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.
Most of us who teach and do research in the university do so in disciplines that are relatively sterile with respect to spiritual content. Only a very few of us teach in disciplines where spiritual issues arise frequently and naturally in the content of the subject as, for example, in philosophy or history. Likewise, only a few of us would be able to write and publish pieces that have any appreciable spiritual content. Not many of us have the opportunity to publish a work like Phillip Johnson’s Reason in the Balance (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995) in the course of our normal research inquiries. The words naturally and normal are significant here. In the normal course of our inquiries and in the natural pursuit of our teaching, we might not have opportunities to address spiritual concerns. But we need to be much more intentional in our teaching and research than we are. We need to seek appropriate venues in teaching and research for engaging in a Christian way in this regard. Several possibilities exist.
Often, with a bit of creativity, we can find an area within our discipline that is more amenable to spiritual issues than the area we usually target. The area of ethics immediately comes to mind although there are many other examples. Ethics just happens to be a current "hot button" in most academic disciplines these days. Many academic departments and, indeed, colleges are attempting to increase the coverage of ethics in individual courses and in programs. Many accrediting agencies are pushing for increased coverage of ethical issues in programs. Philosophy of science is another area where there is pressure to develop specialized course offerings. These trends offer many of us a unique opportunity to develop courses to meet the demands. As Christians, we are often uniquely qualified to develop and present such offerings to students. There doesn’t have to be a strong component of Christian content in such courses; remember, it only takes a slight opening for you to communicate to students where you stand with regard to matters of faith.
In the same way, there are opportunities to address spiritual issues in our research areas if we will just look with an open mind. Again, in the area of ethics, many journals in business, engineering, medicine, and law are open to articles that explore ethical considerations. Bill Jordan, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Louisiana Tech, made a decision to "tithe" his research in this context several years ago. He decided to target approximately 10 percent of his research effort to issues within the field of engineering ethics. As a result, he regularly publishes his findings in mainline engineering journals. What an effective approach. This is another of those double-duty ideas that allows us to accomplish several objectives at one time. Bill is simultaneously getting good publications in good journals in his field and using the ethical focus as a platform for a variety of ministry openings with students and associates as well. What about your discipline? Are there similar opportunities? Have you ever considered tithing your research?
Many of us work in disciplines or at least have interests in areas that qualify us to write for Christian media. For some, these opportunities will "count" from an academic perspective, e.g., articles in archaeology or history in a scholarly Christian journal; for others there may be no direct academic spin-off such as in the case of the book chapter on "Applying Biblical Principles in Operations Research and Information Systems" that I wrote for a Christian book. However, as I mentioned in the paragraph on "Issues Papers," I realized significant indirect benefits from this exercise. If you have an interest along these lines, I urge you to begin to develop it for publication in appropriate Christian media. This is important if we are to win the battle of ideas.
I hope that as you have read through this section on "Ministering Individually" you have been impressed with the many ministry options we have as individual Christian professors and staff in the secular university. I know many of you have discovered other effective ways of reaching out to students and colleagues and I hope that you will let me hear about them so that we might incorporate them in future versions. If you are not currently reaching out to those around you in the university, I would encourage you to begin now. Select one of the approaches outlined that seems to fit your temperament and circumstances and begin to implement it. If you have questions about a particular approach after reading the material here, contact our Christian Leadership Ministries headquarters in Dallas; they will be happy to respond to your questions. As you begin to reach out, ask God to honor your efforts and then step out in faith.
Remember, I also pointed out that there are a number of ministry activities that you should be addressing in your position as a Christian professor or staff member of a university or college. Perhaps we should briefly review the "required" things. Every Christian professor and staff member should have prepared his personal testimony; this includes having a written, polished version, as well as being prepared to orally share it in appropriate situations. Every Christian professor and researcher should have thought through his discipline from a Christian perspective and have developed a position paper or talk that details the salient points. Every Christian professor ought to find an effective way to communicate that he is a Christian to his students. Every Christian professor or staff member who teaches freshmen and/or sophomores should be helping them succeed academically through "How to Make Better Grades" or "Time Management" talks. We need to ensure that our office decorations are communicating an appropriate message. We should be reaching out to international students and professors in friendship. And we need to be more intentional in terms of seeing our teaching and research as potential means for communicating a Christian witness. Wow! That’s a lot of homework. Don’t wait until you’ve finished all the required stuff before striking out on the optional approaches -- if you do, you may never get to the really fun ministry opportunities.
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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