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June 21, 2023

The Liberal Arts Forms Leaders

The need of the hour is men who can lead. We need men who know who God has called them to be and they understand the world that we live in. Men who know these things are bold and confident and can step up and lead others. This is what the Liberal Arts program at New Saint Andrews College offers students: the habits, the skills, and the knowledge to lead.

Dr. Ben Merkle, President of New Saint Andrews College, compared the Liberal Arts to the training that officers would get in the American military. He explained that a key distinction between an enlisted man and an officer is that the officer received a college education. This college education was traditionally a liberal arts education. Dr. Merkle said, “and that education equipped him to be the one who was to lead.”

Dr. Merkle talked about his own experience in the military. “I can remember being an enlisted man,” he said. “And an enlisted man is given very simple skills and very simple orders.” 

He contrasted that with the duty of an officer: “The officer is the one who is given a situation where he has to think quickly. He has to make a very decisive call, he has to be a decision maker, and he has to be able to articulate and persuade his men to go in a particular direction.”

The program seeks to give a student certain habits and skills so that the graduate understands where they are in this world and what God requires of them.

The program at NSA is aiming for that kind of person, Dr. Merkle explained. The program seeks to give a student certain habits and skills so that the graduate understands where they are in this world and what God requires of them. This is what a good leader needs to know.

Students at NSA take a core set of classes in Latin, Rhetoric, Music, History, Science, Humanities, and Theology. These particular classes develop and hone specific abilities in students: observational skills, linguistic arts, creative work, and persuasive tools. These classes also ground students in the Western tradition so they can understand the key ideas of the past and how they have impacted our own time. All of this is built on God’s word which fosters in students a love for God and His world. A good leader needs these gifts to lead others well.

During a discussion about leadership, Mr. Tim Griffith, a Senior Fellow of Classical Languages, elaborated on NSA's vision, stating that a leader should be able to create consensus among his followers. He explained that this involves bringing people together to work cohesively with a shared mindset.

Mr. Griffith talked about the popular expression of “herding cats.” He said, “Leading cats would be one of the most difficult things to do. Why? Because cats have never had one mind.” In contrast, a leader needs to know how to get people to work with one mind. He added that leadership looks different in different contexts. 

He gave the example of someone speaking to a group of people in a room encouraging them to take a course of action. He said, “You’re persuasive and you got them there. And then you get them to do it. That’s a kind of leadership.” In his example, a leader is using rhetorical skills to cast a vision of a good goal and then using logic and persuasive arguments to move the audience to be one mind so they act.  

Mr. Griffith then gave an example from a military situation: “If a lieutenant says, ‘We gotta charge that hill. And we got to do it now. Ready? Let’s go.’ That isn’t a great place to persuade them.” In that situation, it would be silly for the lieutenant to give a rhetorically formatted speech with an introduction, a refutation, and a conclusion.

Instead, when the lieutenant gives the command, the men just do it. Why? The soldiers know the commander has authority and they trust him that he is doing the right thing. And so they do it.

Mr. Griffith explained, “There’s a lot of preparation that went into that. He’s working with them, he’s training them, and he’s gaining respect and the loyalty of those men so that when he says, ‘Hey, let’s charge that hill’ they go ‘Ok, let’s do it.’ And they do it with one mind.” 

To do this well, the leader needs to know the world that God has made and his place in it.

In both of these examples, we see that a leader needs to use different tactics to promote unity in his followers. A good leader needs to understand which situation he is in and when to employ various tactics. To do this well, the leader needs to know the world that God has made and his place in it. He also needs good observational skills, a creative mind, and savvy linguistic arts. The Liberal Arts is the program of study that instills these abilities and resources in men. 

The mission of NSA is to graduate leaders ready to lead in a variety of callings, including church, family, business, politics, and beyond. To do this work, men need to be trained and equipped to step into these various callings and to lead well. That is what NSA is offering to men: the education that will prepare them to lead.