Dan Davis spent 25 years in business working for Hughes Aircraft, Motorola, MRI, and Intel. In 1977, Dan and his wife started a Bible study with University of Texas students which grew into a church called Hope Chapel, where Davis was pastor for 15 years. Davis left the pastorate to start the Antioch Network, a mission effort which seeks to plant churches among unreached people groups.
Dan Davis was the pastor of Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas, when the church held a special commissioning for Dr. John Cogdell, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. Davis and the church elders recognized the significance of Cogdell's ministry as a professor, and they set him apart for that work. The Real Issue asked Davis to explain how such a commissioning came about.
RI: Please share your perspective on the campus community and the spiritual needs there.
Davis: To a large extent we we're dealing with a Christian subculture on the campus. As Hope Chapel was formed, one of our objectives was to become a community for Christian students who are engaged on the campus. We soon found that a number of faculty members started coming to the church as well. The campus was never our mission field per se, as we were much more concerned with building a Christian community that would be outward-looking. The campus just happened to be one of the places we would look out to.
RI: What percentage of the congregation is a part of the UT environment?
Davis: Our church grew to about 800-900. I would say we had somewhere between 150 to 200 students, and at one time we had about 15 professors who attended our church.
RI: How did you know John?
Davis: John came to our church through his kids. We had a very vibrant youth ministry. He and Ann kind of followed their kids into the church. I also had a monthly book discussion group, and we had three faculty members involved with that, including John, along with some other professional people. Our goal was to read secular books that were shaping our culture, and then come together once a month to discuss them. So it was in that context that John and I became good friends.
John was already involved in a fellowship of Christian faculty members. So it was in that context I began to see that his plate was thoroughly full and that he was glorifying God in a significant way on the campus. So to some extent, anything we did was just an acknowledgment of what God was already doing through him.
RI: How did John's commissioning come about?
Davis: I'll refer to my own experience. When I left the business world to become a full-time pastor, I understood I wasn't getting a spiritual promotion. I hear people speak of the pulpit in the church as being the "holy desk," but I contend my desk in the business world was every bit as sacred as the pulpit I stood behind on Sunday; I had just as high an obligation to present Christ's character. I have a very strong--passionately strong--understanding that God calls us to a variety of vocations, some of which are in full-time Christian service and some of which are not.
When I began to see what John was doing, I approached our elders and said, "John is just as much a part of the ministry here as we are, and he is potentially having a greater impact because of the level in which he is involved on campus."
I think something very powerful takes place in the context of a gathered community of believers. It's powerful to publicly lay hands on people and say, "We acknowledge that God has done something in you and through you and we want to affirm, bless and release you to it. We commit ourselves to support you, and we release you from expectations that you need to fulfill something here in the church in order to earn your stripes."
RI: I'm sure it was a positive experience for him.
Davis: Oh yes, and for the whole church. That gave us the chance to make the same affirmation for people involved in other vocations and other callings, and a chance to model something that needed to happen. John bears his life with a big measure of integrity and commitment. If we hadn't gone that way, I think John would have been a candidate to be an elder in the church in terms of a committed role of the government of the church, which I think is a very costly role in terms of his commitment.
It seemed clear to us that he was just as much an elder, although not in the church-governance sense, among his fellow faculty members as he would have been with us. We would have deprived him of the passion and calling that God had laid on his heart by putting other expectations on him.
The other thing is that we set up a book fund for whatever he felt would be useful for the fellowship--he had freedom to draw from church funds to help supply this. The elders intent was to be more generous than that, but John never pushed it at all.
RI: Was there occasion for the church to be involved with campus events?
Davis: John has an email network and when he would have special outside speakers come in, he always made sure I was aware of it by email. We would make information known about the event on special occasions to the broader church leadership community. Phillip Johnson came in a couple of times and he really had a significant impact on me; any time he was around town, John would let me know. It helped me think more clearly about the real issues concerning origins. I'm indebted to John for that.
RI: Tell me about John and his work on the campus.
Davis: I can hardly view John without seeing him in the context of his family which I think is a strong affirmation. John is the ultimate engineer, with all the stereotypes of logical consistence in thinking. His wife is the ultimate musician and artist. Watching their marriage and seeing how they work out the ability to honor each other's gifts has been a blessing, and seeing his commitment to his children has been a very significant blessing.
John is very humble, and I found myself always trying to help him see the significance of his person--his role in a larger light than he did. That pleased me. I found there wasn't any grasping after significance in the role John had as a Christian faculty member; it was much more a desire to be a servant to the other faculty members. For example, John helped bring the Templeton Lectures here, and I worked with him to set that up. All the way through he was never striving for a spotlight role; he was always in a serving capacity. I would say that the idea of a humble servant would be the part of his role that was most visible to me. That was probably the thing that was most notable to me: the humility along with the hard work.
RI: You have a heart for people reaching out where they work.
Davis: A priority for me now is to find ways to mobilize business people to accept that their business or vocation gives them a platform that professional religious people could never have overseas. I honor the clergy and those of us who give full-time Christian service. But I think a dichotomy that disqualifies people who aren't in that arena is very destructive, and I want to be able to honor both sides of that transaction as equally valid--equally God-breathed.
RI: From your perspective, how did the activity of Christian professors affect the church and campus?
Davis: Every semester the Christian faculty would sponsor an ad in the student paper and identify themselves as believers. That was always a powerful time for our students. All of the sudden their relationship to their faculty members would take on a different light. They came to the understanding that academia was not just a place filled with teachers who didn't have a place for God in their life. It was a very positive thing for the students. The interesting thing is 60 or 70 professors would identify themselves as believers and many times our students had some of them for teachers, but they weren't overtly aware they were Christians. Overall, I saw a very great leverage in terms of its impact upon the students.
RI: In your opinion, how significant is the influence of a Christian professor?
Davis: I have heard that something like only two percent of professors in journalism schools are evangelical Christians. But the interesting thing is that two percent ratio is the same for incoming journalism students. When I heard that, I began to think that we have such unkind things to say about the press in America--we're so judgmental--but how appropriate it would be for us instead to infiltrate them with the gospel. And that's when I started thinking, "They're an unreached people group."
You don't have to go to Uzbekistan to find an unreached people group--a group that we can directly influence and which, in turn, has an awesome impact on the world. I think all of academia fits into that role. Whatever impact we can have there has a very disproportionate impact on the culture around us because it's where the next generation of leaders is being equipped.