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.
In his book, The Soul of the American University, George Marsden describes the decline of Christian thought and influence in the great universities of America -- Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Michigan, Berkeley, Chicago, Stanford -- starting more than a hundred years ago and, for all practical purposes, culminating by the middle part of the 20th century. The marginalization of Christianity in the university as Marsden calls it; the gradual, but steady relegation of Christian things to the margins of the university, to the unimportant or trivial regions of the institution. Marsden’s book, which ought to be required reading for every Christian university or college professor and staff member in this country, should elicit feelings of embarrassment and deep concern from all Christians, but especially from those who work in the university setting. To be sure, one reason for the demise of Christian thought in the university has been a result of the inability of academics to agree on the appropriate role of Christianity in the university. To articulate such a position is no easy task, but it is assuredly an enterprise we must be about, and it should be an important part of our focus.
Perhaps an even more compelling reason for the marginalization of Christianity in the university is that Christians have simply not been engaged in the fight to keep Christian ideas in the university’s marketplace of ideas. Christian professors and, to a lesser extent, staff have stood by and allowed Christianity to be pushed aside often without "lifting a finger" or, more literally, "raising a voice" to oppose what was happening. Those of us in academia might protest that the decline happened and was substantially an accomplished fact before our tenure in the university started, thus we should bear no culpability for it. Yet, in a sense, our generation was the first to come along in the university after the shift occurred, and from this perspective, we are the ones who should have mounted the counterattack. In a way, we have started mustering the troops for the counterattack. That is really the goal of Christian Leadership Ministries -- what can we do as Christians in the university to retake lost ground? What can we do to restore Christian thought to its rightful place in the university?
The battle must be fought on two fronts -- an intellectual front and a personal front. The intellectual front has to do with the question of the appropriate role of Christianity in the university. And this action will be waged largely in colloquia, in professional meeting presentations, in scholarly journals and manuscripts, and other such forums. This is certainly an important theater of operations. The battle will be difficult and probably long -- the ground was lost over an extended period of time; we will not likely retake it overnight. The intellectual battle calls for specialized troops, primarily those who deal in the realm of ideas -- the humanities and the hard sciences. The personal front has to do with how we as Christian academics attempt to impact students, colleagues, and, indeed, our institutions for Christ. It has to do with our ministries within the institution as we go about our day-to-day academic activities.
And that is precisely what this manual is about. It is intended to serve as an instruction manual (a manual of arms) for the serious Christian academic concerned about having an impact for Christ in the university. Every Christian professor and staff member should be engaged in operations on the personal front. We have all been charged to be Christ’s representatives or ambassadors on a personal level, and we all will give an account of our stewardship in this regard. Those who work in the university who are not engaged at all in any way to impact the institution for the Savior are, to continue the military analogy, derelict in their duty and ultimately will have to answer the charge.
In a talk titled "Giants in the Land," my friend, Dr. Walter Bradley, who is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University, discusses barriers we must overcome to live a committed lifestyle in the university. One barrier is the opposition. Like the Hebrew spies in Numbers 13:25-14:10 who reconnoitered the land of Canaan at the time of the Exodus, we face well entrenched opposition -- "giants." The university is hostile to Christians. It is not popular to be a visible Christian in the university. To do so is to invite opposition. And quite often, the opposition does not play fair. The playing field is not level. However, recognizing that there assuredly will be opposition, our attitude needs to be like that of Joshua and Caleb, two spies, who proclaimed, "If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land and give it to us."
