While going to seminary students have the tendency to ask, “What professor should I take for this class?” or perhaps, “What professor should I avoid taking?” Sometimes these questions orbit around the deeper concern, “Which professor can I gain the most from, both academically and in my future career?” Sometimes we gauge value based on personal gain and self-interests. Sometimes we have the tendency to value people who are capable of propelling our careers forward.
My proposition to you however, is that the most influential professor is not necessarily the one who is influential in the marketplace or is well-published. The most influential professor may not be the one who knows someone who knows someone who can give you a job after you graduate because ultimately, your ability to retain your job is not based on who you know but by your character, your ability to lead, your relationship with Jesus Christ, and your effectiveness at guiding others to Jesus Christ. Therefore, I propose that the most influential professor is the one that helps bring you closer to Jesus Christ.
Now, there are a lot of qualities and character traits that people can possess to help bring others closer to Christ and I’m not about to go into those and the infinite number of combinations of different traits that can impact someone’s ability to lead others to Christ. Rather, I will speak of one professor that I have consistently returned to in seminary that has had obvious and significant impact in my own life and walk with Christ.
His name is Dr. David Mathewson and he is one of the associate professors of New Testament at Denver Seminary. I label him as the most influential professor I have studied under because he not only possesses a humble and pastoral character but he also communicates the Bible well and helps students understand the Bible holistically, that is, he acknowledges and helps us understand significant thematic narratives in the Bible. Combined with his personal humility and pastor-like approach to each student, he draws us closer to the heart of God and helps us understand the truths of God. Now, I have not received all A’s from him because he is also a fair teacher who wants to make sure we don’t take the truths of God lightly. So what makes a professor influential in my opinion? Here is a very short list of traits that have impacted me:
- Humility. I personally highly value humility. I believe humility reveals an understanding of the nature of humanity in the presence of a Holy God. Practically speaking, humility makes discussions with the professor so much easy and less intimidating in the guaranteed event that they know more than you. Humility is a tremendous asset and powerful character trait that often goes unnoticed and undervalued.
- Christ Centered. This trait goes hand in hand with humility. For obvious reasons this is an important trait to have if a professor is going to be a positive influence in the life of the student. The way they teach and live out their Christian life is dictated by their centeredness on Christ.
- Academics. As a professor, they should be expected to be an expert in their field of study. Certainly, if they are teaching you something, then they should know something about the subject themselves. Related to Academics is their giftedness as a teacher.
- Gifting. They should be gifted as teachers. Their ability to tie Scripture together and reveal grand truths of God imbedded in the Bible is important. A significant amount of my personal growth has come out of seeing deeper truths that often go unnoticed. The professor’s ability to draw these out and make them clear and plain is a significant skill they should have.
- Pastor Quality. Perhaps this is more of a personal preference but the ability of the professor to “pastor” or “shepherd” me is important. Not every professor is a Pastor but some are and certainly not every Pastor is a professor and most are not…at least in the seminary or professional sense. However, the professors who also happen to be a Pastor hold a special place for me. They seem to have the ability to teach well yet display empathy and deep care for the growth of the student (not that others don’t I just seem to experience it more with those who are also Pastors).
So this is my short list and I hope you have gained some insight as you enroll in your next classes.
By Joseph Siacunco. Joseph is a Masters of Divinity Student at Denver Seminary located in Littleton, CO. He currently works at Mission Hills Church in the Finance Department and is a Certified Public Accountant. He has worked in Accounting since 2004 but also serves at his church in other ways including teaching and preaching.