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 Christian professors and staff members in the university, we have many opportunities to minister in a significant way in the lives of students -- our own students in particular and other students as well. Unfortunately, not many of us are taking advantage of these opportunities. In my 25 years on the faculty at the University of Alabama, I knew of only a few professors and staff members who had any kind of Christian ministry on campus with students. And from the traveling I’ve done to many other campuses, I believe this true in general. When I think of the great opportunity we have as Christian faculty and staff to influence young lives for good and when I realize how little advantage we have taken of our opportunity, I am saddened. If you are already ministering to students in your university setting, that’s wonderful. Perhaps the material that follows will give you some new ideas. If you haven’t been ministering to students, perhaps you are at a point where you would like to begin to reach out. Let me share a number of possibilities with you. The different ways of ministering to students I will be describing vary dramatically in terms of the amount of time necessary, so be sure to count the cost carefully before proceeding with one of these suggestions.
Perhaps the most common way of ministering to students would be to lead a Bible study for some student group. The group might be some subset of your own students or it could consist of students other than your own. Of course, if you are a staff member, the students will most likely not be your own. Some professors have trouble with the idea of leading a Bible study involving their own students, but having done so for a number of years, I can assure you that with a modicum of care, it can be done without posing any conflict of interest at all. I’ll share one personal experience, and then we’ll come back to this point.
A number of years ago, I was asked by several law school students to lead a Bible study for them. They had met me either through my involvement with Campus Crusade for Christ or through my church. Frankly, I was flattered, first, because my reputation as a Christian had apparently spread beyond the business school and, second, because they were graduate students in a very demanding curriculum -- their commitment attracted me. So I readily consented. Every Thursday for a year, I would leave the business school at lunch, get in my car and drive across campus to the law school, to lead this Bible study. I don’t remember too much about the specifics of the study; I am still in touch with some of the men who were involved, and it apparently had an impact on them. What I do remember was what transpired as a result of my participation.
One day as I was walking out of the business school to my car, I had a thought. It was almost as if the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and said, "What’s the matter, Mellichamp? Aren’t there any graduate students in the business school who would like to be involved in a Bible study? Why are you going all the way across campus to minister to someone else’s students? That’s not really very efficient or practical." Well, this made a pretty profound impression on me, and I started praying about and planning a Bible study for MBA students beginning the following fall semester. In the first few weeks of the semester, I noticed that some of the students who had been involved in Campus Crusade for Christ as undergraduates the previous year were in my first semester MBA class. I asked them to stay after class one day and after the room had cleared, asked if any of them would be interested in a Bible study that I might lead. To my astonishment they said that several of them had already talked about having a study and would be overjoyed if I would lead it.
We started meeting one night a week in our home which was conveniently located less than a mile from campus. This occurred in the 1982-83 school year. I led the MBA Bible study for several years until I started teaching doctoral students almost exclusively. As I phased out of MBA teaching, Bob Brooks, a young finance professor took over, and the MBA study is still in existence today. At times, we had as many as 10 percent of the entire MBA class at Alabama involved in the study! Once, when we were considering principles of administration from the book of Nehemiah, some of the students shared in a case discussion in one of their classes, how some of the principles we had covered the night before in the Bible study applied to the case. What an impact that must have made on their classmates and the professor!
One of the possessions I have that I truly cherish is a cross-stitch rendering of one of my favorite expressions that Roby Gill’s wife, Karen (who was also a member of the study), made for me. The students had it framed, and they all signed the back and gave it to me for their graduation. David Owen wrote, "My life has truly been blessed by having met you. Hopefully I can pass this on to those I meet in the future. Thanks for everything." Today, he is in business and remains a close personal friend. Patte Trimm wrote, "It takes someone very special to take the time to care. Thanks." I guess it’s pretty easy to see why I was involved in this way. I had the opportunity to lead some of these students to faith in Christ privately, others were encouraged in their faith and began to think for perhaps the first time about being a Christian in the business world. Of course, I had to be careful not to let their role in the Bible study affect my evaluation of their classroom performance. In fact, if anything, I was a bit harder on them because as Christians, I expected more out of them. And I suspect they knew this. I had no problems with familiarity, which I think might be a concern of some professors. The men and women always were very respectful and careful about how they addressed me.
