Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Who Christian Colleges Hire...

If a college wants Christian faith to be a key aspect of its identity, then it seems that hiring Christian faculty would be a key strategy. But there are many different flavors when it comes to Christians. What flavor of Christian should a Christian college hire?

1. Christian faith can impact a professor in several different areas:
  • It can affect the piety of the professor. Are professors people who go to church and worship regularly? Do professors pray? Do they pray in class? How does the professor treat students? What formational values, if any, does a professor have?
  • It can affect the ethics of the professor. What guides the application of the subject matter a professor teaches?
  • It can affect the ideas of the professor. Does the professor accept the possibility that God interacts with the world? What role does the Bible play in a professor's teaching? Are there particular theological perspectives that shape the professor's approach to his or her topic?
2. I have a sense that there are some Christian universities where some naive assumptions about these sorts of things can create a climate where a college's identity "takes a walk." Here are some examples of unexamined assumptions you see here and there:
  • So some Christian institutions might assume that truth is truth wherever it's taught. So we just hire someone who self-identifies as a Christian and let them do their stuff without any further ado. Research excellence becomes the unifying factor.
  • There is the assumption that being a Christian college is primarily about having some set of beliefs. If a person signs off on a particular creed, they're good to go. Depending on how generic those beliefs are, there may be very little to form identity here.
  • There is the assumption that the Bible in some way is the basis of unity or identity. Clearly that approach has left us with 20,000 different churches. It's not going to provide a unified identity unless there are other hidden assumptions on what the Bible means.
  • One variation on the three above is the assumption that evangelical values be the basis of unity. Generic evangelical identity has solidified into a somewhat standard form of values that are assumed to be biblical.
3. I doubt that a generic evangelical identity is enough to attract a faithful clientele. We end up with a bunch of mini-Wheatons across the US or a bunch of mini-Liberties on the more fundamentalist side. The flavor here is vanilla.

Of course I think the Wesleyan Church has been growing to have a very attractive flavor these last years. I see it as a recipe for growth and success as a college too. These include:
  • A "good news" culture. The older twentieth-century "bad news" Wesleyanism didn't attract anyone. So the "anti" folk in our midst aren't going to grow anything long term. The reason the Wesleyan Church is growing is because we are welcoming and optimistic about changing the world for good. Joanne Lyon embodies this. Wayne Schmidt embodies this. Enthusiasm grows things.
  • A culture of hospitality. I blurred into this in the previous bullet. Someone who is hospitable knows who he or she is, and thus is not threatened by those who disagree. You have to have a core identity here, but can be hospitable to those in your midst who don't share it. Love is the heart of the Bible, and an identity of love grows things.
  • A "get it done" culture. Idealists eventually kill things, although they can have a good burn until they burn out or burn everything down. A culture that sees multiple paths to get more basic goals done, and that doesn't get stuck on process or ideological details, creates an excitement.
  • Pertinence. "Relevance" has become a bad word, so I'll use "pertinence" to mean relevance with substance. A growing ministry or service will interact with the most pressing matters of its context in ways that are perceived to bring wisdom and insight to the table. Usually, "going back to the way we used to do things" doesn't do it.
  • Self-awareness. There is a depth when you know where you've come from and how it affects who you are. Throwing away the past doesn't lead you anywhere, like someone dropped in the middle of a city without a map. If you're going somewhere, you have to start from where you are.
4. I've wandered a little. The bottom line is that you can't just hire "evangelicals who publish" and think you're going to end up with a growing college with an identity that prospective students are drawn to. And a college with a specific traditional past that looks at hiring this way will soon undergo an identity crisis.

For growth, hire faculty who:
  • are in continuity with the college's tradition but aren't robots to it
  • who have a "good news," "loving" attitude toward others and especially toward students
  • who aren't ideologues who clog up the works and don't play well with others
  • who can read the times and where things are headed, and are disposed to play a part in the future, not to burn everything down if we don't do it the way we used to
  • who are not only experts in their discipline and competent teachers, but who are aware of their own assumptions on a deep level
Some thoughts on who a Christian college should hire...

No comments: