Many faculty have expressed that not even since during their college educationundergraduate and graduatedid any of their professors identify themselves as Christians. As a result, there is a strong impression that there is something fundamentally incompatible with being educated to the level of a Ph. D. and being a committed Christian.
How many of your professors during your days as a college student identified themselves in class as a Christian? What is being communicated to students by silence in this regard? Is there a legal and professionally-appropriate way to let your students know of your commitment to Christ?
Certainly, it would be inappropriate to devote significant amounts of class time to a presentation of one's Christian faith (exceptions may exist in such courses as ethics, philosophy, sociology. etc. ). However, if you are a committed Christian. your mindset and your approach to flour discipline will be influenced to a great extent by your commitment to Christ. In fact, one might argue that you would be doing your students a disservice by not making them aware of your particular perspective.
The attitude of the courts generally supports the view that one brings into the classroom one's entire personality, and that in communicating course content to students, a professor will also be communicating other information, including, values, beliefs, prejudices, etc. Many Christian professors go to the other extreme in this regard by unrealistically trying to ensure that none of their beliefs enter the classroom.
There are several ways of identifying yourself as a Christian which, if followed with discretion and good judgment, pass the test of appropriateness and, for that matter, legality. Additional details concerning legal issues may be found in the book by Constitutional attorney John Whitehead entitled Freedom of Religious Expression in Public Universities and High Schools (1986).
The first class meeting is a natural time to communicate to your students that you are a Christian. At least two different approaches have been used very successfully in this context:
2 Introductions. Sometimes professors begin a course by having each student introduce himself and share some personal information. Consider sharing a brief word of testimony in this format, e. g., " I'm Professor Jones. I've taught Physics here at the university for 20 years. I want to get to know each of you personally and I want you to get to know me personally. To help you get to know me, let me tell you the most significant thing about me. I'm a Christian. "
In all but the most technical of classes there will be a number of natural opportunities during the course of the school term which can be used for working in a Christian testimony. Again, at least two different approaches are possible:
1 In-Class Comments. When a natural opportunity arises' interject a brief comment as appropriate and continue with the course content. "You're absolutely right, Jon, profit maximization is not the only acceptable objective for a corporation. There are a number of other objectives which firms ought to consider in business operations. In fact, as a committed Christian, I believe there are a number of very important personnel, environmental, social, and other objectives that firms routinely ignore."
2 After-Class Discussion. Students often pose questions which are not appropriate for class discussion, but which are tailor-made for after-class discussions. For example, "That raises some interesting ethical considerations, Jennifer. As a committed Christian, I have some very strong personal views on this issue. If any of you are interested I'll be glad to stay after class and discuss them with you."
Another effective way to communicate your faith to your students is the optional session. There are a number of ways of structuring such a presentation.
1 Personal Testimony. One approach is to simply share your personal testimony in an optional session. At the conclusion, invite anyone who is interested in further discussion to talk privately. When this approach is used, the invitation to the optional session is key. You need to let the students know what you intend to share in a way that will challenge them to come. "We do a good job teaching you how to make a living, but we often neglect offering you information on how to live. I'd like to share with you some principles I've learned in relating to life. If you are interested, we'll meet in Room 31 Friday at 2:00." When challenged properly, 60 to 90 percent of students will attend such an optional session. (Be sure to emphasize that the optional session has no bearing on their final grade.)
2 Apologetic. Another approach for the optional session is an apologetic lecture. One professor invites his students each term to a seminar entitled "Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God." The seminar is held on an optional basis the last class period of the semester and is followed by an invitation to join the professor for a free lunch during which he will share how and why he became a Christian. In inviting the students, this professor tells them that the subject matter is so important he is using the lunch as a "bribe" to get them to come. It is surprising how effective a little tongue-in-cheek honesty can be and how it communicates interest and concern.
3 Course-Related. With a little thought, interesting, course-related, optional sessions which have a Christian orientation can be structured. For example, one history professor has developed several optional sessions which explore the Christian beliefs of famous American leadersGeorge Washington, Abraham Lincoln, etc. These sessions have been well attended and provide an excellent vehicle for the group to discuss Christianity in-depth in a non-threatening format.
You can see that there are many effective ways of communicating your faith in Christ to your students. (Keep in mind that the issue is not how much you communicate, but that you communicate at all. ) One professor recently was impressed at a Christian Leadership conference to identify himself to his students as a Christian. He walked into class the following Monday and announced, "When I gave you my credentials at the beginning of the term, I neglected to tell you that I am a Christian. I just wanted you all to know that." At the end of class, several students came down to thank him for being open with them: one of these students was going through very difficult personal circumstances at the time and, as a result, the professor was able to have a significant ministry in the student's life. Many students are in similar circumstances with problems or decisions to make. They would like advice or ideas from adults, but simply don't know who to approach.
The ultimate objective in all classroom sharing is to communicate to students that you are a Christian and that you are available to pursue with them discussions relating to spiritual issues. You should be prepared to give them a clear presentation of the gospel as opportunities are available on an individual basis. Also, be prepared to minister to any specific needs they might express. Some very rich experiences await you in this connection, but you must make the first move. Take a moment right now and plan how you can effectively make your position known to your students.
Additional material can be obtained from Christian Leadership Ministries, 3440 Sojourn drive, suite 200, Carrolton, Texas 75006. Phone:(972) 713-7130 . Fax:(972) 713-7130. E-mail: email@example.com