SAN ANTONIO – Banking may be his business, but Russell Cruzan will likely tell anyone who asks that ministry is his life. Cruzan, who graduated from Wayland Baptist University-San Antonio with a Master of Christian Ministry degree on Feb. 19, received the First Baptist Church of San Antonio Award as the outstanding graduate student receiving a degree in religion.
The award is based on a student’s characteristics, including worship, willingness to learn and teach God’s Word, missions, service to others and their impact on the world around them.
Cruzan, a member of Beth Ha Tikvah Messianic Congregation in San Antonio, says his ministry is just a part of his everyday life.
“I take witnessing as an extension of my social interaction,” Cruzan said. “A long time ago, I tried the approach where I just walked up and started talking to people. I have had zero results with that. Some people seem able to do it, but I’m not one of them. I just haven’t mastered that concept.”
Instead, Cruzan brings his faith into his job and his volunteer work around the community.
“I have heard a lot of wise people over the years say that when people know who you are and know you care about them, that begins to do things from a witnessing standpoint that you can’t do any other way,” Cruzan said. “I’ve discovered in my life that is true. Whether it is at work or with children, it is really a matter of playing with them, getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Letting them see that you are just a regular person, but maybe with something that they could use and that they really need for this life as well as the life to come.”
Cruzan, who was raised Baptist, joined the Messianic congregations with his wife, Gwen, in 1997. He serves as the director of adult education as well as the head deacon. Cruzan said that although he attends a Messianic church, he is not Jewish.
“A Messianic congregation is not just for Jewish people,” he said. “It is a congregation for anyone who is a believer in Jesus. We just worship in a Jewish context.”
Cruzan, who has been involved in lay ministry since the mid 1980s, said completing his MCM degree will be a great benefit to his work and his ministry. He felt pursuing the degree was something he needed to do to fulfill his obligation to God.
“I woke up one day and said, ‘Yikes, I’m almost 40.’ I just decided that I wanted to get my education affairs in order,” Cruzan said. “I literally woke up saying I want to serve the Lord and I have unfinished business that is tied to my ministry initiatives and aspirations and what I think the Lord would have me do, and I need to get that done.”
Cruzan had seen an advertisement for Wayland, but didn’t think the school offered a religion degree. It wasn’t until he ran into a graduate at a pastor friend’s barbecue that Cruzan seriously looked at Wayland.
“A Wayland student who was just graduating was talking to the pastor about his graduation,” Cruzan said. “I had seen the advertisement, but at the time I thought there was no religion department. I said, ‘It’s a Baptist university, but they don’t have a religion department.’ He said, ‘Yes they do.’ So, I ordered a catalog and the rest was history.”
Growing up Baptist, Cruzan was familiar with Baptist doctrine. He embraced the education and has encouraged other members of his congregation seeking religious, faith-based education to try Wayland.
“That’s quite an accomplishment,” he grinned, “because there are some false stigmas floating around out there about what Baptist people are about. I try to dispel that as much as I can.”
While a master’s degree in Christian ministry may not improve his standing as a training officer with the International Bank of Commerce, Cruzan said he can apply much of what he has learned not only to his ministry but to his career as well.
“I develop people as well as training classes and materials, and I teach,” he said. “Because so much of what we do in ministry is in front of people and is preparation and delivery of sermons or classes, obviously this ties right in with what I do career-wise as well.”
While Cruzan wants to continue his education and at some point begin work toward a doctorate, he said he is going to take a break from the books for awhile.
“I’m in a wait-and-see mode,” he said. “I’ve been very excited about being involved with the school these years, but frankly, I’m tired.”
Cruzan said going to school full-time, working full-time and performing some “quasi full-time ministry” can really take its toll on a person. Besides that, he figures it’s his turn to focus on work and ministry while his wife pursues her degree, beginning next semester.
“She’s smarter than I am,” he said, “so she’s going to study business and accounting.”