Community, Excellence, and Joy, Part 1 (Closing Interview, Faithful Is Successful series)

As we wrap up the Faithful is Successful series, ESN caught up with the book’s three editors for an interview. Nathan Grills, David E. Lewis, and Josh Swamidass reflect on community, faithfulness, and other themes of the series below. Enjoy Part 1 of this interview, and stay tuned for Part 2!

1. ESN: We’ve been delighted to see the thoughtful conversations that have sprung from this series on the blog and elsewhere. As ESN works to foster deeper conversations and community, what advice would you give on how to nurture and sustain a community of Christian scholars?

Josh Swamidass: As editors, we have been really excited to see this series in ESN and are thankful our work has been helpful to this community.

Nathan Grills: The e-forum is really amazing and I want to encourage the role this plays in helping students grow close to Jesus. However, the one to one chat, such as the one I had with Bryan are really important [an ESN/Faithful is Successful interview yet to be released]. If it is just an academic exercise it will fail and when the discussions grow and continue through relationships I believe it will transform us. Alternatively, I think don’t give up meeting together. I think face to face meetings are really important as it allows deeper conversations and friendships to form. It provides a forum for iron to sharpen iron.

David E. Lewis: This is a hard question. In my own experience faculty and graduate students have a lot of opportunities to feed their minds. People are always proposing book groups and the latest articles on faith in the public sphere and so forth. What I am looking for often, however, is just people to know me and understand where I am coming from and encourage me. I need help walking closely with Christ in the day to day and often that is less of a book study than an offer to pray, an encouraging word, a challenge from scripture applied to my context. The work of the mind is absolutely essential in nurturing and sustaining a community of Christian scholars but so is just the day-to-day encouragement of community applied to the particular context of Christian scholars.

2. ESN: Community is an important emphasis of both Faithful is Successful and ESN, but it can be really hard to find time to engage with a Christian community in early career academic life. Can you share some thoughts for our readers on how to make time for community?

Nathan Grills: It is too risky not to engage with a Christian academic community.  Your soul is at stake.  You are in a high risk job. And the more success you achieve the higher the risk. It is very hard to do this alone as our success has an insidious way of eating away our souls. If you start to stop meeting together with other faithful Christians then I pray that will bring you failure to bring you close to him and others.

Josh Swamidass: Engaging with Christian community needs to be a commitment. When we are in town, and not traveling for conferences, we really should attend church on Sundays. If possible, we should be part of a mid week small group. We should also reach out to the campus ministers (from Intervarsity and other groups) at our university. At times, making these connections can seem like a chore, and sometimes like too much of a responsibility and commitment. In my experience, in the long run I have received more from being connected to the Church than I could ever contribute back.  In particular, the communities that have taken the time to understand the unique challenges and opportunities in academics have been profoundly encouraging.

David E. Lewis: Community is absolutely essential for growth. I think we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking we can be faithful in isolation. I would say two things here. First, some of your community has to come from the local church. This means usually people who are not like you and misunderstand what you do. Being with these brothers and sisters is humbling but absolutely essential for reminding you of what we are all about. Our primary goal is not to be a successful scholar but to love Christ and serve him.

I have also found it comforting to find a small group of academics to meet with regularly, if possible. It was easiest for me when we met at lunch so I did not feel this was taking time from other activities. We also just focused on prayer and encouragement.

3. ESN: Another challenge to community is just finding one. What ideas would you share with readers who are longing to engage with a community of Christian academics but don’t know where to start?

Nathan Grills: There is so much out there and there are so many options to feed on. However, I think there is danger in engaging in too many of these forums and not really seriously engaging in any one of them. Or not seriously engaging with real people. I think if you end up in a deep on line conversation about these important topics then try to catch up with the person you are engaged with. A fellowship, or camp or an institute, can be key seminal events. This was key for all the authors of Faithful is Successful. The Harvey fellows all went through a transformative 8 day summer institute. We came together with our peers and heard from many ‘experts’ on integration of faith and work. This changed my life and the lives of many other fellows.

Josh Swamidass: Probably the most important thing we can do is pray to ask for God to guide us to the right community: mentors, colleagues, peers, and more.  Also, it is worth asking campus ministers at our campus. Often they know other Christians that we can connect with. Also ESN is designed to make exactly these sorts of connections too.

David E. Lewis: I have found it harder or easier to find community in different places. In graduate school I was fortunate to have a graduate fellowship organized by Intervarsity to connect with. As a faculty member I have had some luck in my local church since other church members point me to people that work at the university. Leaders of the student groups on campus can also be a valuable resource since they often work collaboratively with Christian faculty.

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon. 

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Hannah Eagleson

Hannah Eagleson is a writer/editor on staff with InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). She edits ESN's collaboratively written devotional for academics. Hannah also crafts other community-building events and materials for ESN. She holds a PhD in English literature, and 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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