Qualifications for Teaching at a Small Christian College

Here is a lightly-edited example of the many e-mails I have received of this sort:

A friend of mine showed me your blog entries on PhD work (“Thinking about a Ph.D” was particularly helpful; thanks), and I was wondering if you had any advice specifically for someone who wants to teach at a smaller, Christian school (I love to teach, and while I enjoy it to a degree, research is definitely not my goal, especially in top-tier academic settings).

I am finishing up my BA in Liberal Arts and Culture at X College in Smalltown, USA, and am seriously thinking about getting my MA here as well. However, this is not a very attractive resume for PhD work, so I’ve emailed admissions at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), and they didn’t seem to think an MA from my college would be too detrimental to admissions into their PhD program (I would just need to take a few classes to get myself up to MDiv equivalency).

That’s TEDS, though, and I realize with this background I probably wouldn’t have a chance getting into universities like Duke or Princeton. So, do you think a PhD from a place like TEDS would be good for me, if I’m only wanting to teach at a small, Christian school? I’ve heard that teaching jobs are very scarce, so I don’t want to leave myself with a PhD and no job. At the same time, though, I want to teach in more conservative, evangelical circles, so it seems doing my coursework there would get me the connections I’d need for a job.

Also, should I be considering a degree from Aberdeen or Edinburgh, over a place like TEDS (or Calvin or Wheaton)?

Finally, what do you think of the doctorate program at Regent? I looked at it not too long ago, and it seemed more geared toward people already employed; would it be worth looking into given what I’m wanting to do? Thanks.

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What do small Christian schools want? Well, the best thing to do, of course, is to ask them, not me! This is probably the best academic advice I ever give, so I’ll give it again. If you want to find out what a prospective graduate school or employer is looking for, don’t just ask pundits like me: ask them.

How do you ask? You can ask directly. In the case of admissions to a graduate program, e-mail the admissions people and, if possible, a professor in your field. In the case of a prospective employer (which is what the rest of this post is about), write to the academic dean or the head of the department closest to your interests.

You can also search their website and see whom they have hired, especially recently.

Any other advice is anecdotal and highly perspectival. So here’s mine.

Some small Christian colleges (SCCs) hire from places like TEDS. And so they should: TEDS has some fine professors, including several friends of mine whom I esteem highly indeed. SCCs also hire from their own denominational schools quite often, so that can be another reason to study at them rather than at the Big Time Universities (BTUs).

Otherwise, however, you’re competing in the academic marketplace of “all against all,” so to speak, and degrees from BTUs just do show up on the c.v.’s of employed professors a lot more than do degrees from other, even quite good, schools.

As for Regent’s doctoral program, we don’t have one. That is to say, Regent College, where I teach in Vancouver, Canada, offers only master’s degrees. If you’re looking at a doctoral program with “Regent” in the title, you’re looking at the former CBN University who, the story has it, once wanted a new name and decided to take ours! It’s a quite different place: Pentecostal/charismatic and American and . . . well, quite different–as my friend Amos Yong, who teaches there, I’m sure would agree!

0 Responses to “Qualifications for Teaching at a Small Christian College”

  1. Andy Rowell

    I agree with Professor Stackhouse.

    I will just add more food for thought along the lines he suggests.

    Most Duke Ph.D. grads are glad to get 2-3 interviews. Many of the more evangelical-leaning would love to teach at small Christian colleges like Westmont, Seattle Pacific, Bethel University, Wheaton College, Calvin College, Messiah College, Trinity Western University, etc. It seems to me that jobs are scarce. I know the Taylor University (Upland, IN) Old Testament position had about 80 applications two years ago.

    In my opinion, getting a job at one of these schools depends on these factors in this order. All of the eight factors are important.

    1) Personal connections (being an alum of the school, serving as an adjunct professor at the school, warm personal relationships, etc.)
    2) Teaching experience–any college or university classroom experience helps you get over rookie mistakes.
    3) Ph.D. degree reputation
    4) Perfect theological fit (not too liberal, not too conservative)
    5) Reference from a professor the faculty respects and knows
    6) Gender and racial diversity
    7) Publications and dissertation
    8 ) Sample teaching and interview performance

    This is just my impression from talking to Duke Ph.D. grads and teaching at Taylor University for two years as a Visiting Professor.

    Andy Rowell
    Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) Student
    Duke Divinity School
    Durham, North Carolina
    Blog: Church Leadership Conversations http://www.andyrowell.net/

  2. John Stackhouse

    Thanks, Andy, for your list. Some comments:

    You’re right about personal connections: I’ve seen them trump almost everything else in some situations.

    Theological fit can make or break your application also, no matter what else you bring to the table.

    I think Ph.D. program or supervisor’s reputation is next, at least to keep you in the competition in a large pool.

    Gender and race will beat teaching experience and publications in many cases: again, I’ve seen it happen again and again. It won’t always happen, I’m glad to say, but it has happened and still happens a lot.

    If you make it to the interview, however, then your performance is very important indeed. Bad teaching in a school that values good teaching will disqualify people otherwise ranked higher. But performing on an interview is much more than the sample lecture you give. Everything is a test: from your clothes to your accent to your jokes (or lack of them) to your manners to your opinions on anything that happens to come up even (and sometimes especially) over meals.

    (Still, personal connection can make up for even a second-place finish in the interview. ‘Tis the way of the world, alas, and one must just accept it.)

    The Chronicle of Higher Education is a trove of anecdote, lore, and wisdom on interviewing and all other such matters, and job seekers should be ransacking its website archives for pointers.

  3. Jeremiah

    If one is willing to take up the challenge I think teaching in Africa or Asia could really benefit the Church there. I heard from friends that one best seminary in India has no Ph.D program because they don’t have faculty member. Someone from a developed world coming to teach in an underdeveloped or a developing country could be difficult, but I guess it’s worth it.

  4. Josh

    The job market is scarce in the teaching field, but I have heard that practical theology/pastoral theology positions are hard to fill because the academy lacks trained scholars in this field. That said, I would think that it depends on what your research is whether you will have a hard time finding a job. I know that TEDS has a Ph.D. in Christian Education and I would guess that one would have a good shot at finding a position in that field. I believe that the really scarce jobs are in OT/NT/ Theology.

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