Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Seminary -- Teaching Fellow 8

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48. When I felt a call to ministry in college, I fully anticipated I would pastor. When I graduated from Central, I did not feel mature enough yet to fly solo, so I went to Asbury. As I was at Asbury, I was increasingly drawn to biblical studies and teaching.

It's a pattern I've seen in students often. A certain personality is drawn to the life of the mind. I have mixed feelings about it. For one, there is hardly any space for professors of biblical studies these days. In the seventies, sometimes they would pay for your schooling. When I came on the market in 1996 there was almost nothing. It seems much, much worse today.

I thanked the Lord often at Indiana Wesleyan that I had a teaching job. I remember an older student who asked me about doctoral work in an area of ministry. He was clearly annoyed that I discouraged him. But today he sits with a doctorate and no permanent teaching job. When I saw Dr. Muholland in 1996, he annoyingly remarked somewhat glibly that it was a buyer's market for professors.

By the way, I did have Muholland for a J-term in a course on Greco-Roman Literature. I focused on the Stoics. I wasn't able to have him for his forte--Revelation. He had the novel hypothesis of reading Revelation as if it reflected an actual ecstatic experience of someone. :-)

So many students think they want to teach. Most do not realize who they are up against. There are some incredibly bright people out there. I cringe a little to see that I did the same. But some are actually destined for this life. There are still a handful who should go into the academy.

District ministerial boards were not always understanding. "Weren't you called to ministry? Why are you diverting from ministry to teaching?" Of course the church has a long tradition of ministerial teachers. There is a clear category in the Discipline for it. But, again, I feel this charge.

I have preached extensively in my life. I have visited the sick and counseled the distressed. I have led worship. I have engaged in evangelism and taught small groups. I have been on church boards and led in several contexts. I have youth pastored and supply pastored. It is not as full of ministerial experience as I prefer when hiring a ministerial professor, but it is experience. I hope it might be said of me on the positive side, "Some people have twenty years of experience. Some people have experienced the same year twenty times."

49. As my time as an Asbury student began to draw to a close, I came to a fork in the road. A kind of fleece came into play. Every year, Asbury hired a graduate to teach Greek and Hebrew for two years as a Teaching Fellow. I applied.

The fleece was this. If I was given the opportunity to be a Teaching Fellow, I would go on to do doctoral work in New Testament and follow the path toward becoming a professor. If I did not get the position, I would take a church in Florida and proceed into pastoral ministry. Perhaps the door would open at some later time to go on for further study.

I was chosen as Teaching Fellow, and the rest is history. I think I was chosen not only because I had done good work in biblical studies but because they thought I might be a good teacher. I think they thought I might relate well to students.

This has been a key to me in hiring. The academy sometimes can focus on a certain kind of intellectual who is destined to publish a lot and be a name. But can they teach? Can they relate to students? Will they enrich the relational dynamics of the team? Would you all like to go out to lunch with them or will everyone steer clear of them?

Knowledge is wonderful. I love it. I love brilliant people. The students love it when a professor is brilliant... if he or she can equip them for life. And there are few things worse than a brilliant person who is self-centered and demeaning to others. There is a place in the academy for the genius who is moving the front edge of knowledge but doesn't interact much with students. But they are largely the stuff of research institutions. These days most institutions can't afford to have too many of them around.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

"...there are few things worse than a brilliant person who is self-centered and demeaning to others"