Sometime earlier in my career than the MBA study, my wife and I started a Bible study for international students. Peggy was teaching English as a Second Language to internationals and their wives through one of the local churches and so she had plenty of contacts with internationals and, of course, I had numerous contacts through the business school. At any rate, we invited a bunch of them to come to our home one night a week for a survey of the Bible that I would lead to give them a first-hand idea of what many Americans believe. This study lasted for several years, and we had a grand time. For many of these students it was the only opportunity they had to go into an American home. For others, it was their first exposure to Christianity. I recall one student telling me that his professor at home had severely warned him before coming to the States, "There are two things you don’t discuss with Americans: politics and religion." There’s no telling how many international students come here with that same admonition and, thus, fail to ever gain any exposure to the religious side of American life.
I don’t recall specifically any of these students coming to faith in Christ, but I am confident that they moved to the right significantly on the spiritual receptivity continuum. I do know that after perhaps 20 years, several of them still write Christmas letters every year, sometimes in very broken English, to our "Dear Dr. Mellichamp and Peggy." One year while the International Student Bible study was going on, we decided to invite all of them with their spouses and children for Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, none of them had ever had an American Thanksgiving dinner before. Peggy got some big aluminum foil pans from the store and cooked turkey and dressing, green beans, rice and gravy, sweet potato soufflé, and pumpkin pie -- the whole works for about 30 of them. We had a great time. I gave a little explanation of why we celebrate Thanksgiving, we thanked the Lord for the feast, and then we plowed into all of that food. They talked about the meal for months and were disappointed when we couldn’t do it again the following year because of family travel commitments.
I’m sure it was during this time when we had so many international students in and out of our home that our son and daughter began to get interested in internationals as well. They would have both been in junior high school about this time. Both have since done short-term missionary projects -- Jonathan on the Amazon River in Brazil and Jennifer in Japan; Jonathan was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ’s JESUS film project team traveling internationally for several years. We have all been hooked on international travel since those early days of my career and I’m convinced that the International Student Bible Study played an important part in shaping our thinking along these lines.
You can probably tell I am big on student Bible studies. This is a fairly time-intensive activity, though, requiring about 1 1/2 to 2 hours per week for the actual meeting and perhaps another hour of preparation. It’s probably best to meet in a home if possible, thus, it would be helpful to live close to campus. All students -- undergraduates, graduates and especially internationals -- like to occasionally get away from campus and into a "real home." If a home study is not possible because of distance, try to meet on campus, perhaps in the student center or a conference room. I have had small Bible studies from time to time in my office, and that works well. It’s just an added plus to have the meeting in your home.
If you decide to give this a go, a couple of suggestions are in order. First of all, start praying about it and ask the Lord to lead you to students who would be receptive to the idea. Then, begin to think about a particular target group. Perhaps you have a number of graduate students who work in your lab; maybe there are several international students in your college; perhaps you have a number of seniors in your program area. You might approach one or two of the key students and let them do your recruiting for you. Finally, you need to pick a topic that will have some relevance for them. This shouldn’t be too difficult, but might require a bit of digging on your part to put together an interesting study -- a task that will be beneficial for you. This could be the beginnings of a position paper in your discipline.