Another barrier we face in living Christianly in the university has to do with approval. To be a visible Christian in the university is to invite the disapproval of those whose approval we seek in much of what we do. The very nature of the research aspect of the university has to do with putting before our colleagues ideas for which we seek approval -- theories, models, approaches, principles. To be successful in research within the university, one must continually have one’s ideas subjected to peer review and have these ideas pass muster. Thus, we often become overly concerned about the approval of others. The problem occurs when the distinction between seeking approval for professional contributions and seeking approval for our personal beliefs becomes blurred, as it so easily can. When this happens, our motivation becomes like that of the Pharisees Jesus condemned -- "For they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God." John 12:43
A third barrier has to do with our attitude concerning whom we serve. It is related somewhat to the issue of approval. As the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:1-4, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, as stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. I am conscious of nothing against myself; yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord." If we are only interested in serving ourselves, the most expedient approach is the one taken by many; to compartmentalize our life and to practice our Christianity when we leave the university. On the other hand, if we truly want to please the Lord Christ, then we must be found trustworthy in our representation of Him in every sphere of our lives, including the university.
Finally, we must face the issue of persecution. Scripture admonishes in 2 Timothy 3:12, "And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." If we are truly having an impact for Christ in the university, we can expect persecution. As an old Air Force pilot put it, "If you think you’re flying over the target but you’re not taking any flack, you’d better check your map because you’re probably not over the target." Persecution comes with the turf. However, we don’t need to seek it out. If we are wise, if we seek to do things in ways that are legal, ethical, appropriate, and attractive, we will experience commendation and praise more often than we experience persecution. I have tried for most of my professional life to be a bold witness for the Lord in the university, and I can say with complete honesty that though there has been some subtle persecution -- primarily in the form of being avoided by some colleagues -- there also has been a generous share of commendation and praise for the stands I have taken and the service I have rendered.
Ultimately, our attitude about representing Christ in the university must be that it is the right thing to do: Christ has given us this responsibility. The opposition is formidable; we might lose the approval of colleagues; some of us might lose our position in the university; and we will surely experience persecution. For us, the key issue is to be found faithful in doing what the Lord has charged us to do. The outcome is up to God. As Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego said centuries ago when facing the furnace in Babylon for their faithful service to God, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not even need to give you an answer concerning this, if it be so our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." Daniel 3:16-18
In his best selling book,The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey challenges the reader to imagine himself on his 85th birthday. Family, friends, and colleagues have gathered to pay tribute. "What would you like for them to say about you on such an occasion?" Covey asks. I had a similar life-defining experience early in my academic career. I remember walking across campus at the University of Alabama one spring afternoon soon after I had joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor there. The trees and shrubs on campus were just beginning to turn green after the winter. Flowers were starting to bloom, birds were flying from tree to tree. As I walked, I reflected on the previous evening when I had read the obituary of a prominent university professor in the local newspaper. This man -- whose name I have long forgotten -- was well-known enough that his obituary started on the front page of the paper and continued on the obituary page. In all, the notice was probably 10 or 12 column inches. Listed were all of his academic accomplishments: his degrees and the universities from which they were obtained; all of the positions he had held in academe; many scholarly publications -- articles, books, monographs; various committee assignments and task force memberships; and much more. There were a few mentions of family: his wife and children, a relative or two. I looked carefully, but saw no mention whatever of anything religious; no mention of a church affiliation, no religious involvement at all, nothing.
As I walked and reflected, it occurred to me that none of the "stuff" he had done was of much use to him then. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. For a professor, these things are terribly important. Our research and teaching give us the platform we have as professors. For the Christian professor, this is especially true. If I am not excelling in my research, my colleagues will not be too interested in anything I might have to say about my faith in Christ. If I’m not doing a good job in the classroom, my students are not going to be too excited about my opinions either. So teaching and research are important. But these academic trappings are not the bottom line. They are not and should not be the sum and substance of our lives, which appeared to be the case for the gentleman whose obituary I was considering. As I continued to walk and think, I remember wondering what I would like for my obituary to say about me when my life on earth came to an end. I decided I would want it to say a lot about how I had used my influence as a professor for Christ, to cause students and colleagues to consider Him, to influence the university for good and noble causes.
What about you? What would you like others to say of you at the end of your life? What would have been important for you to have accomplished from a career perspective? Think about when you retire from your university position. Will there be any regrets? Would you do anything differently if you could go back and start over? Wouldn’t you agree that taking a stand for Christ in the university would be the most significant thing you could accomplish? If so, why not start now? If you have already started, read on. The material to follow should help you in your effort.
