We have a new colleague in our BTS Dept at North Park: Joel Willitts. Having figured out this blogging world a bit, I thought it might be a good time to record some thoughts of what I wish a veteran teacher had told me when I was a young theologian. So, this is a bit of a letter to Joel at the outset of his new career.
First, spend time every evening with Karla talking about life — and try to avoid letting each conversation revolve around work. Protect your marriage because nothing ruins life like the collapse of a marriage.
Second, pray in your office before the day — pray for your students and yourself. Read your Bible, too, not as a textbook but as soul care and life guide.
Third, teach the way you teach and not the way your favorite teachers taught. Which means, be yourself. I know you, you’ll be fine.
Fourth, your best compliment is that students have told me that you love them. All truth is incarnate and we have the sacred task of trying to incarnate the gospel.
Fifth, the second best compliment is that they learned alot. This can actually be measured, but it is what you want to hear from students at times.
Sixth, the worst compliment is that they think you are smart. Why? Because (frankly) they don’t know a good scholar from a bad one in our discipline, and if they think you’re smart it probably means you are talking over their head — and sometimes trying to impress them.
Seventh, be more than ready to admit you don’t know something: good grief, no one knows all the Bible and all theology, so just admit it up front that you’re going to learn lots each semester.
Eighth, eat with students at lunch when you can.
Ninth, avoid being good at committee work or someone will get the idea that you’ll be a good administrator — and that’s a death-spiral into paper work and meetings. If you find you like that sort of thing … just don’t.
Tenth, grade papers right away and get them back right away, and they’ll think you are the absolute bees-knees.
Eleventh, write a book review a year, strive for a journal article each year, and work toward your first book in 3 or 4 years.
Twelfth, during the first year or more be all ears and no voice on committees and at meetings: use at least the first year to listen and figure out what North Park is like. It took me a good three years to get a feel for this place. There’s a tradition here that runs deep; it is a lore that is learned over time.
Thirteenth, do what you can to let weekends be weekends and not workdays. Go to a Cubs game or a Bears game or a Bulls game. Please don’t watch Yankee games.
Fourteenth, speak in churches when asked: what we do is not for the Academy but for the Church. (Sure, participate in the Academy, but our final purpose is to serve Christ in the Church.)
Fifteenth, jot down notes in the margins of your lectures for areas to improve or things to toss or ideas to explore.
Sixteenth, avoid getting publication commitments when you are young. Get a feel for what you can do, when you can get it done, and what you’d like to dedicate your time to. Then work into a writing career.
Seventeenth, don’t publish your dissertation: they are all boring and we’ve got stacks of them that no one reads. Wait five years or more, return to it, and baptize that research into something theologically significant.
Eighteenth, read a book in theology and spiritual formation each year. Our discipline tends to develop specialists, and that is not good for the Christian life or for the Church.
Nineteenth, participate annually in an academic conference or two.
Twentieth, Joel, know what I am honored to have you with us, and really excited about the years we’ll have together.