Walter and Ann Bradley, who have ministered together effectively as a faculty couple for more than 30 years and have pioneered many ministry strategies, deserve grateful credit for thinking of and implementing the Video Discussion Series, or as they call it -- "Friday Night at the Movies." Americans like to watch movies. So do internationals. Ditto for college students. Students also like to eat. Several years ago, Walter had the idea of linking these two peculiar habits of students in a discussion-series format. He and Ann began inviting students to their home for a pizza dinner followed by a video movie. After watching the video, Walter would lead an informal discussion of issues raised by the video. Over time, they worked out the format of Friday Night at the Movies. Now, every semester, they invite his students to three to five Friday-night sessions featuring such movies as: Chariots of Fire, Citizen Kane, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Out of Africa. The discussions following the movies have been natural and engaging; students have felt free to voice their personal beliefs and to consider Christian positions put forth by Walter and Ann.
If this seems like a huge undertaking to you, try it once for one Friday night. I think you will be hooked and will want to continue at some level for a long time to come. My last year at the University of Alabama, Peggy and I decided to try this with some international students with whom we were cultivating relationships. We had five graduate students from the People’s Republic of China to dinner, after which we watched Fiddler on the Roof. At the conclusion of the movie, the students bombarded us with questions about the film. We talked for almost an hour about the Jewish culture, traditions, the differences between Judaism and Christianity. And the discussion could have gone on much longer, but by then, it was quite late, and we decided to cut things off. Several weeks later, one of these students called Peggy to ask if she could discuss a personal problem with her. The problem was, of course, a symptom of spiritual need; Peggy was able to share the Gospel with her, and she trusted Christ. I don’t think this would have happened apart from our discussion after the movie.
David Veerman has written a book, Video Movies Worth Watching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), that is useful for selecting good videos for this ministry approach. The book reviews 83 different movies, giving the following information for each movie: rating, length, date of release, synopsis and review, suggestions for viewing, important scenes and/or quotes, discussion questions, outline of talk or wrap-up, and related Bible references. With a copy of Veerman’s book, some students, a few pizzas, and a Friday night, you’ll be in for a fun and significant evening.
Several years ago at our National Faculty Leadership Conference in Colorado, a marketing professor shared an interesting idea for getting to know students better and for letting them know you are a Christian. He decided to see whether any of his students would be interested in having a one time, Dutch-treat lunch with him for the purpose of chatting informally. The ground rules were that you couldn’t talk about the grade you made on the last exam or what would be on the next exam -- anything that would take advantage of the situation was ruled out. But anything else was OK. How the football team was doing, the Super Bowl, the stock market, anything. So he made the proposal to the class and passed around a sign-up sheet for anyone who was interested, thinking he might have a few takers and that he could devote one lunch a week for the remainder of the term to a student or two. Major tactical mistake! He was totally unprepared for the response. It was a large class with nearly 100 students, and every single student in the class signed up for lunch! He ended up meeting a couple of days each week for the rest of the term with three to four students.
This is a great illustration of how interested students are in their professors and how much they look up to and respect them. How would you ever use such a situation to communicate your faith in Christ? Simple. When you sit down to eat, say something like, "Men and/or women, as a Christian, I always like to thank the Lord for my food and ask Him to bless my meals, so if you’ll bow with me, I’ll do that now." After you have returned thanks, you can turn to the students and thank them for coming. Then ask them what they would like to talk about. If the conversation returns to spiritual issues, wonderful; if it doesn’t, that’s wonderful too. You have already sent a clear message of where you stand. Although I’ve never tried this approach, it seems like it would be a great way to get to know students a little better than you could just through classroom interaction. I think it would open up some additional ministry opportunities with some of the students.
My wife and I were married after my senior year in college and after her freshman year. She followed me around during the early stages of my career trying to finish up her education and after 10 years, two children, and six universities, she managed to get her degree. You could certainly say she was well-traveled. One of the highlights of her college experience occurred in her second senior year (she had to change majors a couple of times as she moved from school to school) at Clemson University. At the end of the spring semester, one of her English professors had his entire class and their spouses over to his home for a late afternoon reception. Apparently, he did this every semester for all his classes. That event took place more than 30 years ago, yet it is still a vivid memory for Peggy and me. It was the only time in Peggy’s undergraduate days when a professor opened his home to his students. I never had a professor in my undergraduate career do this, and it happened only three times in my graduate career. We don’t know whether he had the reception to reach out as a Christian to his students; it’s possible, though there was no indication. Apparently, he did this because he cared for his students, and he wanted to do something special for them. Wow, did it ever have an impact!
