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.
An excellent way of communicating the Gospel to colleagues in the university is the "Favorite Faculty Banquet." In this strategy, students from the various Christian student groups on campus -- Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators, Inter-Varsity, Baptist Student Union, etc. -- are challenged to invite their favorite professors or staff member to a banquet in their honor. The meal may be a breakfast, luncheon, or dinner; all work equally well. The program at the meal includes a time for recognizing and honoring the favorite professors and staff, possibly some light Christian entertainment, and a well-credentialed academic speaker who shares his personal testimony. We have been doing Favorite Faculty banquets in Christian Leadership Ministries circles for at least 15 years with uniformly positive results. I have done a half dozen to a dozen banquets and the comments for all of the affairs I have done have been very positive.
The critical element in doing this type of outreach is the participation of Christian students. If the students get excited about the opportunity and really buy into it, you will have a good turnout; if they don’t, you won’t. I haven’t kept records for the events I have done, but I would venture to guess that the smallest crowd I’ve seen would be about 50 (20 or so favorite guests and 30 plus students and others involved in hosting the event) and the largest crowd would be well over 100 (with perhaps 50 favorite guests). Even at the low end, I think you would have to agree that this format is an effective way of reaching out to colleagues. As I said, the key is getting students involved. It can be a pretty intimidating thing for a student to (1) invite a professor or staff member to a meal, (2) sit with the guest through a meal and carry on an engaging conversation, and (3) introduce the guest and possibly share why he or she is special. From the professor or staff member’s point of view, it is so unusual that a student would show this kind of appreciation, it would be difficult to turn down such an invitation.
If your Faculty/Staff Fellowship decides to do a Favorite Faculty Banquet, the following steps should be addressed when arranging for the event, conducting the event, and doing follow-up after the event.
Well in advance -- possibly several months -- of the anticipated date:
Some compromise might be necessary to line up the speaker, the meeting room, and the students on the desired date. Once you have completed these steps, you’re in business.
A month or so in advance of the event:
Some pointers for conducting the event are in order.
Follow-up is very important but often neglected. The goal here should be to contact every guest as appropriate to the level of interest indicated on the comment cards. The following steps are recommended:
Already Christian. Personally challenge them to become involved with the Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship.
Interested. Personally meet with each individual for an evangelistic appointment. Delivering written materials mentioned by the MC or the speaker is a good opener. Be sensitive to questions that might have been raised by the speaker.
Other. Send each individual a follow-up letter thanking him for attending and for his support of students. Emphasize the importance of the university as a forum for the exchange of ideas.
A number of years ago, we had Walter and Ann Bradley visit us in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for a weekend that included a Bama-Texas A&M football game. Our Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship decided to do a Favorite Faculty Breakfast in conjunction with their visit. We made all the arrangements, reserving a room in the student center for a Saturday breakfast; had invitations and comment cards printed; the whole bit. Then I went and challenged the students, who really got into the spirit of things. I remember imagining how the whole thing would work because it was my first experience with this format. As I speculated about the meeting, I thought about who on campus I would really not want to be invited. Who could be so antagonistic that he might stand up right in the middle of Walter’s presentation and create a scene? And I immediately thought of a professor in liberal arts who I thought could present problems, but I thought that the chances of him being invited were so remote that I immediately dismissed the notion. The next day as I was walking into my office, a young woman in my college Sunday School class at church came running up to me shouting, "Dr. Mellichamp, you’ll never guess who I invited to the Favorite Faculty Breakfast and who’s coming!" In the split second I had to reply, I thought Prof. So-and-So. Then I thought, no way. But, you guessed it. She had invited him, and he was coming.
Well, I spent some anxious moments thinking about all sorts of possibilities, mostly bad. Finally the day arrived. We had a good crowd of about 25 faculty and staff guests and 25 students and four or five representatives from the fellowship. My student was one of the first to arrive with her guest firmly in tow. To my amazement, everything went perfectly. The food was good. The sound system worked. The arrangements were perfect. And Walter did an outstanding job of sharing his testimony with just the right touch of humor in just the right places. The comment cards were completed and collected, and before I knew it, the banquet was over. But not quite. After I declared it officially over, people stayed around and talked and several came up to the front to speak to Walter, including my "friend." He hung around until everyone else had gone and he had a chance at Walter by himself. I eavesdropped to hear what he had to say. I’ll never forget it. He said, "You know, Dr. Bradley, you and I have both struggled with some of the same questions. I’ve come up with a completely different set of answers than you, but I really appreciate you’re coming here today and sharing honestly with us. Thanks." So much for my imagined scenario. In fact, the comment cards were all in that same positive light. The students wanted us to do the banquet on an annual basis. The guests were all very favorable in their reactions.
This is such an attractive way of reaching out to colleagues. Every one wins. The students win by doing something special for a professor or staff member who has been special to them. The guests win by being recognized. And the Christian faculty and staff win by having their faith stretched. And the Gospel is shared clearly and attractively. The Favorite Faculty Banquet is easily one of the most effective ways we have of reaching out in the university.
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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