Having faced the giants and determined that we need to push on into the land, let’s take a look at the material to be presented. In this manual I have elected to divide the subject matter into three categories: (1) Ministering Individually, (2) Ministering with Others on Campus, and (3) Ministering Nationally and Internationally. There are many, many opportunities for individual Christian professors and staff to have an impact in the university irrespective of what other Christian faculty and staff are doing. For instance, I might look for opportunities in advising situations with my students to suggest spiritual solutions to personal problems where appropriate. It doesn’t matter whether I am the only professor on campus seeking to do this or if every other professor is also thus engaged. This is an appropriate thing for any Christian professor to do, and, therefore, I need to be doing it. A number of ways of ministering as an individual in the university are presented in the section "Ministering Individually." There is, furthermore, an opportunity for Christian faculty and staff to work together synergistically to impact students, colleagues, and the institution for Christ. For example, we might work together to bring a prominent speaker to campus to address some segment of the campus population on some topic possibly from a Christian point of view. There are a number of such ways we can work together effectively on campus; several are presented in the section "Ministering With Others on Campus." Finally, Christian professors and academic staff personnel have opportunities to serve beyond just the local campus level; thus, several options for ministry at the national and international level are presented in the section "Ministering Nationally and Internationally."
Before launching ahead into the material on "Ministering Individually," I want to discuss a concept or mindset that has helped me tremendously in the area of ministry and which I think will be helpful as a backdrop for our entire focus on ministry. Figure 1 graphically depicts a "Spiritual Receptivity Continuum." What this diagram suggests is that everyone is to be found somewhere on a continuum in relationship to Christ or Christianity. Everyone to the left of the cross on the diagram is an unbeliever. Unbelievers come in all shades and stripes. Some are openly hostile toward anything religious and especially toward Christianity. Some are simply indifferent. Some are interested; they are actively seeking answers to life’s tough questions. People to the right of the cross are believers in the sense of having made a personal commitment of their lives to Christ. Believers also come in all shades and stripes, which we usually measure in terms of Christian maturity. Some believers are baby Christians; some of them have only been Christians for a short while, and some of them have been Christians for years. Some believers, perhaps a very few, are mature Christians. And there are many in between.
Our job as Christians, regardless of our level of maturity, is to discover where others are on the continuum and what we might do to help move them to the right. Moving people to the right -- that’s our charge. There is a term for anything we can do to move someone on the left of the continuum, an unbeliever, toward the cross. We call these activities evangelism. For someone who is openly hostile toward Christianity, it might be something as simple as being a friend. It might be helping an international student get accustomed to our culture. For some, it will be sharing a clear presentation of the Gospel with an opportunity to respond. The point is that people are at all different levels in relationship to Christ, and we need to tailor our ministry approach to where they are; a cookie-cutter approach to evangelism won’t be as effective as an individualized approach. But, don’t get the notion that a Gospel presentation is all there is to evangelism -- there is much, much more.
People on the right side of the continuum, believers, also need to move to the right, to grow in Christian maturity. We need to discover what we can do to help believers move to the right. For new Christians, it might be to help them study and apply the Bible for themselves. For a Christian who has been mired down for years at the same place, it might be to challenge him with the example of our own life. For a mature Christian who is really having an impact for Christ on those around him, it might be a word of thanks or encouragement. There is a term for activities that help believers move to the right on the continuum: we call these activities discipleship. Christ challenged us to be in the business of making disciples; we need to be engaged in discipling others.
Moving people to the right! It’s a pretty simple concept. Whenever you meet someone, you don’t have to muddle around trying to figure out what to do. All you have to do is determine where they are on the continuum and what you might possibly do to help move them to the right. It surely takes the pressure out of ministry. Now, keeping this concept in mind, let’s look at some ways we as Christian faculty and staff can minister individually in the university.
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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