Dr. Joseph McRae Mellichamp is Emeritus Professor of Management Science in the Manderson Graduate School of Business at the University of Alabama and National Faculty Representative for Christian Leadership Ministries. For 25 years, Dr. Mellichamp combined successful academic pursuits with effective Christian ministry activities.
As faculty and staff in a university or college setting, we often have opportunities to speak to campus audiences on different topics. A variety of such opportunities may arise from time to time, for example, Christian student organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ, Inter-Varsity Fellowship, The Baptist Student Union, the Wesley Foundation, etc.; other student organizations such as social fraternities and sororities or academic and/or leadership honoraries; athletic teams. The list is practically endless. Often the occasion will call for a talk on a Christian theme; sometimes there will be opportunities to speak evangelistically. Sometimes the talk will be on a secular topic such as leadership or ethics, with an opportunity to interject a brief reference to spiritual things by way of a personal challenge. Unfortunately, we are often unprepared to take advantage of such opportunities, and turn them down for want of time to prepare a suitable talk. We can capitalize on these opportunities, as well we should, with just a bit of anticipation and preparation.
Not all professors and staff necessarily feel called or gifted in the area of speaking -- you might not feel that speaking ought to be a ministry focus for you. I certainly agree, with a couple of exceptions. Let me outline the exceptions first, and then I’ll describe all the possibilities in detail. Every Christian (this includes professors and staff) should be prepared to give his personal testimony when opportunities arise. With a modest amount of extra effort, one can expand his testimony into a full-length talk. Another exception is in the areas of grades and time management. If you teach freshmen and/or sophomores, you should seriously consider developing talks that would help your students to succeed in their studies and use of time. What better contribution could you make to your students than to help them succeed in the university?
In 1 Peter 3:15, the apostle writes, "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." In Mark 5:19, Jesus, after healing a demon-possessed man, said to him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you." It seems clear to me we are to take these passages to mean that, along with other material of an apologetic nature, Christians always ought to be ready to share an account of how they came to know Christ. Unbelievers might argue other proofs of Christianity; it’s pretty difficult to argue with someone’s experience of the living Christ. This certainly conforms to the admonition to defend with gentleness and reverence. Thus, the personal testimony is a powerful defense of the hope we have as Christians.
A well-written personal testimony that briefly describes your life before you became a Christian, outlines how you became a Christian, and gives some of the changes Christ has made in your life can be expanded with apologetic material into a talk you can use effectively for many speaking opportunities. I routinely give mine, which I call "My Search for Success," to Christian student meetings on campuses, to fraternity and sorority groups, to faculty groups. If you have never prepared your own testimony, I would strongly urge you to do so as soon as possible. If you are not familiar with the technical details of how to write a clear testimony, several Christian organizations including Campus Crusade for Christ and the Navigators have material on how to write a personal testimony. I am including a copy of my testimony in Exhibit 2-1 as an example.
Once you have completed writing your testimony, you might begin to ask the Lord to bring opportunities to share it with others either individually or in speaking situations. I would also encourage you to carry a copy with you in your wallet or purse. I have made this a habit for many years and have had some delightful experiences where I was able to engage individuals in spiritual conversations and leave them with the copy of my testimony to read later. Once, on a plane from Zurich to Warsaw, I struck up a conversation with a Swiss businessman in the next seat. The conversation turned to spiritual issues so I pulled out a copy of my testimony and said, "This is a summary of what I believe. Why don’t you read it and then we can talk further?" He put down his Wall Street Journal and spent the next 10 or so minutes reading over my testimony. After that, we had an interesting and enjoyable 30 minute conversation about Christianity. He did not make a commitment to Christ, but he left with some clear information on how to if he wanted to do so.
Grades and Time Management Talks
I often ask Christian professors and staff in seminars how many of them would invest several hours a semester (10 hours a year) if doing so would allow them in four years to share part of their personal testimony with 20 percent of the student body in their university or college. This is such an outrageously good deal that almost everyone wants to hear how such a thing could happen. Well, this was my own experience with the "How to Make Better Grades and Have More Fun" talk. Five or six years before my retirement, I found myself teaching graduate courses exclusively, usually very small classes of doctoral students. As I reflected one summer on my career and specifically on how effective I was as a Christian professor in influencing students for Christ, I decided I really wasn’t having much of an impact because I didn’t have much contact with students.
This realization led me to start seeking ways to have more opportunities to interact with students and particularly undergraduates. At the time, Steve Douglas, a vice president for Campus Crusade for Christ, was giving a talk based on his book, How to Get Better Grades and Have More Fun, on many campuses around the country. It was an interesting concept. I thought I could probably give such a talk and that it might come across as well from a professor as from an outsider. I got a copy of Steve’s book and read it, and I can honestly say it’s a great book -- my wife and I give copies as high school graduation presents. But it wasn’t me; I really never used many of the recommendations Steve gives. So I got out some paper and began to make a list of some of the things that helped me as a student. Within 30 minutes, I had an outline for a talk that I have since given more than 100 times to thousands of students. In the first four years at the University of Alabama, I gave the talk about 40 times to approximately 3,600 students (20 percent of the student body averaging 10 hours a year). Of all the ministry things I have done over the years I have been a university professor, this is easily the most enjoyable and rewarding. Helping students in the context of improving their grades is a natural ministry opportunity for faculty. Practically every college student is interested in improving his or her grades, and the prospect of being able to make better grades and have fun at the same time is universally appealing. Here is a venue for reaching college students in a way that addresses felt needs and requires a minimal time investment on your part. If you have never tried this and you think you would enjoy it, or if you are teaching freshmen and/or sophomores, you need to do it. Here’s how.
