Bringing Together Church and Business

Headed into the final stretch of the M.Div. program at Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Charlotte campus, 53-year-old Frank Spencer received an unexpected invitation. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Board of Pensions (BOP), which oversees pensions and medical coverage for ministers and other church employees, was looking for a new president and wanted him to consider the position.

Spencer already had a job he loved, as president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity, Charlotte. “Affordable housing has been a lifelong passion,” he explains. He had been offered the Habitat position following a long career in finance and commercial real estate development. But he sensed God nudging him toward this new challenge. In February, the BOP board of directors elected Spencer as president, pending approval by the denomination’s General Assembly.

“This call with the Board of Pensions,” Spencer says, “is a unique opportunity to bring together my expertise in finance and business and my love for the church.”

Spencer’s Presbyterian identity runs deep. His maternal grandfather, Frank Clark, was a Union graduate (class of 1908) and Presbyterian pastor. His father, Samuel R. Spencer Jr., served as chair of the Union Seminary board and president of two Presbyterian colleges: Mary Baldwin (Virginia) and Davidson (North Carolina). Spencer grew up around the Davidson campus. He has taught Sunday school and served as a ruling elder in several Charlotte congregations.

Writing a book helped propel Spencer toward seminary. The Benefit of the Doubt: Claiming Faith in an Uncertain World, grew out of a sermon on faith and doubt that he had heard as a 15-year-old and continued to ponder. He gathered material for the book by discussing the topic with six pastors. This whetted his appetite to learn more about Reformed theology.

Meanwhile, as chair of the board of Montreat Conference Center and a member of the NEXT Church National Strategy Team, Spencer was being brought into conversations at the national level about the church’s future. He says he realized that in order to be faithful, “I needed the foundation seminary could provide.” So he began classes at UPSem in 2011 and became a candidate for ordination in Charlotte Presbytery.

The process of preparing for ministry is producing a range of benefits, Spencer says. “Learning Hebrew and Greek has opened up the Scriptures in ways I never experienced before. Being a seminary student has made me a better manager of organizations.” He explains that pastoral care courses have made him more sensitive to people’s needs and the entire seminary environment encourages “respect for all people as being made in the image of God.”

Spencer and his wife, Melanie, who works for a hospital system, keep balance in their lives by “taking a Sabbath” each week. From sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday, they try to step away from the demands of business and seminary.

Spencer looks forward to helping the Board of Pensions and the wider church explore vital questions such as: “How do we understand the role of teaching elders, and what are we doing to provide them with economic security? How are we going to attract the best and brightest to church leadership?”

He says he brings to the task “an optimistic outlook, based on my faith in Jesus Christ who makes all things new.”