Want to do something special for your students that will communicate to them you are interested and care for them? Try having them over to your home for some occasion. Many of us are afraid of doing something like this because we want everything to be perfect. It’s never going to happen. I remember our first experience in this regard. It was the first graduate class I taught at the University of Alabama. We were living in a large rental house with mostly "early attic" furniture. At that time, the university had a large population of military officers in its graduate programs. I had a full colonel and a slew of lieutenant colonels, majors and captains in my class -- people who probably lived in much nicer quarters than ours. It was cold -- February. Thirty minutes before the students and their wives (I didn’t have female students in those days) were to arrive, the main water pipe into the house burst. We did the whole evening sans water. You know what? No one cared. They were so delighted to be able to spend some informal time with me and to meet Peggy, that they couldn’t have cared less. I’m still in touch with some of those first students and that evening was memorable for them. Unfortunately, at the time, Peggy and I were just beginning to grow as Christians, and I had never even thought of having a Christian influence with my students. Interestingly, God has given me a second opportunity with some of those same students! I started doing consulting work for one of them, Larry Fillmer, several years later. As we worked together, Larry shared with me that he had trusted Christ shortly after his stay at Alabama during a family crisis. He and I have remained in close contact over the years and he is an enthusiastic supporter of our ministry.
During the course of my career at the university, we have used our home extensively in ministering to students. We have had my classes over for dinner. I have held class there. I have had Bible studies there. We have had hundreds of international students and their families -- moms, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins -- there for dinner, for tea, for coffee, for dessert, as house guests at graduation. We’ve had students spend a night or two as a getaway to study for exams. We’ve had leadership receptions for Christian student groups there. You name it, and we have probably done it if it concerns opening up one’s home to students. On many of these occasions, we have intentionally tried to share something about our relationship with Christ with the students; perhaps something as simple as saying, "We are delighted to have you in our home. As Christians, we are thankful to the Lord for the many ways He blesses us. Let’s pause now before eating and thank Him for the food and for the fellowship we will have together." Often, we were just being hospitable. I don’t ever want to hear of an international visitor coming to this country and not being invited inside an American home; sometimes, that has been our only motivation.
I suppose if I have one regret in this respect, it would be that we did not start early on having every one of my classes over to the house at least once for the purpose of showing that we cared for them and to identify ourselves as Christians. And I have only myself to blame for this because Peggy certainly encouraged me to do this. It’s too late for me. What about you? This is such a simple thing to do. It takes perhaps two hours for the event and a couple of hours to prepare. Having experienced being "at home with the professor" from both sides, I can guarantee you some memorable experiences.
During my first semester at Alabama, we were encouraged by my brother-in-law, Barry Huckaby, to get in touch with the Campus Crusade for Christ staff on campus. Peggy did some calling around, and we finally located Rick and Laurel Langston, the campus directors of the student ministry. In January 1970, we met them for coffee. They told us later they had been praying for professors to be involved in the ministry. At the time, on the spiritual receptivity continuum, Peggy and I both were glued to the base of the cross. Were we ever BABY Christians! Neither of us had grown at all beyond simple commitment of our lives to Christ years earlier. Rick must have recognized this because he challenged us to go through the standard training courses that all the Campus Crusade for Christ students undertake. Then, it was called Leadership Training Course (LTC) -- Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. Well, I imagined myself as a leader, so we consented to do the training and it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made next to trusting Christ.
