“It’s not about you. It’s about God and leading people to become disciples of Jesus Christ,” declares Dr. George Lyons in a final lecture to his preaching class on a warm spring day on NNU’s campus. After 36 years of teaching in Nazarene higher education, Dr. Lyons has elected to retire from an active professorial role, but the power of his lectures and the wonderful work he has done are far from being finished.
Current and former students who took courses from Dr. Lyons likely recall hours poured into lengthy exegetical assignments and dense study guides for final exams. The effort required to achieve good marks in his classes has been legendary for decades. “I suppose there are two ways of looking at me as a professor,” he says. “For some, I might be considered too hard and demanding; I think, however, the better option might be that I have more respect for students’ abilities than they have for themselves.”
It is this special concept of respect and empowerment that defines George Lyons’ journey. Born in the small town of Somonauk, Ill. to parents with little education—his mother left school in the 8th grade, and his father went directly into the Service in WWII upon graduating from high school—there was little reason to expect him to become an academic of any sort. “I wasn’t really interested in school until the third grade, when my teacher, Mrs. Larson, said to me, ‘George, you’re a good boy. You’re intelligent. You can do anything.’ She empowered me to care about my studies. I’ve always aspired to be that kind of teacher.”
Upon arriving at Olivet Nazarene College as a freshman, George planned on being a chemistry major with a minor in zoology. However, he quickly found that although he was a capable scientist, he had little passion for the subject. He had always loved Bible classes and chose to switch his major at the end of his sophomore year. The rest, we might say, is history; that is, until Dr. Lyons took his first sabbatical in 1989 to spend time teaching at Nazarene Theological College in Brisbane, Australia. It was there that Dr. Lyons experienced a kindling of his passion for international education—a drive that serves as one of his primary motives for retirement from active professorial work.
Having already taught students and pastors in Nazarene institutions on five of the six inhabited continents, Dr. Lyons looks forward to a schedule that is far from anything a regular retiree might consider the norm. He has already booked teaching engagements for the next two years on three different continents—a world tour that will sequentially take him to Fiji, Kenya, Peru, Argentina, the Philippines and Swaziland.
“From Dr. Lyons’ very first class session, he did not merely expect our best but demanded it. We could tell that he would give us that in return, so we wanted to give it to him.”
As a world traveler, Dr. Lyons has an extensive collection of passport stamps. His academic achievements include being the founding director of the Wesley Center Online; author, editor or contributor to dozens of books and periodicals; and general editor for the Beacon Bible Commentary. He was also instrumental in founding NNU’s highly successful Graduate Theological Online Education (GTOE) programs. Half of the Nazarene institutions in the United States employ his former students as professors of Biblical studies, to say nothing of those who work as professors of theology or who are hired by non-Nazarene institutions.
Despite his achievements and legacy, his experiences in the classroom are what bring Dr. Lyons the most pleasure. “When you see students suddenly get it, that’s what gives me total satisfaction.” There are echoes of his third grade teacher, Mrs. Larson, when he continues, “Some students just need someone to tell them they can do it.”
Dr. Richard Thompson, now a colleague of Dr. Lyons in NNU’s School of Theology & Christian Ministries, knows exactly what that kind of empowering encouragement can do for a student since he was a student in Dr. Lyons’ first class at Olivet Nazarene College in 1977. He recalls, “From Dr. Lyons’ very first class session, he did not merely expect our best but demanded it. We could tell that he would give us that in return, so we wanted to give it to him.”
As Dr. Lyons goes on to inspire the best in students from around the globe, we thank him for being a vital part of NNU’s spiritual and academic identity, and for showing us a more excellent way as he continues to proclaim, “It’s not about you. It’s about God and leading people to become disciples of Jesus Christ.”