What I’ve Learned about Student Formation & Service to the Church

Expectations differ from institution to institution about the involvement of faculty in the formation of students and in service to the church and community. This was a significant aspect of our discussion at the seminar because some participants were on faculty at denominational schools that expect them to serve area churches in various ways.

Since I don’t necessarily face the same expectations of others in denominational schools, I can only speak from my own experience.

  • Regarding student formation, I have found that the most enjoyable and fruitful “mentoring” relationships are those based on mutuality. This may be because of my age, but I don’t know that I have loads of wisdom to pass on to others. Rather, I’ve developed mutually-beneficial friendships with students. To my mind, we’re siblings in the family of Jesus and even though we may be professor-student, I’m more comfortable developing relationships of in which the learning, encouraging, and blessing go in both directions. What I found interesting, however, is that such a posture may not be advisable for everyone in every institution. I spoke with several women, two of whom were African-American, who noted that cultural dynamics in their traditions made it necessary to use their titles (“Doctor” or “Professor”) in relating to students in order to avoid begin treated with disrespect. I didn’t anticipate this, but it made perfect sense.
  • Set limits to mentoring and involvement in student formation outside of class. When I taught undergrads, my wife and I had no shortage of opportunities to be involved with students, and we enjoyed every minute of it. As our children grew, however, and as our involvement in our local church increased, we needed to set limits on mentoring opportunities. When I began teaching at the seminary level, I kept in mind the need to make progress on my research and to make sure I was attending to our family life faithfully. I’ve set aside certain times of my week when I’m available for coffee or lunch with students and when those fill up, I’m careful not to take away time I’ve devoted to other things.
  • Regarding service to the church, I don’t assume that my vocation as a teacher is the main manner in which I serve the church. I commend to you the notion that we should let the church be the church—that is, God’s gift to us. I know, of course, that teachers are God’s gift to the church, but I’m not sure that this is the healthiest perspective from which to view ourselves. In order to free ourselves from feeling obligated, it’s helpful to see the church as God’s gift to us and let it be the means whereby God sustains us and nourishes us with his life-giving presence. Serve the church in ways that make you joyful and that make you flourish. I think that this may be a perspective that keeps you from getting burned out in ministry. This may mean that you do some teaching, but it may mean that you do other things, too. My family and I are involved in a ministry that serves homeless families as they get on their feet and find housing. I do some teaching, here and there, too, but I find that after teaching all week, it’s the last thing I want to do on a Sunday. Since it’s brought blessing to the church, I’m happy to do it once in a while, but I’d rather serve in hands-on and practical ways. That’s just me, and that’s my two cents, so take it for what it’s worth. One benefit of serving in that way, however, is that I’m enabled to teach my students headed into leadership ministries from a perspective of someone who serves practically in a church.
  • Finally, to serve the church and extend your effectiveness in student formation, start a blog! Nearly all of my blog posts had their genesis in class discussions. I love it when students ask questions that knock me back on my heels and make me think. I’ll typically drive home that evening with the radio off thinking through what they’ve asked and begin to formulate some thoughts in response to it. Many of us are doing what we’re doing because we love biblical and theological study and reflection, and blogging is a great way to roll out thoughts, to hear from others, and to extend the conversation.

As with previous posts, I’m happy to hear from others about what they’ve learned!

2 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned about Student Formation & Service to the Church

  1. imaginewithscripture

    I really like the idea of not assuming that we need to be a teacher in the church. (I understand, though, that for some this may not be possible.)

    I find that the church is my refuge, where I can enjoy friendship and mutual giving.

    I also like the fact that you are involved with the homeless at church. It’s a good way of participating in the life-giving gospel, and it is a wonderful thing for theological students to see this in the life of their professor. (Again, I don’t mean that every theological teacher should do this.)

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Rick Wadholm Jr.

    Reblogged this on Blue Chip Pastor and commented:
    What Tim Gombis has said is (to my thinking) exactly what we are about here at bluechippastor.org, but from a college/seminary professor’s perspective. It is refreshing to read that there are others in the wider world of academia doing what I am doing. I have found great joy in being an active participant in the life and ministry of my local church as well as investing in mutually edifying ways with students. Thanks Brother Tim! 🙂

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