We attended one night a week for a year and a half with all the Campus Crusade for Christ students -- freshmen, sophomores -- all of them. Jonathan and Jennifer were in grammar school then, and they went with us. They would sit in the back of the class and do their homework and then read comic books, color, or whatever. And they loved it. The college students made a big deal over them and, of course, the children thought the college students hung the moon. All the while, Mom and Dad were learning about assurance of salvation, the Spirit-filled life, how to share the Four Spiritual Laws, how to have a quiet time, how to write our personal testimony -- all of the Campus Crusade for Christ basics. By the end of that year and a half, we were pretty well along on the path to spiritual maturity. If you have never been really grounded in the basics of the Christian faith, I would heartily recommend that you waste no time in getting the job done. You don’t have to sit with freshmen to do so, Christian Leadership Ministries has training packages for faculty and staff to enable you to mature in your faith, and your church probably also has excellent programs as well.
What does all this have to do with "Ministering to Students?" Just this. I don’t know of a Christian student ministry that wouldn’t be overjoyed to have mature Christian professors and staff participating with them on the campus. How? Well, as soon as we began to finish some of the training programs, Rick and Laurel started giving us responsibilities in the ministry. The first thing we did was to share our testimony in the big weekly meeting called "College Life," which was usually held in a fraternity or sorority house with perhaps 200 college students in attendance. The first time I did this, I was, to quote Walter Bradley, "scared stiff." But since then, we have shared our testimonies many times on many college campuses. Next, Rick had me teach LTC sessions. We spoke at retreats. I was the main speaker at "College Life." I served for 25 years as faculty advisor to the Campus Crusade for Christ ministry at Alabama. And the list goes on. In fact, when Christian Leadership Ministries first started, one of the Christian Leadership Ministries staff asked Peggy and me to make a list of everything we had done in our involvement with the student ministry to encourage other faculty and staff to get involved. In about 10 minutes of brainstorming, we came up with more than 100 different ways we had been involved. Everything from getting an overhead projector for a meeting to helping Campus Crusade for Christ staff get parking decals to teaching LTC.
Early on, I taught a session of LTC using the book of Nehemiah to highlight "Principles of Leadership." One young man in the class has told me of the impact the course had on his life. He was a young Christian when he took this course about some guy named Nehemiah taught by some guy named Mellichamp. God got Dwayne Craig’s attention in a big way. He used the course to give him a clearer sense of purpose and direction. Upon graduation from Alabama, Dwayne joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ and ministered on college campuses for several years. He is now a consultant in a large restaurant chain with headquarters here in Atlanta. Every time I see him, he thanks me for the way the Lord used me in his life.
In the Army, they say never volunteer for anything. That’s the U.S. Army. In the Lord’s army, things are different. If you are looking for a way to reach out to students on your campus and haven’t hit on anything yet, go to the director of one of the Christian student ministry groups and volunteer. They might have to check you out a bit at first, but I suspect they will put you to work and provide you with some terrific ministry opportunities.
One of the most rewarding ways of ministering to students is to be a host to international students. Many universities and colleges have "Host Family" or "International Friends" programs in which local families and singles serve as hosts to international students. Not in the sense of boarding them in your home as an exchange-type program, but more in terms of being a friend -- someone who cares and who knows how to help as the student (and his or her family) ease into the culture. Have them in your home for an occasional meal and possibly for holidays. We have served for many years as a host family, and Peggy was involved for years as a leader of the host family program at Alabama. Our motivation in this involvement was always to reach out as Christians -- to help internationals understand Christianity and to influence those who were open to Christ. And we have had some rich, rich experiences because of our involvement.
Back in the late 1970s when scholars were just beginning to come to the U.S. from the People’s Republic of China, we were the host family to three Chinese scientists -- all a bit older than the usual graduate student. We had them in our home for several meals, and on one occasion, I attempted to engage them in a discussion of spiritual issues. I recall being quite taken aback at their lack of spiritual perception. They confessed that having spent all their lives in an atheistic regime, they had never thought much about spiritual things. As they were preparing to return to China at the end of the year, we had them over for a farewell dinner, and we presented each with a copy of Evidence That Demands a Verdict inscribed with my name and academic title, which I reasoned would help them get the books back into their country. I challenged them to read and consider the book. At the end of the evening, as I was driving them back to their apartments, one of them remarked, "I really like Americans, but I like Christians the best." I thought how wonderful that as Christ’s ambassadors, we really do stand out in the crowd.
