Jay Barnes, President of Bethel University, on “The Influencers Who Influenced Me”

Series Introduction: The journey toward reimagining faith and culture is never traveled alone. I asked some key cultural influencers: “Who are authors, artists, filmmakers, screenwriters, poets, musicians, films, books, plays, TV shows, or any other cultural artifact who have deeply influenced you and will always stick with you.” Then gave them only fifteen minutes to complete their list, to keep it “unedited.” (Part of an ongoing series.)


Jay Barnes, President of Bethel University and Consummate Servant Leader.

Dr. Jay Barnes, President of Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minn., is an outstanding example of servant leadership. Jay has been a leader in Christian higher education for more than 30 years, both in academics and student development. Before becoming Bethel’s president, Jay served for 13 years as the university’s Provost and executive vice president. Prior to his time at Bethel, Barnes held at Messiah College (Penn), Wheaton College (Ill.), and at Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany.

Jay is known for his collaborative leadership, team-building skills, and student-centered approach to higher education. During his career, he took lead roles in improving student development theory and practices on a national level with the Association for Christians in Student Development. For many years, Jay and his wife, Barb, have co-led counseling groups for engaged students and have conducted workshops nationally on marriage enrichment.

Jay’s tenure at Bethel has also been marked by his deep commitment to racial reconciliation. Under Jay’s guidance, Bethel University began a Reconciliation developed one of the only bachelor’s degree in reconciliation studies in the nation.

With over 6,000 students in bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in nearly 100 relevant fields, Bethel University is a national leader in Christian higher education

Denny Morrow, Associate Executive Director, ReachGlobal, and former Executive Director of Daystar University (Kenya) asserts: “Jay is a quintessential servant leader. He is laser focused on excellence for himself and the University, but equally important, Jay listens well to others. His rare combination of a strong will and a self-deprecating humor engenders trust for those he leads.” I could not agree more. I’ve know Jay since he was my Resident Director at Wheaton College and have found him to be one of the more consistently Christlike servant leaders I have met in all my years in higher education.


Jay’s top 15 influencers

Chapel Jai Ho Dance: Bethel's voluntary chapel services attract over half the student body three times each week

C.S. Lewis

Philip Yancey

Henri Nouwen

Jim Collins

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mother Teresa

John Ortberg

The Prodigal Son (painting by Rembrandt)

David (sculpture by Michelangelo)

Good Will Hunting

Under Jay's leadership Bethel established one of the only B.A. in Reconciliation Studies programs in the world.

A Man For All Seasons

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

Dietrich Bonheoffer

John Stott

God’s Long Summer (by Charles Marsh)


What’s on your “Fab 15″ list?

1)  Your list must be comprised of cultural artifacts readers have access to. You can’t include your Mom, or some other leader who had a personal impact on you, but who readers will never have the chance to meet.

2) Try to make your list in no more than fifteen minutes if you can, but take more time if you need it.

Bethel's 231-acre lakeside campus is highlighted by the newly opened $30 million Brushaber Commons

One Reply to “Jay Barnes, President of Bethel University, on “The Influencers Who Influenced Me””

  1. I enjoyed your highlights, especially the 15 top influencers. Some good bios and books to add to my list. Everything I have heard about Jay is that he is the real deal.

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