FC Missional Moment: Voices from the Commons

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** What Remains of 30 Years?

“We are here to celebrate nearly thirty years of service to our institution, its students, faculty, and staff,” the chairman of my department announced at my retirement reception a year ago.

Now retired from the Academy, I have had a year to reflect on my service as an educator, a scientist, and an administrator, prompting the question:

Was I a success?
1. Twelve years of my tenure were spent as an administrator. But now to my dismay, prudent policies that I implemented lie abandoned like yesterday’s newspaper.
2. In a scientific career begun to “boldly go where no man had gone before,” few tangible accomplishments survive. While it gives me a “nice” feeling to know that some few truths that my collaborators and I uncovered have advanced knowledge, they now belong to the category of What Everybody Knows.
3. While I remain friends with many former students, I doubt that they remember most of the physics that I taught them.

What remains of thirty years?

** A Grand Paradox

Paradoxically, the most enduring effect of my career manifests itself in the most ephemeral place: the lives of people. Here may lie my true success. I can see the influence that flowed from my life into the hearts of my former students and my colleagues.

This epiphany was affirmed by the anthology Faithful is Successful: Notes to the Driven Pilgrim edited by Nathan Grills, David E. Lewis, S. Joshua Swamidass.

The contributors in this anthology, regardless of their disciplines, all attest to the same truth: in faithfulness to God and His leading lies true success.

Those times when I was seduced by vainglory, I missed out on the most enduring triumphs. But by investing in the welfare and learning of my students and colleagues, the benefits were disproportionately great.

For example, on the first day of class, simply identifying myself as a Christ-follower as the origin of my teaching philosophy prompted many students to seek me out to chat about ultimate issues. On other occasions, I would meet for lunch with a student or junior colleague.

These were successes out of proportion to my investment.

** My Biggest Failure Became my Greatest Success

The greatest success in my tenure arrived, paradoxically, as my most devastating professional failure: the day I was fired as department chairman.

I knew that I “served at the pleasure of the Dean.” The Dean was displeased. And I was toast. My pride was hurt and my huge ego bruised. I wanted to strike back.

Somehow, I found the grace to follow the Jesus-way, to acknowledge where I was at fault and to forgive the Dean for his mishandling of the situation. Strangely, from that incident I experienced a newfound credibility among my peers that I had not enjoyed before.

Later, I felt affirmed by the Lord when I was reinstated and subsequently in succeeding years, I was tapped to assist two other troubled departments as interim chairman.

Following that event I was able to pray with colleagues facing challenges; I could now counsel with compassion out of my own pain and encourage brothers and sisters in crisis—in their work, in their lives, and even as they faced death.

Looking back, I see that much of what I built was fabricated of wood, hay, and stubble, but—thanks be to God—some of my construction materials were provided by our Lord: gold, silver and precious gems.

More than the accolades like “distinguished this” or “outstanding that” the most precious praise will be to hear one day “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

That will be success, indeed.

–Sam Matteson, Retired, University of North Texas


** We’ll be back in early January with a new series “The Professor as Servant” by Kenneth Elzinga, Professor of Economics, UVA.

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What does it mean to be a Christian in your work? In this book authors working in fields from the arts to finance and the academy offer practical advice to Christians about what it means to live a life of robust faith and work. Authors address a number of key questions: How do they understand what it means to be a Christian in their profession? What difference does it make? What kind of problems have they encountered? Their answers are surprising in their creativity and insight.

In the new year, we are hosting four regional conferences for faculty at these locations:

Greenville, SC– February 19-20, 2016
San Diego, CA–March 5, 2016
San Luis Obispo, CA–April 9, 2016
Bellingham, WA–TBA

Hear from Walter Bradley, distinguished professor with over 40 years of service and ministry

Explore with other Christian faculty our common call to the university and the world

Network with colleagues from other universities

Share ideas of effective ministry

A Common Call Conference (http://www.acommoncall.org/)



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