Throughout my first year of grad school, I have seen first-hand the value of research and ideas. However, this may come at the cost of losing sight of people’s inherent value and worth. People are often valued solely by their ability to create new research and new ideas. Looking back at myself, I find that I took part in favoritism toward high output individuals (see James 2 for some tough words on this). That’s where teaching comes in. Teaching is an opportunity to treat all people as valuable regardless of their publications or grades.
For many of my fellow grad students, teaching is a hoop we need to jump through, a box to check in our program requirements, or something that takes away from our research time. But teaching can be so much more if we want it to be. Teaching gives us a real opportunity to be a light in a dark place, not by putting verses on the whiteboard, but by our actions.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
We often think about evangelism in the academic world through the lens of apologetics. If we have all our arguments perfectly lined up, we can convert anyone. The common scene that comes to mind is two colleagues meeting over lunch, and the conversation slowly becomes a theological debate. The goal of the discussion is for them to see our side of the argument and repent. We even have a verse to back up our arguing.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
But how often do we forget the verse that immediately follows.
keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:16).
Do we keep a clear conscience? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner of gentleness and respect that would make people ashamed to slander against us? With this thought in mind, let’s turn back to teaching.
In a room with budding minds, all of them looking toward us, we can show what it means to be a “faithful presence”. Students walk into class (or login) from all walks of life, sometimes from all over the country, or even all over the world. At that moment, we have the chance to modify the future of these individuals. We can choose to be the teacher who doesn’t answer any questions and gives students projects on material that hasn’t been covered yet. We can choose to be the lab aide in the electronics lab who just walks over and rewires students’ circuits for them. Or we can choose to be the teacher who really tries to understand their students.
Part of me wants to conclude that “once we are a great teacher, we can then tell them why.” But I don’t think that is necessarily the right thing we need to do. Are we trying to be good people purely to share the Gospel with them, or do we genuinely see everyone as made in the image of God and treat them as such (Genesis 1:27)? Do we have faith that God will handle their salvation in His own time? Now to be clear, I’m not saying that we should try to hide the fact we are followers of Christ, but I don’t want us to do everything with the sole purpose of trying to share the Gospel at every moment. It’s not our job to save people. Who opened Peter’s eyes to see who Jesus was (Matthew 16:17)? They are people, not projects.
There are certainly times where God does give us people who come with questions and we absolutely should be prepared to give an answer. I want to ensure that we are the best teachers for our students, not because we want to push our agenda, but because they are made in the image of God. They are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). May we learn to see teaching as an opportunity to be more for others. May we love others not because we expect something in return, but because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11).
About the author:
Joseph Kilgore is a follower of Christ, and a PhD student at The George Washington University studying Computer Engineering specializing in biologically inspired artificial intelligence. In addition to writing and programming, he also plays music on anything that will make a sound.