‘The Best Days Are Always Ahead’—Phil Béna’s 40-Year History with LBC

by Amy Mongiovi, MA

April 30, 2023

Posted: April 30, 2023

‘The Best Days Are Always Ahead’—Phil Béna’s 40-Year History with LBC

by Amy Mongiovi, MA

(Reprinted from the Winter 2022 ECHO Magazine)

Throughout Rev. Philip Béna’s 40-year teaching career, not much has stayed the same. New faces, new subjects, new and different ways of doing things. But one thing remains constant—Phil Béna (’80) goes where God wants him to go, and that is a divinely guided adventure.

The first 31 years of Béna’s four decades in education were spent in the classroom, face to face with Washington Bible College undergraduate students. There, he served as the Chair of the Department of Psychology and Counseling, oversaw field education and became a beloved mentor and friend to countless students.

Now in his ninth year with LBC | Capital, he serves as Professor of Christian Care and Director of the Master of Arts in Christian Care program. Occasionally, he looks back to the road that led him here—a time of incredible change and transition. In 2013, Washington Bible College was facing closure, and the institution would eventually become LBC | Capital – Washington, D.C.

That spring, Béna was at a crossroads.

“I did a lot of searching within myself,” he said. “I asked myself the question: ‘Do I want to stay in Christian higher education if I can?’ I decided I did. And I decided to do that knowing my future in that world would be drastically different. But I’m a forward-looking person. The best days are always ahead.”

Ultimately, he decided there was much more work to do in the fields of mental health, the local church and with tomorrow’s leaders within those realms. As is usually the way, change did not come easy, but he made a commitment—to himself, to the college and to his future students.

“I didn’t just tolerate it or accept it, I embraced it,” he said. “At 58, many begin to cruise and slow down, but I was starting over.”

One of the major changes for Béna during the transition from WBC to LBC involved moving from teaching undergraduate students to instructing graduate-level seminary students. Likewise, for most of his career, he stood in front of a classroom, with students seated around him. In this new reality, he forayed into online education, interacting with students in a blended format—online and in-class residencies.

Béna reflects on those years—with a few transitions, experiences and hard decisions he perhaps wouldn’t have chosen for himself—but he wouldn’t change any of it. He knows it was all part of God’s plan.

“That strikes me as one of the best types of stewardship—to help train the next generation of leaders,” Béna said. “It really was an issue of stewardship. God’s will is evident if you look for it. I asked, ‘What does God want to do with my life?’ When I looked at it that way, it was a no-brainer.”

Once he decided to continue in Christian higher education, and perhaps as part of a different college family, there was no turning back. Béna was named to the WBC-LBC transition team, rehired to the LBC | Capital faculty and tasked with creating a new Master of Arts in Christian Care program (MACC).

Created for pastors, chaplains and local church leaders, Christian Care addresses the ever-changing needs of church communities and how their leaders handle those changes. Pastors and leaders, Béna said, “are becoming acutely aware that their training and background are not sufficient for the types of issues hurting people in their church are facing. I often say we are reaping the bitter harvest of the seeds we have sown. There has been a massive breakdown in American families and marriages. Even many Bible college and seminary students are coming out of very dysfunctional homes.”

Many pastors, Béna added, don’t have a basic understanding of mental illness and may not be aware of the resources available. Christian Care training can help them not only address certain issues but also make referrals when mental health services are needed.

Béna fully recognizes that pastors and church leaders are facing immense issues themselves as they struggle with criticism, conflict, family problems, stress, depression, burnout, finances and time management pressures, according to a list of top concerns shared by ChurchAnswers.org.

“The Christian Care program includes a tremendous emphasis on self-care,” Béna said. “First, get the beam out of your own eye, then you can help someone else get the speck out of their eye (Matthew 7:1-5).”

It’s not advice Béna doles out without doing the necessary work in his own life. “I came to the Christian life a wreck, and I had to spend years addressing my beams,” he said. “It was a consequence of living a very unsaved life, so this is not theoretical for me.”

‘Online is where the world is’

It’s no secret that much of life was lived online even prior to a global pandemic that forced people away from face-to-face interaction, at least temporarily. But by March 2020, life events that were usually in person were now online, and people became accustomed to this new way—church services, small group gatherings, doctor’s appointments, counseling sessions, music lessons and, yes, college classes.

During that season nearly two years ago, LBC | Capital turned on a dime to offer the entire educational experience to all students in an online format. That included Béna’s MACC program, which had been only partially online. True, this trial by fire into fully online education saw some days that were bumpier than others, especially as he worked with seminary students who were used to at least a part-time in-class experience.

As his students began to learn and thrive in a new way, with their professor’s patience and support, Béna paid attention. The format seemed to be working so well, he wondered if a fully online MACC program in the future was possible.

“Online is where the world is,” he said. “I’m not an idealist. I’m a realist. I’m a pragmatist. Embrace it.”

After the initial experience with his MACC students in a 100% online setting, Béna was particularly interested in the insight to be discovered through student course evaluations. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

“That’s when I absolutely knew we could do it,” he said. “From my standpoint, it wasn’t so much of me trying to be a pioneer but instead embracing this new way of doing things.”

By the spring of 2021, Béna was in conversation with LBC | Capital’s VP for global education efforts. Béna had already done much of the legwork to take the MACC program completely online during the pandemic.

“Phil has recognized that we can no longer wait for individuals to come to us for training,” the VP said. “We have the responsibility to take a biblical approach to soul-care to the world, and we do that through excellent online content taught by engaging and intentional practitioners. Practical ministry-focused help is desperately needed, and Phil’s investment in an entirely online Christian Care program will provide curriculum that strategically equips the saints in the local and global Church to handle Scripture with confidence while dealing with life’s most difficult and trying issues, offer insight on mental health issues and patterns that have emerged, and provide practical tools and strategies for day-to-day ministry and cultural engagement.”

Béna spent last summer working with Dr. Debra Johnson-Cortesi from LBC | Capital’s Office of Digital Learning to redesign and launch the online Master of Arts in Christian Care program. And he wanted to make sure they got it right from the get-go. “I wanted to hit it out of the park,” he said.

Once the MACC was ready to launch in a totally online format, the in-class option would cease, and Béna had concerns regarding how students would feel about the change. How would they manage their time? Would the amazing classroom discussions suffer? Would the absence of a two-day in-person residency have a negative impact? He communicated with his students consistently and compassionately, answered their questions and eased their fears. Once the MACC program transitioned to online only, he was pleased to see that no students had withdrawn, and in fact, had “fantastic” experiences.

Benefits started to emerge. Students who did not live in the D.C. area no longer had to arrange travel, transportation, hotels, meals or time off from their vocations. Plus, students from other parts of the country and world began to contact Béna with interest in the program now that they wouldn’t have to travel to the nation’s capital.

Learning ‘new tricks’

“We can all probably identify a course we remember as a great one, but we don’t remember much from it because it was information overload,” Béna said. “Because we have a much smaller window of time in an eight-week course, I have to ask myself, ‘What must my students be able to know and what must they be able to do?’ There is primary information and skills, then there is secondary, and they can blur into each other. Now, it’s all primary, and I’m finding my students are much more effective mastering the primary. They’re getting the cream, and they’re remembering it.”

Another significant advantage of the online format, Béna added, is that it requires students to own their education in a deeper and more profitable way. This way of learning “requires substantial self-discipline, personal motivation and initiative,” he said. “These things enhance and strengthen the learning experience.”

Secondly, even though the program is online, relationships are still strengthened and the learning experience remains deep because students participate in weekly synchronous learning sessions through the Zoom platform. “These sessions allow time for questions, information processing, application and elaboration on related areas not covered in the core content,” Béna said.

Third, students must write more in the online format. “This has resulted in obvious benefits related to things like critical thinking skills, formulation and articulation of ideas, convictions and positions.”

Béna is the first to admit he has learned right along with his students.

“My whole way of looking at education has been transformed and changed,” he added with his signature eye-crinkling smile. “I’m an old dog who has learned new tricks.

“At 66 years of age, I’m at the backend of my work for God and His kingdom,” Béna continued. “At that point, you really start thinking bigger. All of us have a shelf life in this world, and there will be a time when our work on this earth ends. I will feel really fulfilled, satisfied and grateful for the kingdom impact the Lord did through me, and then I will disappear. God gets all the glory, and I’m fine with that. I decrease, and He increases.

Discover more about LBC | Capital’s Christian Care program.


Discover more about LBC | Capital’s Christian Care program.


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