In a Florida State University article on the nation’s top economics instructors, Ken Elzinga is described as “probably the nation’s most successful teacher of college-level economics.” At the end of the article the University of Virginia professor reveals the key to his influence, the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. “My authority as a teacher is linked to my willingness to serve my students,” he says.
As a graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree, and as a new Christian, Ken’s career was shaped by a pastor he met who had been on InterVarsity staff. “This young man, who had a heart for the university, taught me how being a Christian professor could be a calling or vocation,” he recalls.
An evangelist who claimed he could tell a lot about how close a Christian was walking with God by analyzing the Christian’s calendar and checkbook, also challenged Ken’s priorities during that formative period. Soon after, as he was starting his career as a college professor, Ken was involved in a Bible study with several mature colleagues and was influenced by the way they prioritized their time commitments and financial decisions. “I learned by observing the generosity of these mature Christians,” he says. “They modeled out the ‘cheerful giver’ commended by the Scriptures.”
As he developed his teaching career, Ken prioritized time for ministry. He often attended, or spoke at, InterVarsity chapter meetings. “I soon came to admire InterVarsity for the way it combined a love for Jesus with a heart for the academy, all with a biblical foundation,” he says. Ken has also served on InterVarsity’s Board of Trustees from 1992-2000, and several terms since.
Now Ken has followed up with a financial gift to help fund InterVarsity’s work on the grounds of the University of Virginia. He explains that “often a young person could raise the first 80 percent of the support needed to go on staff; the last 20 percent was very difficult to raise. I realized that one way to help solve the 80-20 problem is to set up an endowment. The revenues from the endowment will go to support the staff member.”
An economist by training, and a self-described naturally stingy person, Ken marvels at how God has schooled him in the joy of giving. And he counsels students to resist the inclination to delay implementing stewardship decisions until career and family are established. “Graduating students should decide how to give from their very first paycheck,” he says. “Young Christians who get married should be clear on their giving aspirations before they are wed: what really is going to count – accumulating, or giving, or how are the two going to be blended?”
He also counsels adults to act prudently in their financial decisions, with a will and an estate plan that maximizes the ministry impact of their resources, rather than letting them go to the government by default. “Christians are to be good stewards of the resources at their disposal,” he says. “Yet, many people die without giving any indication of how their assets are to be distributed.” He himself is concerned about, and interested in, the work of many Christian organizations and ministries. But InterVarsity is a priority for him.
“InterVarsity ministered to me, and continues to minister to me,” he says. “In addition, InterVarsity ministers to people I care about: university students. I have been in a position (as a board member) to observe how InterVarsity cares for the resources entrusted to it, and I have been very impressed by the stewardship of InterVarsity.”
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