I never fully realized the power of a question until someone asked one that caused life-changing dissonance for me.
Within a few months of completing my doctorate and starting my new position as an assistant professor in a program that prepares graduate students for higher education administrative positions, I was asked a question that, on the surface, seemed simple to answer. But, there was something that seemed deeper, and more profound, about the question that one gentleman asked me after I proudly told him that I was a professor:
“What do you profess?”
Had he asked what I was teaching, I easily could have answered that question. But, the word “profess” struck so deeply into my soul that I found myself embarrassed by my own reluctance to respond. I nervously chuckled, and with a newfound humility, listed off the courses that I was teaching that semester.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, in addition to meaning “to teach as a professor,” the word “profess” means “to confess one’s faith in or allegiance to” and “to say or declare something (openly).”
In the days that followed, I reflected on that piercing question and on the meaning of the word “profess.” I recalled the first “profession” that I had ever made. It was near the end of my first semester of college when I walked to the student center, entered an empty study room, and committed my life to following Jesus. (The door to that exact room is the one on the left in the photo at the top of this blog post.)
That first profession radically changed me. And, it shaped my entire undergraduate experience.
Unfortunately, shortly after college, a shipwreck experience in my faith journey resulted in my setting aside my profession of faith for a season. Well, not completely. It wasn’t that I stopped believing in or trusting in Jesus. It was more like I slid my public profession of faith in him under the rug. But, when I was put on the spot by being asked what I professed, I felt a quickening within that led me to pursue a journey of trying to figure out what it means not just to be a professor, but to be a Christian professor.
Over the last decade or so, some of the words that Jesus spoke as he was sending out the twelve disciples have continued to run through my mind:
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Recently, I strongly sensed God telling me that it was time to be more vulnerable with others about my faith in Him – to profess Him more publicly. While many of my current and former colleagues and students know of my identity as an evangelical Christian, most do not know how I strive to maintain that identity as the single most influential factor in my work as a university professor.
I know that many of you who also work or study in higher education want to do the same: to keep Christ first in your lives and to boldly proclaim His good news. We want to be followers of Jesus (his disciples) at all times, not just on the evenings and weekends. Whether we are working full-time or going to school, we want the time that we devote to those endeavors to have eternal value.
I believe that Dallas Willard said it best when he stated, “If discipleship doesn’t relate to your job, where you spend most of your time, you’ve left your life behind.”
My vision for this blog is twofold. First, I hope to encourage other followers of Jesus who spend much of their time either working or studying in colleges and universities to embrace biblical responses to challenges and opportunities that we face in that setting. For instance, how might we, as Christians, respond to discussions about Christian privilege? What biblical guidance do we have with regard to professing Jesus in a religiously-pluralistic environment? How do we represent Christ well in interfaith initiatives on campus? How should we relate to our supervisors? Our colleagues?
Second, I hope to use this blog to inspire other Christians in higher education to dig more deeply into the Word of God as the ultimate source of truth and wisdom for our profession of faith. To that end, I will strive to set an example of how to apply general biblical principles to our work in higher education. For example, what can we learn from Esther that applies to our experiences in higher education? How do Jesus’ teachings provide wisdom for us with regard to work, school, and relationships?
A. W. Tozer once said, “It is time for us to rise up, get out of the rut and routine, and begin to take our Christian faith seriously.”
I encourage those of you who are serious about your Christian faith, and who spend much of your time in a higher education setting, to ask yourself: What do I profess?
Then, I invite you to walk alongside me – by reading, responding to, and sharing my posts – and to thoughtfully consider ways for us to profess our faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps you might even be interested in serving as a guest blogger at some point.
However you choose to do so, let’s profess Him together. Are you in?