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.
One of the two major purposes of the Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship as stated earlier is to minister to the faculty and staff who constitute its membership by promoting relationships between and among them. And one of the best ways of fostering relationships between and among members is to periodically plan social gatherings for them. Probably the most appropriate type of social activity is one that is familiar to most professors and staff: the potluck dinner. At the University of Alabama, we tried to have an annual gathering, either around Christmas or at the end of the academic year at the home of one of the members. Speaking from experience, it is usually much better to let the women members of the fellowship and the wives of male members plan and deliver on this option. I think once or twice, some of the men in our group tried to pull this off with near disastrous results. On one particular occasion, my wife, Peggy, Bob Brooks, and I were the only guests to show up, and I’m not really sure that our hostess learned of the event too much in advance of our arrival at the door. After that, we let the real pros take over and had some really great times together.
The usual way of coordinating these events is to let the hostess provide the meat dish (which may be purchased by the fellowship) and perhaps the drinks and let the others bring dishes after consultation with the hostess as to what dishes will work together. I’m sure that it is not quite as easy as this, but this is my simplistic understanding of how it all comes together.
In addition to the meal, it is appropriate to have a speaker, if one is available. Peggy and I have spoken on the topic "Ministering Together as a Couple" at potluck dinners for fellowships. Some light entertainment is also in order followed by a time for conversational prayer directed to campus concerns. One thing we did at several potlucks that was fun and helped us get to know one another was to have each couple share how they met and give a brief history of their life together. Phil Bishop always had some outlandish story about how he met Brenda that thoroughly embarrassed Brenda who is a real sweetheart and had the rest of us rolling on the floor. Of course, none of his stories contained even a grain of truth; he made them up simply for the shock effect and to break the ice, and did they ever do that. Another thing you might do is have each person share just a bit of his personal testimony; this should be done advisedly as there might be non-Christian guests or some of the regulars might not feel comfortable with this type of sharing. Just exercise some sensitivity if you do this; it can be very encouraging to see how uniquely God has worked in the lives of your associates.
Joe and Jane Mulvihill, our Christian Leadership Ministries colleagues at the University of Minnesota, have done a wonderful job of using the potluck to foster relationships in their fellowship. They have a potluck every quarter during the school year. They usually have some fun entertainment -- the time we were there, they had one of the faculty wives who does a clown act perform, and she was quite good. They usually have a speaker. On at least two different occasions, they have had the event at the home of the university president (two different individuals) and have had the president address the group on a topic pertaining to the role of Christians in the university. The potlucks at Minnesota are well-attended because the members are forming close bonds within the group, and they enjoy one another’s company; the two dinners at the president’s home were booked. This hasn’t happened by accident. It happened because Joe and Jane made it a priority and built this event into the fellowship’s quarterly schedule.
The fellowship potluck is a great way to build relationships in your group. It is also a good way to introduce potential members to the group in a non-threatening, fun way. If your group is not currently functioning in this way or if you are not doing it in a consistent way, I would encourage you to find someone in the group who enjoys this type of activity and make him or her the Czar or Czarina of potlucks. Just be sure to send all invitations to the home address rather than the office. If you break this simple rule, you may be in for a rude awakening!
There are many different ways of ministering together with Christian faculty and staff colleagues on the university campus. Of course, the first step in this type of ministry is to organize a Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship. True, you can do some of the ministry activities we have covered in this section without having a weekly fellowship. I know of several campuses that do newspaper ads and bring in outside speakers and even Veritas Forums without a weekly fellowship. But, let’s face it, the folks involved at this level are basically carrying out events that someone else is proposing to them. There is no real movement in the sense of individuals who have a commitment to seeing the institution changed and to seeing colleagues and students come to Christ. There is no opportunity to address campus concerns as they arise and to formulate and implement strategies to address some of the issues. I think of our group at the University of Alabama, and we truly functioned in the think tank mode. The fellowship concept and form was hammered out by our group. The idea of the tenure workshop came from our group. So did the idea for the speakers bureau, the freshmen orientation, and the Op-Ed newspaper strategy. We stumbled a bit; we fell flat on our face at times. But we had a movement of folks who wanted to have an impact for the Savior.
Possibly the best illustration I know of this occurred a year ago, well after we had left Tuscaloosa and moved to Atlanta. In January 1996, officials at the University of Alabama announced that the National Gay and Lesbian Association was holding its annual conference at the university -- in violation of state laws. The state of Alabama has laws that prohibit organizations that advocate breaking state laws from using state facilities. Alabama has laws against sodomy. But the contracts were signed, and the rooms reserved; when the announcement was made, the arrangements were a done deal. When the Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship heard the news, they started discussing what might be an appropriate response from the group. And here is what they decided.
The Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship set up a hospitality suite for conference delegates at which they served soft drinks and cookies. They also had a prayer room during the sessions so that Christians from the community could come and pray for the delegates. Imagine having the following announcement in each of the conference sessions: "There is a hospitality suite in Room 201 sponsored by the University of Alabama Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship." Members of the Tuscaloosa community found out what the fellowship was planning and offered to be involved in the prayer effort and to help with the expenses of providing refreshments. At the conclusion of the conference, the conference chairwoman told Phil Bishop, who is the leader of the fellowship at Bama, "I’m going to have to rethink my position on Christians, because this just doesn’t fit the mold!" What an attractive way to contend for the faith on the university campus! This is what can happen when there is a mobilized group of Christian faculty and staff seeking to have an impact for Christ in the institution.
So your first priority is the weekly fellowship. Once you get that going smoothly, you can begin to reach out in some of the ways outlined in this section. And when you really start functioning in the think tank, research and development mode you can begin to develop strategies specifically for your unique campus situation. Then you will begin to impact the institution for Christ; you will start to see colleagues and students influenced for the Savior. We will have to publish a second edition of this manual including the ideas you and your associates have implemented.
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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