Wednesday, August 23, 2006

First day of class

It's been a long time since I experienced first-day-of-class jitters, but that familiar human feeling came back in full on Monday evening and yesterday morning as I taught my first two classes here at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University.

Writing a syllabus would be the first test of my new pedagogical performance. For all you who need translation (like me), a syllabus is an outline of class assignments and expectations; syllabi is its plural. At the faculty meeting last Thursday, as we shared our syllabi with each other, I was quickly reminded of just how long I had been absent from the peculiar and insular language of academia.

My collegues produced gorgeous, detailed, exhaustive documents that addressed every conceivable question students might have about what was required of them. Mine, by comparison, were pathetic. They looked emaciated next to the fleshy outlines of the other faculty members. But, my fellow teachers endured my amateurism, and patiently provided the necessary feedback for me to produce adequate syllabi.

Sandlot meets big-league.

Actually, the exercise brought to mind Jesus' instruction to his disciples to "let your yeas be yeas and your nays be nays," as the memorable King James puts it. In relationships, particularly new ones, precision in speech is important. Students need a clarity of requirements and expectations-- not fuzzy suggestions.

My old teacher, Wayne Oates, used to stress the essential relational component of "clear covenants, faithfully kept." As I told my students when distributing the syllabus, there is nothing "innerrant" about the document, and it will surely be flexibly interpreted, but the clearer map of our coming journey will make us better co-travellers.

And what impressive co-travellers these students are! They are bright, inquisitive, eager, commmitted. They are already incarnating their theological studies in real Christian service in a variety of ministry positions. Maybe the following observation is simply a function of my aging, but they seem more focused than me and my crew of seminarians 25 years ago. (I suspect my contemporaries will call that a classic case of psychological projection!)

There is a diversity of race and gender and generation among the students which greatly enriches our learning experience. African-Americans are significantly--not nominally-- represented; many are working pastors and preachers already, furthering their theological education for more effective Christian ministry. Younger students in their 20's and 30's learn alongside older students in their 40's and 50's, forming a community of mutual exploration and inquiry. Fully half of the students are women, illustrating that the Pentecostal prophecy of Peter 2000 years ago is now fulfilled before our very eyes (Acts 2.18).

They inspire. After being with them the first day of class, I am stoked.


Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie boy what an exceiting time for you!As I read I pray that I may continue to learn more about God and the works he has for us to do.Charlie the Lord is blessing us all you as well as we here @ TBC we must just be still and let him do his work How wonderful.You sound very happy and that is so great!Please give Jana our or my love and I pray that she is also happy, that the children are all well .And yes we must continue to pray for the world and the wars today and tomorrow, but we must not forget we have a big war here in our city as in every city etc.Take care and I know that when you do not know it you will be filled with words that you self will not know how or from where yes the Holy Spirit.God bless you,he loves you and so do I.

Anonymous said...

It gives my spirit a lift to read about your journey into this new experience. I pray God blesses you and your students and that every day is a breath of fresh air for you and Jana. I pray for you and your family daily.


Anonymous said...

Charlie, I know that you will make a difference in the lives of these students. Just like you made a difference in this "student", as I was blessed to have you as my "teacher" when you were at TBC. What a shame for TBC and me! Every sermon you gave gave me a longing of wanting to know more. I have never wanted a LONGER sermon, except for every Sunday when you blessed us with your comprehention and knowledge. Maybe sometime down the road you will give us more teaching in book form.

Anonymous said...

With syllabi, the simpler the better. It gives you and the student more freedom for exciting developments that may be better than anything planned.