Reflections of a Pastor Dipping His Toe into the Pool of Academia

Recently I started teaching an Old Testament Introduction course at Charleston Southern University. I have been in ministry for 15 years. I’ve been a children’s pastor, associate pastor, young adult Sunday school teacher, and now have been a senior pastor for eight years. Teaching at the college level has always been intriguing to me. I went through a period of prayer and searching to see if a Ph.D or D.Min would be more appropriate for me. God unfolded events in such a way that I pursued and graduated with a Doctor of Ministry. However, recently, an opportunity came for me to teach adjunctively at CSU so my wife and I spent several months praying about the opportunity and graciously accepted. It’s only been two weeks but I thought I’d share some of my reflections as a pastor who has been completely “churchified” for the past decade and a half as he wanders into a similar but very different mission field. Here are my initial thoughts:

(1) Students want to learn

This should come as no surprise. College is a place of learning. However, diving deep into Old Testament Introduction may not be the majority of the students’ deepest desires. My roll shows only two Christian studies majors. There are other majors with more participants such as nursing, education, criminal justice and so forth. Therefore, I knew one challenge I had was to make Old Testament intro somewhat interesting to a majority of students who are taking it because it’s required of students (which I think is a great thing, by the way).

There may have been a few students so far who have seemed uninterested. But most are eager to learn and/or do well. Because I want the students to be as engaged as possible, my general philosophy is to ask enough questions and give them permission to answer and to be wrong. I try to make jokes, tell stories, all the same similar oratorical devices used by preachers to keep his audience awake and engaged. Furthermore, judgement-free responses encourage discussion among self-conscious students who are sitting in full classroom of their peers. Now, obviously there are right answers and wrong answers. However, taking the students on a journey of learning often means that you allow them to verbally express wrong answers without calling them out on it, and taking those wrong and semi-true answers and using them to lead to the truth. All spiritual growth is a journey of mind and worldview transformation.

Therefore, when it comes to being an effective teacher and lecturer, some of the same rules apply which apply to effective teaching and preaching in the church setting. My ultimate goal is to equip students (believers) to gain a broader knowledge of the Bible so they can see more of the glory of God and allow Him to work in their lives by renewing their thoughts (Romans 12:2).

The Bible is not boring, but preachers can sure make it boring. It’s up to the preacher (and lecturer) to do what he or she can to connect to his congregation/classroom. The students don’t have to be interested, but one should make it hard for them to not be, especially in the classroom where they are paying (or someone else is) to take your class. Your time is their money. Make it worth it.

(2) Cooperation and relationship between academia and churches are essential for the well being of students

We’re on the same team. I’ve had several professors who I know personally from both Charleston Southern and North Greenville preach for me. The more exposure I can give to my people about our fine Southern Baptist institutions of higher learning, the better. Furthermore, true relationships between our churches and institutions only reinforce a healthy kingdom mindset and produce kingdom growth. We’re all on the same team, especially if we are kingdom focused.

(3) Teaching and preaching the Bible should be enjoyable

Yes, there is a burden that comes in delivering the bad news that leads to the good news. No, we don’t take for granted the Gospel. Yes, we are dealing with weighty eternal matters. However, Christian preachers and teachers would do well to lead from a place of joy. The world is filled with critics. Social media has only exposed just how angry the human heart truly is. However, if you been saved by the blood of Christ and preach and teach the Bible in any element, you should enjoy it. Yes, there will be critics. Yes, there will be spiritual warfare. But, God has called and equipped you. You did not volunteer for this. You were called. Plus, you’re saved. Trust Christ and have fun with your calling.

Now, when the cold, rainy days of November come and the semester is almost over, I may have days where I don’t feel so energized or feel like having fun lecturing. However, the truth of the goodness of the Gospel and my calling do not rely on my feelings (Praise the Lord!). Truth is based on the work of Christ on the Cross. That is what ultimately motivates us to do what we do. Now, on to prepare for teaching Leviticus…

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