“To be formed vocationally and live in our vocational identity is primarily a task of learning how to pay better attention,” said Dr. Ben Ries, associate dean for vocational formation at ACU Online. Vocational formation is about paying attention—but sometimes it seems like the entire world is conspiring to distract and prevent anybody from paying attention. This difficulty is only compounded for the typical person enrolled at ACU Online: a non-traditional student learning remotely. In light of this, what does vocational formation look like for these kinds of students? Find out how Dr. Ries is leading ACU students, faculty and staff alike to cultivate more grounded and centered lives connected to the mission of God.
Living Integrated Lives
Dr. Ries was born and raised in Iowa but called the Pacific Northwest home for most of his life before moving to Texas with his wife and three kids. Ben has always cared deeply that others understand that they are beloved and enough regardless of their background. Because of this, he set out to align his work with the life and mission of God while engaging others to take the next step in their spiritual journeys, no matter what that might be.
Ben attended Cascade College where he received undergraduate degrees in Bible, ministry and religious studies. In 2009, he earned his Master of Divinity at ACU and served as the graduate assistant for vice president and chief administrative officer Dr. Stephen Johnson. Dr. Ries received his Doctor of Ministry at Lipscomb University in 2015. After years of serving in churches in the Pacific Northwest region, he joined Dr. Johnson’s team at ACU Dallas in 2016 as the associate dean for vocational formation and executive director of the Center for Vocational Formation.
So what is vocational formation? According to Dr. Ries, it’s finding significance in the insignificant and purpose in our passions. “At ACU, we don’t only care that students are intellectually developed, but that we’re helping them identify that in which they care about,” Ben said. “We want to encourage them to bring their full sense of self into the world around them.”
Vocational formation takes a few forms for online students and offers a holistic experience for students that’s centered around their own development. The university aims to meet students where they are, so they can discover wholeness and meaning throughout their entire lives—from earning their degree at school to parenting their children at home to collaborating with a colleague at work.“So many times, people separate their work from the rest of their lives, but they’re often not mutually exclusive,” Dr. Ries explained. Vocational formation allows students to reflect on how to live integrated lives and provides opportunities for them to take the next steps in their spiritual journeys, both in the classroom and beyond.
Practicing Vocational Formation
In his role, Ben is involved with much of ACU’s curriculum and co-curriculum development. From helping integrate vocational leadership within undergraduate degree plans to webinars and exercises he calls “practices of presence,” where students are encouraged to find moments of rest in a world that’s hardly ever silent and become observant to the ordinary things around them that often are overlooked.
Dr. Ries urges students to pay close attention to the small moments of life and reflect on them. “We are seldom fully present with other people or with ourselves,” Dr. Ries reflected. “So much of my work is trying to help people be more aware of the things right in front of them and pay attention to the small, ordinary moments in order to share in them more fully.”
In addition to curriculum and co-curriculum development, Ben also assists with staff and faculty development. In this way, he helps ensure ACU is not only investing in its students, but also investing in the faculty who teach them and the staff who support them. “If we want students to have a sense that their work matters and to find more centered lives, we need staff and faculty with the same experiences,” Ben remarked.
One of Dr. Ries’ main objectives is that everyone at ACU—students, faculty and staff—is enabled to see themselves more clearly and, by doing so, gain a clear sense that their work and who they are as people matters. “I believe every person is created in the image of God, and regardless if they believe in Him or not, we have something to gain from that in which God has uniquely given them,” said Ben.
In a world that is often distracted, Dr. Ries enjoys finding spiritual vocation for himself in silence and solitude. He further explained how the act of not producing constantly or living life on a to-do list has decluttered much of the noise around him and continuously reminds him that he doesn’t reign over his own life, but that God is at the forefront of every detail. “It’s in those moments that God resides the most,” Ben shared. “Everything we need to live more grounded and centered lives is already here.” Dr. Ries often finds these moments of rest and connection among the outdoors and enjoys backpacking and fly-fishing to escape the mundane.
“As your life flourishes, the world flourishes,” Dr. Ries commented. “At the end of the day that’s what God cares about – that the world functions as a place of human flourishing.” Are you curious about what vocational formation might look like for you? Visit acu.edu/online or contact us at 855-219-7300 today.