrilled to relationships with donors,” Tim says. “There is nothing more satisfying than casting a vision of what we’re doing, asking friends to help us, and hearing them say yes. The whole seminary is different now, thanks to them.”

Tim Brown’s dream from the beginning was simple: “I wanted us to flourish as an evangelical, Reformed seminary.”

At the urging of Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, Tim became the first WTS president to join the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents. This positioned WTS into a wider network of relationships that has helped build the school’s profile across the world of theological education.

Tim has kept connected to the inner workings of a church in a unique way. Every Saturday morning he talks with his son Jon, the pastor of Pillar Church, and they go over Jon’s sermon for the next day. Tim loves that.

With his love for the spoken Word, he has kept his own heavy preaching schedule through the years. He especially enjoys preaching on college campuses and interacting with prospective students. He has continued to teach preaching classes while president and looks forward to jumping back into the classroom full-time with both feet.

“As I say to students, here is the exciting part: there are people you can reach that no one else can. You have a unique personality, way of speaking, and skillset the Lord wants to use for a particular purpose! Take that seriously. I’ve always thought my job as a professor of preaching was to find out how each student can preach—what’s their style?—and then release him or her. It’s fun!”

Dr. Brown will be on sabbatical during the fall semester, preparing for his return to teaching. He will also travel and enjoy time with his wife, Nancy, who has been such a wonderful, supportive partner through all the years.

His advice to the next president?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep the center focus of your life the center focus. Don’t let that change! Embody the role and the office in a way that is appropriate and in line with you. Be yourself, we are all behind you. Don’t try to be anyone else but who you are.”

A way to honor the presidency of Dr. Timothy Brown


2008 Timothy Brown is appointed president

The stock market drops and the WTS endowment loses 30% of its value

Ridder Church Renewal begins in partnership w/ the RCA and CRC (over 130 churches have since participated)

2009 In February, the library floods; in June the lower level of the DeWitt Theological Center floods and is under 3 feet of water

2010 Faculty Fellows program launched to increase faculty diversity (six scholars come in the next 8 years)

2011 Newbigin House of Studies partnership begins with M.Div. focus on church planting

2012 John R. Mulder Chapel renovated

New M.Div. curriculum

Entire revamp of corporate identity; new look for Western

2013 Gordon H. Girod Research Chair in Reformed Theology established and filled by Dr. J. Todd Billings

Master of Arts program launched

Five new professors and six new staff join WTS

Lilly Endowment, Inc. awards seminary $500,000 grant for preaching initiatives and $250,000 to address economic challenges facing future ministers

2014 New strategic plan developed

First director of Friendship House hired

Partnership with Institituto Biblico Ebenezer established

2015 Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry launched

2016 Alvin Padilla begins as Academic Dean and V.P. of Academic Affairs

BOT approves 25M capital campaign ($15M building; $10M endowment)

Summer Institute on Theology and Disability hosted at WTS for the first time

Henry Luce Foundation awards WTS $425,000 to expand work in disability and ministry

Luxcast launched (first WTS podcast)

2017  Hispanic Ministries Program launched

2018 First six graduates of The Friendship House

Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Ministry re-envisioned, three new focus areas

First two Nouwen Fellows arrive (scholars in disability studies)

Successful completion of Our New Day campaign with over $27M raised

Grand Opening of new construction/renovation (Cook Library, DeWitt LearningCenter, Haworth Leadership Center)


  • I am grateful for the deep love Tim has for WTS and the way he is a cheerleader for the people that make up this community.
  • He has a deeply invitational presence that seeps out of his personality, his preaching, and his presence.
  • Tim Brown loves sharing what he is passionate about in hopes that others may share those passions.
  • President Brown has helped me develop a deep love for God’s Word.
  • President Brown genuinely wants all students to succeed.
  • Tim Brown has called out divine gifts in me that I didn’t recognize.
  • I appreciate that President Brown is always among the students—at chapel, community time, and around the seminary.
  • Tim has encouraged me to hone my gifts and use them for the glory of God.


This will be my last “Note from the President” before leaving this office officially on June 30. I have made my living speaking words—words in classrooms raising up new leaders for the last 24 years, words in pulpits of dozens of RCA congregations encouraging them to be all they can be in Jesus Christ, words in faculty and staff meetings sitting with great teachers and administrators who make Western Theological Seminary what it is, and words in board meetings with wise and generous men and women who have freely offered up their wisdom and wealth to lead us in becoming one of the finest seminaries in North America. Yet, right now the only words that I can think to say are “thank you a thousand times over.”

It has been a great honor to be the president of Western Theological Seminary, and now I am eager and grateful to be handing it all over to Dr. Felix Theonugraha, currently the Vice President for Student Life and University Ministries and Dean of Students at Trinity International University. He, like Barnabas in the book of Acts, is “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” He is a wise and experienced leader who loves the Lord and is passionate about raising up future leaders for the work of the gospel in the church and in the world. I bless the Lord for him and am eager to return to the faculty to support him and our school in any way necessary.

From the bottom of my heart, “thank you!”