Column title: Teacher-Scholar: Servant Teaching and Missional Scholarship
Column Description: this column explores the important inter-connections between teaching and scholarship in Christian higher education. Contributors address such questions as: What does it mean to be a “servant teacher” who is committed to transformational instruction? How can our scholarship arise out of our teaching and simultaneously improve our communication with students inside and outside the classroom? What are effective strategies and examples of faith-learning integration that encourage students to think deeply and Christianly about the subject matter, and how can such integration promote spiritual growth and faithful living? How can we find time to write and publish while teaching full time and maintaining a work-life balance? And more! Thinkpieces, case studies, teaching illustrations, and other reflective contributions are most welcome. Contact [email protected] for submission guidelines.
“Laying a Biblical Foundation for Communication Studies”
Summary: In the ministry of education, one way to help students integrate their faith with their studies and their professions is to demonstrate how the Bible is relevant to their courses and programs of study. This column shows how that is done with a core communication studies course, noting first what is meant by “ministry of education” and second how a biblical framework for the study of communication is established in the first two weeks of class.
As adjunct faculty at Geneva College, for the last 22 years I have taught the same core curriculum class—Principles of Communication—and count it a privilege to do so. As a Geneva College student in the 1980s, I studied Speech Communication. My goal was to do something in the broad communication field, but God had a plan for me in pastoral ministry and I embraced it. Following seminary, and after a few years of serving as a pastor, I returned to Geneva College to teach. I have been here ever since as a pastor-teacher-communication scholar where I invest in the lives of young people who are still in their formative years. So how do I go about this “ministry of education”?
Before going further, it would be helpful to briefly outline what I mean by “ministry of education.” As I see it, education involves six things:
- Skill Development: helping students know and master material being taught and how to put it into practice as they discover their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
- Life Preparation: helping students integrate things learned in the classroom with life outside of the classroom as we help to prepare them to function in society.
- Intellectual Refinement: helping students learn how to think (both reflective thinking that engages the emotions and critical thinking that engages reason and logic in the pursuit of truth and knowledge).
- Character Formation: helping students develop consistent moral character as things like truth, beauty, virtue, and ethics are woven into the curriculum.
- Wisdom Enhancement: helping students pay attention to and learn from all the experiences they have in life, even as they glean from the life lessons that are passed on to them from teachers and others.
- Faith Integration: helping students integrate their faith with learning and life, encouraging them to love God with all their mind (and heart, soul, and strength) while nudging them to be good citizens of their communities and nations, as well as God’s Kingdom, as they serve the common good by loving people.
From the first day of class each semester until the last final exam, this is the framework through which students’ experience learning. As it relates to my Principles of Communication course, the faith integration piece comes quickly in the first week of class as we focus on establishing a biblical framework for our study of communication. What does this look like?
Following a trip through the syllabus, it begins with two statements I make, without apology.
First, I remind students that we are Christ-followers and we will be approaching our studies from a Christian perspective. I also gently remind any non-Christian students in the room that while being a Christian is not required in this class, the Christian faith is still part of our framework of understanding. In the classroom, at least, in my experience this has always been appreciated. I recall, for example, conversations I’ve had with students over the years outside of the classroom when we’ve discussed the faith connection at a deeper level. With non-Christian students this has even occasionally opened the door for sharing the gospel more directly. One student I will always remember was a Muslim from Egypt with whom I had many conversations that sometimes included me vocally praying for him. Shortly before he transferred to another school, I gave him a Bible to read (at his request). We kept in touch for a while, but we are no longer in contact now. I still pray for him, and others, when the Lord brings them to mind.
Second, I remind them that the Bible is God’s authoritative word given to us and is foundational to every aspect of life, including communication. The next few class sessions are devoted to laying the foundation for the course, what I call the “house of communication,” where we explore a biblical understanding of communication, which is then expanded throughout the course.
This is accomplished in several ways. First, we spend the majority of a class discussing how God is a communicator. I use four questions to generate a conversation: (1) How has God communicated? (2) How does God continue to communicate with His creation and vice versa? (3) What has sin and life in a fallen world done to communication? and (4) What is our role in the communication process as Christians? This always generates some good discussion that helps us better understand how communication connects with God and how we are expected to be good stewards of our communication as we take care of all that God has entrusted to us. This is really the whole point of this course: to equip students to be excellent and skillful communicators who bring glory and honor to God along the way.
Following this preliminary discussion comes an in-class exploration of the what the Bible says about communication. The class is divided into four groups and assigned several passages of Scripture to read together, noting principles of communication that they discover. Two groups tackle the book of Proverbs, one group looks at the Psalms and the book of Matthew, and one group examines other New Testament passages.[i]
Once the groups have completed their work, a group spokesperson shares their group’s findings, which I write on the board. It doesn’t take long to see how rich the Bible is with insights into human communication that even non-Christians would agree with. As I mention to my students, nearly everything that we discover in the Bible about communication is what has been taught and written about by communication scholars for millennia as it relates to communicating in life (e.g., the power of words, verbal and nonverbal communication, the importance of listening, etc.).
With such a foundation laid for students in this Principles of Communication course, we build a “house of communication” throughout the semester. A house that is built upon a Christian worldview and framed up with communication theory, where each room represents a different type of communication . . . and the plumbing, electricity, and HVAC are other important aspects of communication.
Future blog posts will focus on some of these areas as I share how I have been able to help my students connect their faith with their study and understanding of communication. Given the relational nature of human interaction, I will focus particularly on the foundational areas of intrapersonal and interpersonal communication as it relates to this journey of faith integration.