During my first class as a professor at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, I began waxing poetic on my years as a pastor and the glory of preaching: “What could be more wonderful than to imagine your way back into the biblical world, listen for what the Spirit is saying to your congregation — people you love — and stand up on Sunday morning to say, ‘I have been listening carefully and I think this is what God wants us to hear’?”
A student asked, “If the church is so great, then why are you here?”
For eight years I have been working on that good, rude question. I love teaching, so I am finding it hard to leave McAfee to become the pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.T. (If the disrespectful student is reading this, I hope you feel bad.)
For three weeks I have been humming Mr. Holland’s Opus. Do you remember the scene where the student says, “We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes. We are the music of your life.”
I imagine a student saying, “We are your sermons, Dr. Younger. We are the examples and illustrations. We are the sermons of your life.”
This has not happened.
One of the ways I am dealing with my grief is to make a list of things I am glad to leave behind.
I will not miss students arguing that they should not be counted absent on the first day of class because they had not yet signed up for the course.
I will not miss students saying, “I am going to be late with my sermon because the Internet is down.”
I will not miss this conversation: “Dr. Younger, you can’t give me a C. The Holy Spirit gave me this sermon.” (“The Spirit gets an A. You got a C.”)
I will not miss multiple choice, true-false, fill-in-the-blank, or wild guesses.
I will not miss grading book reviews that begin, “Anna Carter Florences’s Preaching as Testimony is a nine-year-old book written by Anna Carter Florence in 2007.”
I will not miss students thinking I need to listen to a sermon by Joel Osteen.
I will not miss assessment reports. I will never again write, “19 out of 21 students in the worship class were able to identify 16 out of 20 worship terms from the 17th and 18th centuries.”
I will not miss faculty meetings that focus on enrollment: “Can we devise an M.Div. that doesn’t require reading? How can we recruit wealthy students? How can we schedule courses so that students can get a degree while only being on campus from 7 to 10 p.m. one Friday a month?”
Reading my list of things I won’t miss might suggest that I am glad to leave my present occupation, but the list of things I will miss is much longer.
I will miss faculty meetings when we ask good questions: “How can we take seriously 2,000 years of church history as well as the churches that our students need to start? How do we center what we do in the story of Jesus? What would God have us do?”
I will miss being a member of a faculty that reads scripture with thoughtfulness, believes in the goodness of God, and knows that God is bigger than we think.
I will miss the six weeks of summer when there are no classes.
I will miss being delighted to see students on the first day of class.
I will miss reading book reviews that begin, “Anna Carter Florence needs to visit Second Baptist Church, Lime Sink, Ga., before she writes another book.”
I will miss students thinking I need to hear a sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor.
I will miss moments when it was not about the grade, but about Jesus. Moments in preaching when a student said something none of us had heard before. Moments in worship when we felt the presence of the Spirit.
I will miss students changing their minds— and changing my mind.
I will miss students saying: “The Jesus in the Gospels is a lot more complicated than what I learned in Sunday school, but I like this Jesus more. I want to follow this Jesus.”
I will miss students believing the church can be more like Christ than most churches have ever been.
I will miss students caring for one another, sharing their hopes and dreams, and becoming sisters and brothers.
I will miss arguing over tough questions.
I will miss students overcoming the boundaries of gender, race, and sexual orientation.
I will miss students who are ardent, zealous, fervent, fiery, incensed and impassioned.
I will miss students who are outliers, nonconformists, mavericks, eccentrics, dissidents and dissenters.
I will miss the followers of Christ who called me their teacher.