April 2, 2016

Phase One - Dissertation Proposal

It is April 2, 2016, and I am about to begin my dissertation. Yes, I am going to spend today and tomorrow overhauling chapter 1, my introduction, to my research study on mediated communication in the American megachurch. My study is prepped, and I have spent the past 6-9 months working on various aspects of it. I wrote an outline last summer, covered a literature review in the fall, and now in spring, I am preparing my proposal.

My proposal covers the first three chapters of my dissertation -- the introduction, the literature review, and the methodology to be used for research. My timeline is to have all three chapters written by the end of April so I can propose my study during the month of May. This would allow me to complete Phase 2 - Research and Phase 3 - Results (Chapters 4-5) by the first part of fall. I would like to defend in September or October, and be done, be graduated. It is possible, given the fact that I have the summer free. Still the task ahead seems daunting. I will do my best, of course, and I am relying on the Lord to see me through to the very end. He will do it, just as He has said (1 Thess. 5:24).
Learning the Hard Truth

Yesterday, after such a good day on Thursday, I started to feel the pangs of doubt as they crept into my psyche. Yes, I felt so high on Thursday, as if there was nothing I couldn't do, no mountain high enough, no wall immovable. Then Friday arrived, and I crashed! Yes, I crashed. I mean, I was riding this wave of "I can do this," when I hit a curve and bang! I found myself flat on my face feeling the brush of agony. Why was this so? Why did this happen?

The answer is pretty simple, really. I started out with such high hopes for a good day at school when I encountered something that sent me off the track. What was it, you ask? Well, it was another nail in the coffin, so to speak, another glimmer of dishonesty in my academic environment that was brought to my door. This nugget of truth was shared with me yesterday, and as I pondered it, I realized that I work in an environment of unequaled performance and unequaled expectations. These expectations, in performance and ethics, stem from what is considered acceptable by full-time faculty, but not acceptable by adjunct instructors, and include such behaviors as the scrutinization between differences in approaches to teaching, grading, and assessment. It seems that the more I am paying attention to the stories shared by the graduate assistants, the more I see just how difficult it is for me to understand how one department can allow full-time faculty to do certain things all the while prohibiting adjuncts from doing the same. It reeks of party politics, and frankly, I don't do politics well. Moreover, I struggle with integrity issues -- issues where integrity is lacking, especially anytime I witness unfairness and injustice at work.

Please know...I realize that we do not live in a perfect world, but frankly, I expect my full-time peers to behave consistently and to be models for those that are underneath them. I thought this was the case, but now I am seeing that it is not. I am seeing faculty do things that I am expressly forbidden to do in my contract. I am seeing faculty handle things in ways that I would like to do as well, but because my contract says I cannot, I have to abide by the rules in order to stay employed. This inconsistent message seems to be prevalent in my department, and as such, I am really struggling to come to terms with it. To say that it has put me off teaching at this school is an understatement because not only am I put off, but I am ready to leave completely. I am not ready to ditch teaching 100%, but I am considering what else I might do.

The rub of it is this -- I love my job. I love teaching students. I love what I get to do each day. I love scholarship, and the idea of research and presentation of that research. I love everything about teaching except for the policies and procedures found in higher education. Yes, it is in the institution where the chips fall flat. The institution and their academic departments make the rules that those of us part-timers have to abide by and keep if we hope to remain employed. The problem is that I have found a number of full-time faculty who are not good leaders or managers. They simply do not have the skill to be people-builders. Instead, they are self-motivated and only in the game for their benefit. I know this is because of the tenure system and the research agenda that fuels most top-schools. Students, who foot the bill for their education, get the drips of an education only. The institution is all about the faculty achieving, promoting, and generating income and attention to the school's bottom line.

I wish I could say that this doesn't bother me, but it does. The longer I am a teacher, the more I see the system as out of whack. Furthermore, as an adjunct instructor who wants to be hired full-time, I see the possibility of that happening shrinking by the moment. I believe that the only way I will be hired full-time as faculty is through the Lord's hand of blessing. I believe that the school of His choosing is specific -- now more than ever -- do I see why I must be patient and wait. You see, I don't want a full-time job just anywhere -- not anymore, that is. No, I must find a job at a Christian school where faculty are treated with respect, and where there is an honor and vision that aligns with Biblical practice. Yes, I have seen the underside of Christian higher education, and while what I have seen is not as blatant or discriminatory as say in public or private education, it still bothers me.

The problem as I see it is this -- too many Christian schools have followed the way of the public university and as such have either hired outside faculty or adapted belief systems in order to stay alive in the business of higher education. This means that there are faculty who work at Evangelical institutions that may or may not be Christian. If they are Christian, they may be weak in their faith, weak in their beliefs, and as such they may bring many liberal ideas into the classroom and the department. The problem is not isolated to Christian education, but it is a singular problem that has been discovered in Christian organizations and in the Church, proper. This means that what was once the domain of believers and functioned under the auspices of Christian morals and ethics, has now become a muddled mess of worldly values and misplaced emphasis on numbers -- mostly tuition and student enrollment.

