By Brett Younger
A seminary faculty posted a photo on Facebook with the caption, “Our faculty and all of the books they have written.” The faculty is made up of superb scholars who have authored a huge stack of books, but you wonder if a sarcastic person might suggest a different caption:
Jesus addressed his disciples, “The religion scholars are fine teachers. Follow their teachings, but be careful about following them. They enjoy talking about their faculty positions and hearing the flattery of students. They love being called ‘Doctor.’” (This is a loose paraphrase of Matthew 23 by someone whose knowledge of Greek would not qualify him for a faculty position.)
I confess that I like having my picture taken with the books I have written. I love the diplomas on my wall. I love processing in my robe and stole. I even love the tam that makes me look like a pastry chef in the French Navy.
Followers of Christ are to become uninterested in position, prestige or publicity — even if they are seminary professors.
I need to confess when I try to impress the educated rather than care for the underprivileged.
I need to confess when I act as if I should be measured by how many know my name rather than by Christ’s priorities.
I need to confess when I would rather add a line to my resume than spend time helping a church.
I need to confess when I do anything meant to make me look good rather than contribute to Christ’s Kingdom.
Seminary professors warn students that the institution of the church is only the means to the end of serving God. Those same professors are in danger of treating the academy as the end rather than the means to serve. We sin when we do not hear Jesus ask Nicodemus, “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand?”
We can do better. The academy can serve the church, but not when we serve the academy. Rather than focusing on impressing other scholars, professors should give more to God.
Student evaluations and ratemyprofessor.com make professors feel more like competitors than teachers, but professors can be mentors. Most seminary graduates forget the kings of Judah, the dates of the Great Awakenings, and how to translate the periphrastic perfect passive participle, but we cling to the memory of a teacher who loved God and taught us to love God, too.
Seminary professors should do their jobs in a way that makes no sense if we do not believe in Christ. We understand that it is hard to quantify the best moments of what we do. The more important something is the harder it is to measure.
I should stop just telling students to follow Jesus and try to show them how.
I should make it clear that the purpose of theological education is not knowing more information than others know, but becoming more like Christ.
I should stop trying to give young ministers the tools to climb the ecclesiological ladder and give them instead the perspective to wonder what the ladder is leaning against and leading to.
Seminary professors need to keep their doors open to talk about things that matter. Professors need to ask students, “What is God doing in your life? What are you up against? What feels like a gift? What are your hopes for the church? Can I pray with you?”
Seminary professors need to invite students into their homes because Christians do that. We need to make it clear that a student’s GPA matters less than experiencing God’s grace. We need to work beyond the syllabus to encourage students to ask big questions.
Seminary professors need to be patient with students who come only for the degree and celebrate the ones who come because they adore Jesus. We need to help students understand that seminary should be less about preparing for a career than becoming a servant of Christ.
Karl Barth said, “Nowhere is the grace of God more evident than in the fact that some preachers will be saved” — even ones who like being called “Doctor.” Seminary professors need to love God and their neighbor. Sometimes that will mean writing a book about it.