Jagger Steps into Chaplain Role

Brings Together Intellectual Scholarship and Pastoral Ministry

By Carlson Wakefield
11/15/2021 6:00:00 PM

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Keith Jagger, Ph.D., knew he was stepping into some big shoes when he was hired as the JBU chaplain and dean of Christian formation. Former chaplain Rod Reed was a cornerstone of the JBU community for 11 years before leaving to take a job as the chancellor of Indiana Wesleyan University in 2018. But due to the lengthy search process and COVID-19 complications, most current JBU students only know of Reed by reputation. 

The announcement of Jagger’s hiring was met with enthusiasm by the JBU community, as it seemed, in part, to signal a return to normality. 

Jagger, his wife, Eve, and their three kids moved to Siloam Springs in July to begin his position as chaplain, leaving his role as the lead pastor at Grassroots Church in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. 

“I loved being a local church pastor, and in some ways I wish I could have done that for 40 years,” Jagger said. “But you never know where God is leading you, and it feels like God has been preparing JBU and me for each other.” 

Jagger’s faith journey started in the pews of the Catholic Church. His early years were filled with Christian teaching and time outdoors. 

“I grew up in Northern Illinois, and my family is Catholic. We attended mass quite regularly, and my parents had me in all of the Catholic Christian education opportunities for young people,” Jagger said. “I like to say I was formed deeply by the Roman liturgy and playing in the woods on the bluffs of the Mississippi River.” 

Jagger says his Catholic upbringing was extremely positive, giving him a solid foundation on which to build his Christian faith. 

“Some people who are in my shoes really resent their upbringing, like ‘they didn’t tell me the truth.’” Jagger said. “But for me, a lot of the seeds of my devotion to Jesus were planted there in the mass.” 

It was Jagger’s experience at an evangelical Christian youth summer camp with Young Life that led him to a personal relationship with Christ. 

“When I was 14, the summer before my freshman year, I heard the Protestants articulate the gospel in a way that totally made sense to me,” Jagger said. “Someone getting up and talking about Jesus’s sacrifice — a free sacrifice — that brings us peace and takes away the sins of the world, it made me go, ‘Oh, I can make this my own.’” 

After his high school experience, which Jagger described as “positive but really messy,” he found his vocational calling. During his senior year of high school, Jagger attended a Christian youth rally in his hometown. 

“I can’t even tell you to this day what the message was about,” Jagger said. “But I just knew that God was calling me to ministry at that point.” 

Jagger’s first step was undergrad at Augustana College in Illinois, where he received a bachelor’s degree in religion, classics and music, and then Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky where he earned a master’s in New Testament. 

While at Asbury, Jagger filled a variety of roles that allowed him to minister to university students, including acting as the spiritual director of Equipping Lydia, through which he led accountability and spiritual formation groups for men. He was also the director for global community development, where he helped over 300 international students transition to life at Asbury and guided the community in intercultural initiatives, including local mission partnerships. 

But Jagger’s biggest challenge was waiting for him in Scotland at the University of St. Andrews, where he earned a doctorate in early Christianity, defending his doctoral thesis with the support of renowned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. 

“I try not to put people in the hero category, but he was as close as you could get for me,” Jagger said about his former doctoral supervisor. “I got the golden ticket to go study with him. A lot of people better than me could have received that, but for whatever reason, the Lord saw fit for that to work out.” 

Jagger was unfamiliar with the role of chaplain until a few years before accepting the position at JBU, when colleagues brought the idea to his attention. It was the perfect combination of Jagger’s pastoral calling and his love for learning. 

“I love learning, and I love honoring God with my mind. But I can’t deny that part of my calling is pastoral and leading people in mission,” Jagger said. “I found that this role is really a beautiful combination of intellectual scholarship and pastoral ministry.” 

Leaving Grassroots Church wasn’t easy, but Jagger and his family have experienced many transitions.

“All transitions are hard, and all are painful,” Jagger said. “We’ve been through enough to know what to expect of the bumps and bruises of a big move and to know that every new place will have lots of treasures and gifts from the Lord. Coming to a new place and moving across the world — we’ve felt the pain and joy of that before.”

The JBU community was one of the factors that drew Jagger to the chaplain position. With some faculty and staff working at the university for 20-plus years, Jagger was intrigued. 

“They’ve found a way to be colleagues together for 25 years. That’s a long time, as human beings, to work together,” Jagger said. “I got the impression really quickly that while we are after excellence here, there is that undergirding value of community.”

That same community has made the hard transition for Jagger and his family much easier. The Jaggers quickly felt embraced by their colleagues. 

“There’s a desire for people to be gracious with each other and help each other grow,” Jagger said. “It’s amazing to see the quality of relationships which exist, and that’s really not something to take lightly.”

Jagger’s first item of business at JBU was asking for advice from Reed. 

“He’s been really gracious. I’ve been able to talk to him a number of times, and he’s given me a lot of advice,” Jagger said. “For the first six weeks here, I’ve basically asked the question, ‘What did Rod do well?’ He is well remembered.”

But Jagger is already making his own impression on students.

Junior Madi Buldra met Jagger the busy first week of school but notes he always greets her by name whenever he sees her on campus. Jagger was also particularly supportive of Buldra through a recent emotionally difficult time.

“Keith’s heart for the Lord and heart for people is incredibly evident in all that he does, and I can say that because I have experienced it firsthand,” said Buldra.

Senior Chloe Bishop, a member of one of JBU’s chapel bands, echoed Buldra’s observations of Jagger’s intentionality in getting to know students. 

“In meetings and on teams, he has been present, attuned to the spiritual and emotional landscape of our groups and has led with boldness and humility,” added Bishop.

Buldra and Bishop both say they appreciate Jagger’s intellectually and spiritually Christ-centered teachings and agree that he is a great fit for JBU.

With the first few months under his belt, Jagger’s tenure at JBU is only just beginning. 

“I spent four weeks here prepping for students to come. I got to witness orientation and the First Friday Futból, which were both amazing,” Jagger said. “I just feel amazed and exhausted all at the same time. I’ve had a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get to be a part of that more.”

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