Sigh!

I had so hoped that this path would be "it" for me. I had so hoped that I could achieve personal success while ministering to students, helping and encouraging them to find their "place" while in college. I so wanted to be doing something of great value, that would help students realize their God-given potential, and that would help to prepare them for the work He had in mind for them. Instead, I am slowly becoming soured, becoming disillusioned with the whole academic system. What is really sad for me is that I have rung up massive debt pursuing this line of work, and while my PhD was never about getting a job, it has facilitated moving me to this path as a future career. Now, I am wondering if it is worth all the hub-bub. I am wondering if it would not be better for me to go back into business and use my analytical skill to work in Marketing or Communications. I certainly could make more money, and if I am going to have to deal with petty politics, well, I can certainly do that in industry just as much as in higher education.


Opening My Eyes to The World

My eyes have been opened to the world this past week. In truth, my eyes have been opened over the course of the past semester or two, but with my comprehensive exams and such, I simply wasn't able to reflect or ponder the truth until now. Yes, now I see it.  Now that I have had enough down time to relax and let my brain reset a bit, I see how this path looks in reality rather than in my idealistic and naive hopes for perfection. I so wanted to "try out" teaching. I so wanted to be labeled as a teacher. I have wanted this path since I was a child, and I desired it so much that I thought I would die if I didn't get the chance to become a professor. The Lord graciously permitted me this opportunity. He graciously gave me the open door to experience higher education, to become a teacher and a professor. He allowed me to teach at several schools, and while I loved the experience, the joy, the freedom of teaching, I have also seen that darker underside that says to me "Uh Oh, this isn't what I expected or planned on seeing." Yes, I guess you could say I have become educated in the ways of the world and in the policies found in higher education. I guess you could say that I have come to see the truth, the bright light of truth, and I have come to see that not all is "white linen and fine dining."

What does this mean for me?

I am not really sure, other than to say, that my high hopes have been dashed. Am I ready to jump ship? No, not really. If anything, I think my expectations have been realigned, and my mindset has been altered to see the reality of the situation. Teaching is a job just like any other. When we elevate what we are doing to a "God-like" status we run the risk of falling victim to pride. I have taken pride in my work, in my efforts, in my results, and as such, I have come to see teaching as the "end all and be all" of what I can do. However, this is not true at all. I am called not as a teacher, but as a communicator. God purposed and planned for me to move into a ministry position whereby I would use my education at Regent coupled with my business experience to develop curriculum to help the church learn to communicate more effectively to this postmodern world. This is my calling. This is my ministry. Teaching, thus, is only a job.

I have known this now for six years. I have known that there would be no "work" other than His work. I have known that the job would be income-producing only, and that the job would be good for me, provide for me, and make a life for me. His work, however, was EVERYTHING. The work I did was important. It was specific. It was to be done according to His will and His way. There would be no mixing the two. The job would never be the "work." The job would never take status above the work -- ever.

As I think about this truth today, one thing is for sure -- I must focus on His work above all else. If the Lord chooses to keep me in teaching, it will be to facilitate His work. If He chooses to move me elsewhere it will be to facilitate His work. So whether I go or I stay, it is to do His work. I work unto the Lord, and I trust Him to provide for me. If He determines that it is best for me to try something new, to move into a different position, then it will be so that I can do His work more freely, with more time or with more expertise. If He chooses to keep me where I am now, it will so that I can focus on the tasks at hand, on doing well in and through my present circumstances.

I guess you could say that I see it now, I get what this whole experience has been about. It was never about me getting a full-time faculty position at a school somewhere. No, it was about me learning that there is only one job and that is the one the Lord calls me to do. Nothing else matters, nothing else is important. So long as I am doing He work, then He is pleased. I will feel the deep sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from doing what He has asked me to do. In obedience and with humility, I will do the work He has called me to do. The job that He provides will be for my best, of course, but it will only serve one purpose and that is to provide a salary (benefits, 401K, etc.) to me. The job has one role and that is to provide income so that I can live comfortably and with blessing, freedom and opportunity. The Lord may use the job to help perfect skill as He has done in teaching by allowing me to learn how to speak publicly, to create curriculum, to present, etc.  He may use another job to prepare me for leadership, and to do that, I would need to work someplace where I could be in a leader type role. He may use me to engage culture, and in that way, I would need access to culture.

