“You have to take Family Sexuality.”
Like an ancient saying passed on from senior to freshman, this phrase, perhaps better than any, marks Nick Ogle’s career at John Brown University.
Ogle, associate professor of family and human services, will be leaving full-time teaching at the University for his “dream job” at the end of the semester. Ogle was hired by Mercy Health in Rogers in November to lead the charge as they move forward with providing mental and behavioral health care to Northwest Arkansas communities.
To say that Ogle is excited about this next step would be an understatement.
“I just got offered the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said.
Ogle is bursting with ideas for the future, from placing therapists in family practices and schools, to opening an eating disorder care center on a ranch, to starting a mobile wellness unit with a therapist, nutritionist, and a nurse that will make house calls.
“We are wanting to go ‘all chips in’ on mental and behavioral health,” said Ogle.
Mercy has put millions of dollars at his disposal, much of which has come from grants from Walmart and the Endeavor Foundation.
Ogle has a long history of interest in therapy practices, going back to his time as an undergrad here at the University. Though he entered as a Youth Ministry major in 1997, he was one of the first students in the family and human services major, then called family studies. He made the change after taking his first therapy class.
“I took one class and I was hooked,” he said. His time at the University was eventful, to say the least.
“He was certainly a risk-taker,” said David Brisben, professor of Christian ministries, who was Ogle’s mentor during his undergrad years and has been Ogle’s friend ever since. “He doesn’t mind pushing the edges, I think, in a healthy way.”
Pushing boundaries indeed. The summer of Ogle’s senior year, Brisben approved an unorthodox internship for Ogle: a job at a gay bar in Kansas City. Ogle noticed that Christians had a hard time befriending people of gender and sexual minorities, so he decided to try making friends with them.
“Not only did it change his perspective on how to do ministry, it changed a lot of other people’s perspectives as well,” said Brisben. “He learned to see the world through their eyes.”
Ogle’s internship was controversial, but not so controversial as the time he led all the students in to chapel chanting, “Don’t Raise Tuition,” in front of the Board of Trustees.
“Nick was so far-out from everyone else,” said Brisben.
Ogle attributes his radical style in college to his late rededication to the Lord in high school.
“You could say I was justified as a kid, but sanctified as an adult,” he said. “I had made some really poor decisions that were measureable. If I didn’t change, I was going to end up in a very dark place.”
With the help of a YoungLife group, Ogle experienced what he said was a wake-up call.
“Everything changed,” Ogle said.
Since then, he’s made it his mission to help the broken.
Ogle has continued his work as a therapist throughout his time at the University. It makes him less available for students, but he says it’s more useful to students to have a teacher who is in the field, practicing the trade.
“I’m not available 24-7, but if you come to class, you know what you’re going to get?” said Ogle. “Real stories with real clients.”
Ogle keeps all client information confidential, but he finds examples as a useful tool in class.
Along with his upfront attitude toward sociological issues, his classes tend to be very popular, especially the infamous Family Sexuality course.
“I wouldn’t call them popular,” said Ogle. “I think the content is what students want.”
His students don’t always agree.
“There are around eighty people in Fam Sex, and the fact that so many people wanted a chance to be in a class with him says something,” said junior Rachel Gaikema, who is auditing the class. “He’s not afraid to talk about topics that conservative Christians won’t go near at times. Dr. Ogle has a practical worldview, and it’s refreshing.”
This attitude is not rare among his students, but Ogle takes his reputation in stride. His mother was a sex educator as well, and the issue of sex was never taboo for him growing up.
Occasionally a student or parent will be offended at something Ogle says in class. Ogle says this doesn’t bother him as much as it used to.
When he was in his second year as a professor at the University, one parent got so offended that they attempted to have Ogle reprimanded by the administration. Instead, the administration has kept Ogle for a long time.
“They said to me, ‘We will give the money back for their kids and they can take them somewhere else before we get rid of you,’” he said. “I don’t have to defend myself. The Lord will defend me. My bosses will defend me. Past students will defend me.”
“He was a shining light here at JBU,” said Brisben. “I think he’s ready for another challenge.”
As Ogle reflects on his time as a professor, he hopes not to be misunderstood.
“I believe my legacy will be something about sexuality,” Ogle said. “I would rather it be about helping people better steward their lives and fall in love with Jesus.”
Students and faculty, however, seem to understand him just fine.
“It’s his open-mindedness,” said Gaikema. “(In Family Sexuality), you know you’re going to see everything from multiple viewpoints, and sometimes it’s shocking, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but it’s always real.”
“Getting to know Nick, you really get to see the love of Christ,” said Brisben. “He’s going to get to do that on a bigger stage now.”
Ogle doesn’t plan on leaving JBU forever. He hopes to come back and teach the occasional class, even as he’s building up new programs and outreach for Mercy. Meanwhile, he hopes that his students remember what he really wants them to learn:
“The God of the Universe loves you and pursues you relentlessly,” he said. “He doesn’t care where you’ve been or where you are now. He just wants you.”