FC Missional Moment: Voices from the Commons

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** The Professor as Servant

The conventional talk about Christianity in academic life is, “What does it mean to do biology or philosophy or economics or French literature from a Christian perspective?”

David Dockery wrote that Christian higher education meant not only an integration of faith and learning but an integration of faith and living.

This suggests considering what it might mean as a teacher in any discipline, to teach like Jesus. That is to model oneself after Jesus as a teacher or, if you like, as a rabbi.

** Developing my Teaching Philosophy

The particular connection that concerns me is not to our discipline, but rather the Christian professor and his or her students. My thinking was profoundly affected when the faculty at the University of Virginia was asked to write out a teaching philosophy. At an institution where virtually all one’s paycheck is based on research productivity, this attention on the teaching caused quite a stir. This was seen as a threat to the research agenda of the university, even though the exercise was totally voluntary.

Since I claimed to want Jesus to be Lord of my life, I wanted Him to be the Lord of my teaching philosophy. I wanted this not to be an “add-on” or an addition to the house; I wanted it to be at the very foundation I wanted this philosophy to be connected to multiplying images of God.

My teaching philosophy statement is posted on my UVA homepage – so this is digitally quite visible, not buried somewhere in an administrator’s file cabinet, it reads:

“My colleagues in the Department of Religious Studies might contend that the most prominent image or picture of the Christian faith is the crucifix. For me, as a teacher, it is the picture of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. The scene illustrates the upside-down and paradoxical biblical principle of leadership: the one who leads should be willing to serve; if you want to be first, you line up last.”

I endeavor to apply that picture to my teaching: if I want best to lead a class of students, I should be willing to serve them. My authority is linked to my willingness to serve my students.

This principle is not void of content. Rather, it is practical (and sobering).

For example, it seems clear that one way a teacher serves is by thorough class preparation. For me, this has meant not scheduling any substantive activities before my lectures, so I can focus my attention solely on the material and its presentation; it means mining an entire book for one small nugget: a useful classroom illustration.

It probably goes without saying; we serve our students in the classroom (and I include the laboratory here) by a mastery of the material – by thoughtful, if not winsome, presentations of the material, and a desire to see our students learn. All of this is part of the Biblical principle of “Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do it as unto the Lord.”

No matter what I teach, I think it’s possible to serve my students and to let them know that I’m a follower of Jesus. First I do this by example, and in teaching economics, I can reference scriptural principles in a way that signals to students that I take the Bible seriously, not as a dead and worthless book.

The development of a Christian teaching philosophy turned out to be a very important event in my professional life. There are many times when I am about to short-change a student, or take an action that builds me up or makes my life easier—and then I am convicted by this image of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.

One of the most profound and sobering teachings of the Christian faith is that I can serve Jesus indirectly by serving others directly—especially the students I have the privilege of teaching.

Kenneth Elzinga, UVA.

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We are to be as unnoticed as the Lord was at times. We should be willing to pass through the crowd and not be noticed. Jesus made a whole different kind of wave, not a wave of worldliness that seeks the center. He was quiet yet He brought a storm. — W.A. Belle

Series by Ken Elzinga, Robert C. Taylor Chair of Economics, UVA

** The Professor as Servant
The Professor’s Credentials
The Professor’s Office Hours
The Professor’s Voice
The Professor’s Website
The Professor’s Home

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
Baton Rouge, LA–April 1-2, 2016
San Luis Obispo, CA–April 9, 2016
Bellingham, WA–June 4, 2016

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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