This is the third post in an Urbana12 series by J. Nathan Matias (@natematias), Research Assistant, MIT Media Lab Center for Civic Media. This post in original form can be found here. Thank-you Nathan! Great to have you contributing material to the ESN Blog. Your work is much appreciated. ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director of ESN.
This weekend, I’m at Urbana, a gathering of Christian students interested in the work of the church worldwide. Over the next few days, I will be blogging two kinds of sessions. Sessions like this morning’s gathering [12/29/2012] are intended to inspire and challenge Christian students to consider international service. This afternoon, I’ll be blogging more focused seminars, where smaller groups discuss specific issues.
Today, I also blogged seminars on the theology of immigration and this post on the place of graduate students in the global church.
Why would a student who cares about God’s mission even consider applying to gradschool? Speaking with us is S. Joshua Swamidass, an Assistant Professor in the Medical School at Washington University in St Louis.
Joshua starts by polling the room. A third of the room is in gradschool, half are applying to gradschool, and many in the audience aren’t sure if gradschool is right for them. A handful of people are planning to go to gradschool for ministry training, but most are planning to go to gradschool at nonreligious institutions. The room has an equal split between sciences and non-sciences.
What does the calling of a Christian look like? In 1999, when Joshua was a senior in college, he attended a student missions conference like Urbana. They presented a model of life calling which caused a lot of pain in his life, even though it seemed reasonable at the time. Their model shared three steps.
- The first was to trust in Jesus for salvation. Joshua agrees that it’s an incredibly important step.
- Next, they urged students to commit to “go wherever and do whatever God wants.” This is also important– much more important than the details. Rather than beg God what he wants us to do, we should start with a willingness to follow God wherever he leads us — whether it’s China, Africa, or California. He might lead us to be poor, be in politics, or be rich. This is a great vision. If we can trust God with our salvation, we can trust him with anything.
- The final part of the model he heard in 1999 is terrible advice, says Joshua. He was told that students who care about the mission of Christ should quite naturally move into “full-time,” vocational ministry, at least for a year or longer.
“I didn’t sign up for part-time ministry,” says Joshua. At conferences, organisations try to “raise up people” to get them to work on specific international projects. Instead of helping people find a way of life, organisations try to funnel students into very specific, short-term projects.
Back in 1999, Joshua realised that God wasn’t leading him to get his paycheck from a church, but instead earn his own living. He argues that only a minority of people should be going into vocational ministry. After all, it takes maybe 50 people to fund one full-time religious worker.
As an undergrad, when Christians looked at Joshua, they only saw half of him. They noticed that he was speaking at local student groups, writing about spiritual topics, writing op eds in the local newspaper. His Christian friends saw that he was a “missional student” who loved universities and pushed him to work as official campus staff within a Christian organisation. They didn’t understand the other half of his life: he was drawn to medicine and did well in his classes. He loved computer programming and math. Joshua liked working in a scientific research group, loved the university world, and loved teaching.
Joshua saw himself as a missional student that would be involved in campus ministry eventually, but he was also a science student who was working to be a science professor.
Joshua suggests and encourages an alternative way to think about calling, a parallel model which accounts for the way our career develops over time.