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.
If you are like most Christian faculty, you have felt a burden for your colleagues and have wanted to reach out to them and minister to them - especially those closest to you. Perhaps you just haven't done so because you haven't been able to think of an appropriate method.
One approach I've tried recently met with a great deal of success in ministering to both my colleagues and myself. I believe it is a strategy that could work in any department at any level.
One of the real keys of ministry is to address felt needs. Perhaps the universally perceived need of professors in academia is time management - effectiveness. What better way to minister to busy colleagues who are all under pressure to produce than to help them become more effective.
My approach entailed leading a weekly discussion of the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, 1989) by Stephen R. Covey. This thoughtful book presents seven principles of effectiveness, any one of which if followed consistently would enhance effectiveness. The set of seven principles is especially suitable for individuals working in academia; the concepts integrate well into the academic setting.
The book can be covered in nine or ten weekly sessions of forty-five minutes to an hour each. A packet of discussion notes is available from Christian Leadership Ministries, thus one could lead a discussion group with no additional preparation other than reading the book.
The following steps are suggested for setting up a discussion group:
1. Compose a list of colleagues you wish to include in the group. Six to eight people is the most effective group size. Due to time conflicts you need a minimum of six to ensure that on off-days you have enough people to hold a discussion. With more than eight, individuals may feel inhibited and reluctant to participate. If you are in a large department, you might like to target a certain group of people: assistant professors or full professors, for instance.
2. Begin praying regularly for each person on your list; ask God to impress upon each one the importance of personal effectiveness, and that he or she would respond positively to an invitation to participate in such a group.
3. Make sure that sufficient copies of the book are available from a local bookstore. You may want to consider purchasing copies of the book and giving a gift copy to each person on your list.
4. Challenge each person individually to participate in the study. Obviously it will be helpful if you have already read the book and started to apply the principles in your life so you can use personal illustrations in the study. If there are other Christians on your list, you might approach them first and have them pray as you challenge others.
5. Once you have challenged each person on your list, obtain a schedule of available times, either from the individuals or from the department, and pick a convenient time for everyone.
Several suggestions will be useful as the group begins to meet:
1. Use E-Mail or departmental mail to remind each person of upcoming meetings. It takes about five minutes to send an E-Mail message to several people and it will certainly increase attendance.
2. Expect people to miss meetings from time to time. It may be possible to juggle the schedule from week to week to maximize attendance, but it is best to meet each week even if a person or two can't make it.
3. Start each session on time and end on time. You could hardly be characterized as effective if you did otherwise and people are more likely to come if they know what to expect time requirements.
4. Explain up-front that the format is discussion and everyone is expected to have read the assigned chapter(s) and needs to participate in discussion. Be prepared as the leader to ensure everyone participates; you may have to draw some people into the discussion and you may have to be careful some don't monopolize. Be sure you don't turn sessions into lecture series.
5. Be prepared for exciting results: some will see dramatic changes in their marriages and families; some will see applications in their instructional duties, and some in their research activities.
As you conclude the study, several suggestions may be helpful.
1. Think of ways of continuing the sessions with a similar focus. A study of The Man in the Mirror by Patrick M. Morley (Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc, 1989) is an excellent follow-up to the Seven Habits study. You need to be up-front in communicating that the Seven Habits is a secular book and The Man in the Mirror is a Christian approach.
2. You may wish to offer the Seven Habits study to another group: other colleagues, a couple's group, or a group in your church.
Personally, this study has revolutionized my relationships with departmental colleagues at the University of Alabama.
When I returned to the university from summer break in the Fall of 1993, I felt I needed to reach out more to colleagues in the department - to minister, serve, and give leadership.
I decided to challenge eight assistant and associate professors in the department to participate in the Seven Habits study. I bit the bullet and purchased eight books and began praying for these men.
All were excited about the study and agreed to participate. We met on Friday afternoons from 2:00 to 2:45 for about ten days.
It was an exhilarating experience. We would talk about applying the principles in the halls and over coffee in the coffee room. Several of us worked to put Covey's scheduling system on our PCs, and four or five of us are faithfully using the system to organize our activities.
Practically every week, someone in the group would volunteer an application of the material to work or family situations. Toward the end of our sessions, I suggested we continue the following semester with The Man in the Mirror - six of the eight decided to continue.
When word got around the department that I was conducting the study, two of the full professors came to me and complained, good naturedly, that I had excluded them. So I will be doing it again with four of the five full professors.
The department head, who will be joining the study, has commended me for exercising this leadership role in the department.
I was so enthusiastic about the study that my church asked me to lead it for adult couples. Some of the people involved in that study have commented on how it has significantly influenced their lives.
Already I have had several requests for the discussion notes from participants who want to begin other groups; one such request came from a professor from another university who was visiting the department one Friday afternoon and was invited to the meeting by one of our members.
This experience has opened the entire faculty up to discussions on effectiveness, cooperation, support, and other topics which foster a collegial atmosphere. One colleague and I have had frequent and ongoing discussions on how to apply the various principles; the study would have been worthwhile just for the way it has helped the two of us.
I would encourage you to initiate this activity on your campus. It is a win/win ministry option; I can't imagine any down-side risks, and the potential benefits are significant.