Consider developing and presenting a "How to Make Better Grades and Have More Fun" talk in conjunction with a Christian student group on your campus. Such groups usually sponsor a number of evangelistic programs on campus to develop contacts to share the Gospel one-on-one at a subsequent meeting. One or more of the groups on your campus will probably be delighted to set you up with speaking engagements in dorms, sororities, fraternities, student associations, and other similar student gatherings. They will arrange all publicity for the meeting, make the physical arrangements, and do the follow-up. All you have to do is show up at the appointed time and deliver a dynamite talk on how to make good grades.
The following steps are suggested for getting a grades talk going.
Several suggestions will be useful as you actually make the presentation.
By way of encouragement, let me share with you my experience with the grades talks at the University of Alabama. I have done the talk in just about every imaginable situation -- for six men in a dormitory, for 150 women in a sorority house, for professional engineering societies, for pledge classes, for the regular Campus Crusade for Christ weekly meeting. When I first started doing the talk, the dorms were essentially closed to Christian ministries; the grades talk has opened the dorms up, and now Christian groups are able to do a variety of other programs as well.
The response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The comment cards are uniformly positive; most students indicate they will implement one or more of my suggestions, about 95 percent ask for a copy of the book and about 5 percent indicate an interest in spiritual things. Of course, each student who fills out a comment card is personally contacted by the ministry staff person and those who are interested have the Gospel, which is printed in the back of the book, presented to them. I have students come up to me on campus frequently thanking me for doing the talk, often sharing how much their grades have improved as a result of the talk.
I have been invited back every year to some dorms and sororities and fraternities. Sometimes, I get a call from someone who has heard about the grades talk from a friend. I always refer these unsolicited calls to a Christian student group which then works with the caller to set up a talk. I am sure that I will never really know the total impact of this effort. I'm convinced that I have impacted the overall student grade point average at the university by a minuscule amount. But the real motivation for the talks is that students are coming to Christ through the follow up of the Christian student ministry staff. Figure 2-1 shows the comment card we use to follow-up students who attend the talk and Exhibit 2-2 is the handout I use for the talks.
Figure 2-1. Comment Card for "How to Make Better Grades" Talk.
Time management is a topic that can also be used effectively for ministry talks. In fact, the grades talk I give is primarily a talk on time management. I think from years of experience that a student can have the best study skills going, but if he is not managing his time properly -- getting up at a reasonable hour, going to class, studying at free times during the day, keeping current in his classes -- he won’t be doing that well in his studies. So a good talk on time management principles will minister to most undergraduates and to graduate students, too.
I found this out quite accidentally. I was scheduled to give a grades talk in a women’s sorority at a Big 10 school a few years ago. Just before I was to leave home for the campus visit, the person who had set up my speaking engagement called and asked if I would be willing to do a time management talk instead. I scrambled around and modified a talk based on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that I usually give to faculty and staff and forced it into my grades talk handout format. I showed up at the sorority house to do the talk and discovered that the audience was not a group of sorority women as I had been told, but the president and/or scholarship chairperson of almost every fraternity and sorority on campus. I gave the talk, and the response was amazing. Many of the representatives told me or the person who set up the talk that they would like to have the same talk given to their whole house. I’ve done the time management talk a number of times since then including in classroom situations and had the same uniformly positive results. Exhibit 2-3 includes the 4 page handout I use with the time management talk.
Christian Leadership has developed a program called Making the Grade, which is a combination of a How to Make Better Grades talk and a time management talk. Making the Grade is a four hour seminar usually lead by a Christian professor; it is available to freshmen and sophomore students for a nominal charge. A variety of materials including overhead transparencies, detailed instruction notes, and a student notebook have been developed for the program by Christian Leadership. Christian Leadership Ministries actually trains professors interested in doing these seminars at several locations around the country. And there is a well-thought out strategy for mailing brochures to students to interest them in signing up for the seminars. Several different ways of communicating spiritual content have been used including offering various materials to students and hosting a pizza party at a subsequent meeting at which the instructor shares his personal testimony. Making the Grade may be set up on any campus in the United States by arrangement with the Christian Leadership Ministries office.
Other Ministry Talks
Of course, there are many other ministry talk possibilities for those of you who enjoy speaking and who see such opportunities as a good ministry option. Some years ago, Walter Bradley put together a talk titled "Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God" in which he looks at a variety of evidence from physics, chemistry, and other disciplines that led him to conclude the universe was designed; it couldn’t have just happened. Walter has given this talk on dozens of campuses in the U.S. and abroad to thousands of students, faculty, and others. My colleague at the University of Alabama, Phil Bishop, has a talk, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," in which he shows how the marvelous complexity of the human body argues for the existence of intelligent design. Phil has given this talk in optional class presentations, as well as in a variety of other settings. Fritz Schaefer, Professor of Computational Chemistry at the University of Georgia, has a talk titled "Stephen Hawking, God and the Big Bang," which he has given frequently to enthusiastic audiences.
Do you have a particular interest that could be developed into a similar ministry talk? It might be that you’ve done a lot of reading in the area of creation and evolution. Perhaps you have developed skills in the area of financial management based on scriptural principles. If so, it probably wouldn’t take much effort to take that interest and develop it into a full-blown talk. If you do, be prepared to have some rich experiences as you take it on the road.
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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