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COMMENTARY: The preacher as college teacher David Mosser, Oct 20, 2011
By David Mosser Special Contributor
A pastor who teaches in college and/or seminary must be adept at time management.
As pastor of a fairly large church, I naturally have many responsibilities. But teaching is so important to me that I consider juggling my time as a spiritual gift. Perhaps teaching is a calling similar to the call to ordained ministry—I certainly think so. Therefore when people ask me why I take the time to teach, my answer is multi-layered.
First, I like teaching. I teach a lot in my local church. I also teach in a community college and when needed at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Making time is a challenge. But it is worth it simply because teaching encourages me to explore and ponder parts of learning that 32 years of ministry might easily let me neglect.
I teach introduction to philosophy and ethics to mostly 18- and 19-year-olds. Trying to help these young folks understand why and how political, emotional and customary ways of thinking would lead Socrates to gladly drink hemlock is both a puzzle and a challenge. Walking through their questions—literally hundreds during a semester—keeps life fresh and deepens my thinking.
Second, I like to provoke students into more mature thinking. This means that the students do an abundance of critical thinking for themselves. On my first day of community college classes I always tell pupils two things. One thing I tell them is that if a parent calls me to complain about his or her child’s grade, then the student in question will receive an automatic “F.” The reason: If students are old enough for college, they should be mature enough to negotiate about grades.
Another thing I tell the students is that they cannot begin a sentence in a logical argument by saying, “My preacher said. . . .” I know plenty of smart preachers, but the students need to work out their perspectives themselves and not simply rely on an external authority whether from the church, family or school.
Third, I like to teach because it connects me with scores of unchurched people—many of whom remind me about why the gospel is so important to share. These folks apart from the ekklesia ask good questions that church folk often forget, neglect or bypass. My unchurched students compel me to explore ideas and issues that never would occur to me otherwise.
I started teaching in my first appointment because it came with the job. I enjoyed the relationship with the students so much that I looked for opportunities to teach whenever I could. Teaching homiletics (preaching) as an occasional adjunct at Perkins has brought a great deal of joy to me. Talking and practicing and debating about preaching with graduate students has prodded me do a better and more faithful job in my own church’s pulpit.
The students I have are at both ends of the educational ladder. Some are in one of the very first college classes they ever take; the seminary students who enroll in preaching are on often their way to churches and will soon be under appointment. I rarely I have to explain to near-seminary graduates that “good preaching covers a multitude of sins!”
Many of my youngest community college students are eager to get to know me because I am a preacher and they have some seriously uncultivated stereotypes about “preacher-types.” Some of this “pigeonhole mentality” no doubt is justified in their experience, but I am happy to get to know them as a person and not simply a role.
I admit I do a lot of time management to make meetings, visit hospitals, attempt counseling, preach funerals and grade papers—as well as read a lot about Kant and ethics. But on balance, I am a much more effective teacher and preacher when engaged with ample numbers of students with a wide variety of interests and backgrounds. I like the dual roles of college teaching and church preaching as they go along with each other—and always keep the life of faith fascinating.
The Rev. Mosser is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas. He’s editor of the new book Transitions: Leading Churches Through Change.