Serving the Church through Scholarly Ambition (Scholar’s Compass)

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Are you a high-achiever? Employ your gifts as best you can—and develop them wholly—to the good of the people of God. As you grow and mature you will become more free, not less, to serve the body of Christ. – Bruce Huber, “Fitting Faith and Ambition,” Faithful is Successful, p. 141


Today I’m thinking about how academics can use their gifts to serve the church, encouraged by Bruce Huber’s essay in Faithful is Successful. As Huber wrestles with the thorny question of ambition, one of his conclusions is that ambition can be pursued rightly in the context of service to the body of Christ.

This has me thinking about the many faithful scholars I know through ESN and elsewhere. I thought I’d make a partial list of some ways I see the fruit of faithful scholarly ambitions supporting the church, universal or local. My hope is that this list will encourage believing scholars about their role as members of the body of Christ. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are many other valuable and creative ways scholars can serve the body of believers; but even this partial list is cause for praise to our God, who invites all the members of the church into one whole, serving each other and worshiping Him.

In General

Engaging with challenging intellectual questions from their fields of knowledge

Believers and the societies around them face very complex questions, whether its how to structure the laws of a given country justly, how to use technology to support human and environmental flourishing, or what it means to educate the next generation well. Christians in academic life can support the church as they seek to love their neighbors by addressing these questions thoughtfully.

Situating theological issues/current questions in the context of history

Many questions facing the church have a long history, and Christian academics are in a great position to serve the church by exploring how these questions have been answered before, and what we can learn from that. Whether it’s history of science, the history of Christianity in a particular country, or the history of Christian engagement with another specific scholarly discipline, academics can serve the church through the time they spend researching and engaging with history.

Living out a faithful witness in the academy

Even if your subject seems at first to have no direct application to theology, you can research, teach, and even serve on committees in a way that reflects Christ’s willingness to lay down his life and serve others. That witness points people to Christ and His church, as David E. Lewis reminds us.

Celebrating the wonder of God’s creation

As I glance back over the science posts in Scholar’s Compass, it amazes me how many of them point to sheer wonder at God’s creation. All Christians who study something closely, whether it’s the way a plant grows or the way a child learns language, are gifted to share delight with other believers.

In the Local Church

So what are some ways these big ideas work out in a local congregation? How can Christian scholars share their knowledge and wonder with friends in their individual church homes?

Teaching from their pedagogic skill and fields of knowledges

I think of Christian scholars like James Clerk Maxwell, who taught Sunday school, or the art professor at a church I attended who taught an amazing Sunday Seminar on beauty and how it points us to God.

Contributing from their expertise to worship services

One way to share the wonder of God’s creation is to contribute to worship services. My church once featured poems chosen by a PhD in literature during the Sundays in Advent. Ruth Bancewicz describes church services where engaging with science encourages worship.

Supporting the outreach and hospitality of the church through skills learned in academic life

As churches reach out to their communities, Christian academics can help believers understand how to serve in their context more fully. Believers with training in medicine, art, and education can help set up volunteer programs to serve neighbors. Academics with experience in agricultural science or city planning can help churches connect with their rural or urban settings. Sociologists can suggest ways to understand and love our neighbors. And that’s just the beginning.

As you pursue your scholarly ambitions for excellence, is God providing opportunities or preparing you for any of these roles in serving the church? His calling to you may look different, but He may have one of these roles in mind as part of your scholarly vocation. Whatever our role in the body, let us praise Christ the head “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:16, ESV


  • What are some ways you see to be ambitious for the Kingdom of God with your skills?
  • Who are some examples of believing academics whose service to the church encourages you?
  • Can you see any needs in your local congregation that you could start to address with the academic skills and experience God has given you?


Lord, who made Your church one body of diverse gifts, guide us as we use our academic gifts to Your glory. Help us to value the contribution of all other believers, whether they share similar experience or are vastly different from us. Help our local congregations to welcome us into ways of serving, and let us use Your gifts to us for the good of Your church. Enable us through Your Holy Spirit to do great things for You, while humbly recognizing the strength to do that can only come from You. In Christ’s Holy Name, Amen.

Further Reading

Huber, Bruce. “Fitting Faith and Ambition.” Faithful is Successful: Notes to the Driven Pilgrim. Nathan Grills, David E. Lewis, and S. Joshua Swamidass, eds. Denver, Colorado: Outskirts Press, 2014. 129-142.

Image courtesy of Fotari70DX at

Scholars-Compass-image-40x40Note: Part of both the Scholar’s Compass series and the Faithful is Successful series on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog. Subsequent posts exploring “Fitting Faith and Ambition”: How Can the Church Care for Academics? (Scholar’s Compass) and Ambition and Identity: Interview with Bruce HuberHelp ESN Create a Devotional for Scholars. To God be the glory!

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Hannah Eagleson

Hannah Eagleson is Interim Associate Director of InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). She launched and still edits ESN's collaboratively written devotional for academics, Scholar's Compass. Hannah also crafts other community-building events and materials for ESN. She holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Delaware, and an MA from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. she’s working on a novel about a dragon who gave up fending off knights to become a tea importer in eighteenth-century England.

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    Jim Burkett commented on April 28, 2015 Reply

    This is one of the best articles that I have read on this site. Thank you. I was encouraged and inspired. Thank you and God bless you. Ephesians 3:20 to you.

    Hannah Eagleson commented on April 30, 2015 Reply

    I’m so glad you found it encouraging! Thanks for the quote from Ephesians – it was a great reason to revisit that amazing passage.

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