You see, the Lord uses whatever is at His disposal in order to make His plan come to pass. This means that jobs, schools, roles, etc., are used by Him to further His specific design, to bring to fruition His plan for our lives. We must be flexible to allow Him to move us wherever He desires, and to do the type of job that He provides for us. We must differentiate between job and work (ministry). We must understand the working unto the Lord typically means serving others, maintain an attitude that is gracious. We yield our heart and our mind to Him, submitting to Him so that He is placed above everything else in our life. Thus, whether the job we do is as a home maker or a professor, our heart attitude should be the same. We do the job, the role given to us, always with His best in mind. The ministry that we do is different. Yes, we minister to our families, to our peers, to our students, etc. But ministry is about kingdom building so we need to remember that point specifically. Ministry is always about furthering the Kingdom of God.

I think Christians get this message mixed up. I think they see the work they do (as in job) as ministry because they feel they are witnesses to their peers as a Christian (morals and ethics). They feel this is ministry, to maintain a Christ-like witness. I agree in some extent with this line of thinking, but in truth, as Christians we are called to model Christ-likeness as a standard, thus to consider this the sum-total of our ministry is inconsistent with the Word. No, we are called to this standard as a model, but our ministry is to use the gifts the Holy Spirit endows to us in service to others and to share the good news. Our ministry is always about reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I know I have gotten the message twisted up. For many years, I was taught that our ministry and our life were synonymous, meaning that there was no difference between the two. I thought this meant that the only job a Christian should do is ministry-related, e.g., a professional ministry position. This was error, this was faulty thinking because it presumed that one must only seek a full-time ministry position. This line of thinking came from my ex-husband's family where it was taught that the only job acceptable was to do His work. Therefore, the options were teachers, pastors or missionaries. There were no other acceptable professions save these three.

In my case, I worked in jobs in business, and even though I served in voluntary capacity at church, my work (ministry) was deemed less than best. Had I become a full-time Children's director at my church, well then my ministry would have been approved. But, I was a website designer, and that was not honoring to the Lord (per my ex's family). I struggled to prove to them that the work I did in ministry was valued, but they never accepted it.

Furthermore, my desire for education was put down as well. Unless I was going to school to be a pastor, a teacher or a missionary, there was no purpose in the pursuit. This thinking placed such a strain on my relationship that for years, conversations about jobs and ministry became painful for me. I simply never could measure up to this false standard that my ex-husband's family kept.

Now, of course, I am on my own, and I have achieved the education I desired for so many years. I have worked hard to become a teacher, and I am good at what I do. Yet, I still confuse the job with the work, simply because in my case, they are not the same thing. Often, I will have well-meaning people who say to me that teaching is a ministry in and of itself. And, while this may be true for some people, it is not true for me. Teaching is a job. I teach and the income I earn pays the bills.

Ministry, on the other hand, can never have a dollar amount attached to it. It can never be done for pay. This is part of the problem in the church today. We pay people to be professional ministers. We pay them to do a job, and they behave toward the church in the same way that an employee behaves toward their employer. When 5 o'clock comes by, they head out the door. Saturdays are their days off -- so no ministry on days off! No visiting the sick, no working overtime, no skipping vacations. It is a job, and after all, that means 40 hours a week.

Of course, not every full-time minister follows this line of thinking. There are many good ministers out there who give selflessly to their congregations. They sacrifice their family time, their marriages, everything really, in order to do the Lord's work. I commend these people because I believe their reward in heaven is great. They will be well-rewarded for their humility and sacrifice.

Most modern megachurches (and some smaller churches), unfortunately, are places for Christian employment. The hire folks to do jobs so that they can work in a Christian environment. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with working full-time at a church. We need custodians, office assistants, etc. to keep up with the demands of work, but I think if we hired fewer professional people, the church would have far greater effect and reach. We would have people in places where the Lord is first, His kingdom work is second, and all thoughts of producing income fall farther down the list.

Making Sense of it All

I think that today I get His point to me. I think today I understand what He is saying to me. I must never put any "job" above what He has called me to do. I must remain single-mindedly focused on His work, the plan He has called me to fulfill. The "job" will be provided, in one form or another, and as long as I am willing and agreeable to doing it, it will be done. I may remain in teaching long-term or I may go into business as He provides, but either way, I realize today that my number one goal is to serve Him fully, completely, and with utter abandon. I must never put anything above Him, and I must accept that the path I am on may not be the path I will remain on forever. I must let go my need for a title, for a professional career, and instead, I must embrace His work 100% fully so that I can do what He has called me to do.

This means, in sum, that my desire to be a professor has to be let go now. I must let it ride, so to speak. If the Lord chooses for me to be hired as a professor, He will do it. If He chooses for me to do some other line of work, then He will do it as well. I am to go, to do His work, to stay focused on His plan for my life. I must be committed to the Kingdom above all, and to doing this very special and important work for His Name and His praise! Selah!

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