Several years later, the university began an exchange program with several universities in Belgium, and we began to have an influx of Belgian students. Our host family program is probably like most such ventures -- always many more students than hosts. So Peggy and I decided that we would be host family for all the Belgian students. Mind you, we didn’t analyze the need and then volunteer to solve the problem -- we just muddled into it. We started with one delightful couple and found out that none of their friends had a host family, so we jumped in to fill what seemed to us to be an unpardonable void. Well, we ended up with six or seven Belgian students, in addition to a few other students from miscellaneous other countries. When we would all get together, the logistics were sometimes pretty awesome. Once we decided to invite all of them to an Easter pageant at one of the local churches and then back to our place for light refreshments. I got to go pick up the Belgian students in my Honda Accord while Peggy went for the others in her Honda Accord. I still laugh thinking of it today. I had one student in the passenger seat in front, one sitting on the gear console with his head sticking through the sun roof, three or four in the back seat, and two in the trunk with the trunk lid open. It was pretty cold in the early spring night air. It’s a good thing we didn’t have too far to drive or we all might have frozen. Now, you need to get the picture; by then I was a full professor, well-known at the university. And I drove up to the church with nine of us jammed into a five passenger car. Do you think it mattered to them? Not at all. We had a great time together. I expect to this very day they think all Americans are a bit nutty like Dr. Mellichamp.
As I stated earlier, our charge is to help move people to the right in a spiritual sense. Some of our international students have been open to the Gospel and we have seen some of them make decisions for Christ. We have thoroughly enjoyed all of them. And we love them all! We are still in touch with many of them, some in this country and some in their home countries. Many of them are so proud when we visit them to be able to introduce us to their families and friends and associates as their American friends. And how respectful they are of our commitment to Christ. Our Egyptian friends made certain that they took us to see the Coptic museums and historic places, as well as the other Egyptian antiquities when we were in Egypt as their guests. Our Korean friends made sure we had a blessing every time we ate, even in elegant Korean restaurants, and made sure that we saw the Protestant mission churches in Seoul when they hosted our trip there.
Of all the ministry opportunities going, I think the rewards of hosting international students are greatest. My family and I have benefited far more from our relationships with internationals than we have ever given. Yet sadly, many Americans, especially Christians, ignore internationals. Some are even rude or worse to them. Sure, it takes some practice to interact with them. You have to talk a bit slower and you can’t use idioms or slang expressions. You have to be patient. We still laugh about the Oriental woman who upon opening a can of Crisco (shortening) was disappointed not to find fried chicken as the picture on the cover plainly showed. But it’s all worth it. These people are the influential people in their home countries, the future leaders. What an opportunity for us to have the world in our own back yard. We need to capitalize on the opportunities we have. If you aren’t currently reaching out in some ways to internationals, consider doing so.
As I told you, there are many opportunities for us as Christian professors and staff to minister to students -- our own, as well as others. Most of these opportunities are not terribly time intensive. With just a small commitment of time and energy on your part, you can have a significant impact in the lives of students. Remember, all the time I was ministering in the ways I have shared with you, I was heavily involved at the university in research -- publishing, pursuing funding for projects, supervising projects, chairing dissertations -- and had a six-hour teaching load. Part of this time, I was chairman of my department, and part of the time, I was director of the Graduate School of Business. I had family responsibilities as well -- we just involved the family in much of the ministry activity. And I was involved in my church as a college Sunday school teacher for the entire time, as a deacon, and on many committees, too. We somehow manage to find time to do the things that are important to us. Ministering to students is important. We discovered that faithfulness in this sphere of influence can be deeply rewarding
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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