Commissioned By My Church
Does your pastor see you as someone
who is called to serve students
and colleagues on campus?
John Cogdell was a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Texas, Austin,
for more than 35 years. Cogdell obtained his Ph.D. from M.I.T.
In the early 1990′s, Cogdell was commissioned by his church—in recognition of his ministry efforts on the campus—as a Christian professor and missionary to the university. It was a powerful statement to him and the church and a confirmation of his calling.
[The following is reprinted from the archives of Faculty Commons's Real Issue, www.realissue.org ]
RI: What events led up to your commissioning as a Christian professor?
Cogdell: The church wanted to broaden the leadership, so they appointed some deacons. They felt I was spiritually equipped to be a deacon, but they knew, or I said, that I was called to serve God on the campus; that’s where my work is. So they ordained me as a deacon, but without any responsibilities in regard to the church.
It was a recognition; it was an equipping of me spiritually—ordaining me to serve the Lord on campus. There’s really not a lot of visibility that came with the recognition. But I feel it was a spiritually empowering event because when the church lays hands on a person and prays for them and sets them apart for a certain work of God, things happen; God does His part.
It’s so freeing and empowering to have the church recognize your calling.
When Paul and Barnabas were ordained, or sent forth from the church in Antioch, the people laid hands on them and set them apart for the work to which God had called them. I think Paul and Barnabas already knew their call and this was the church simply confirming it.
Is the church supposed to be equipping people for the ministry or not? The church really should be equipping people to go out in the world and have a ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s so freeing and empowering to have the church recognize your calling and set you apart for it, just as they would a missionary to Africa.
RI: What motivated you to become a professor?
Cogdell: It goes back to a man who discipled me here on campus. I became a Christian between my junior and senior year here at the University of Texas, Austin, in 1957. He was not actually a faculty member; he was employed in a research laboratory on campus. I’ve never met anybody more brilliant than this man; he was a model in the intellectual realm as well as the spiritual.
He and his wife nurtured the InterVarsity group here for many years. I was a part of that and spent much time in their home. So that was the model for me; I came back to Austin from M.I.T. to do for others what they had done for me. I entered into the teaching profession with a sense that this is something to which God had called me.
RI: Has your perspective of ministry on campus been modified over the years?
Cogdell: Yes. I’ll have to preface this by saying that I’m somewhat shy and I tend to need people’s approval. I haven’t been a risk-taker, so I’m not naturally well-equipped to be a bold witness. But Christian Leadership Ministries [ now Faculty Commons- ed.] has really helped me, and having fellowship with other Christian faculty members has helped me. I feel that at least on the first day of class I can tell my students that I became a Christian–that my faith has been the real driving focus of my life. I do this because of the encouragement of CLM and people like Rae Mellichamp, Walter Bradley and others.
I feel I’m called to be faithful to do certain simple things to further the increase of God’s Kingdom on this campus.
There have been some changes. My main calling has been to work within a Christian faculty fellowship and not so much to give leadership. I’m not a leader–I’m not a visionary nor a person that can get people interested in something. But I am a worker, and so I’ve basically been the one who has kept up the email list–the one who’s mailed out the stuff. I support Christian activities among the faculty, and act, to some degree, as a resource for the Christian community here in Austin.
I guess I feel I’m called to be faithful to certain simple things I can do to further the increase of God’s Kingdom on this campus. I’m not a leader, but the simple truth is that people do view me as the leader because I do a little bit.
RI: Is there a balance for a faculty member to reach between church and campus ministry opportunities?
Cogdell: People need to hear what God has called them to do and be. No doubt many Christian faculty members have a terrific anointing to teach in the church–perhaps even children. I don’t see how there is a question of balance. I know in my case I am fed and empowered by the church and I go there for worship and fellowship, but not for service. I fill up my tank at church and then I work on the campus.
RI: What of those who say their ministry at church precludes ministry on the campus?
Cogdell: It’s certainly more comfortable for most of us to operate in church, in a Christian context, than in the somewhat more hostile environment of the campus. I did make a transition to deal with Christians on campus, but I really have not done a lot to challenge the prevailing philosophies here. I greatly admire people who can do that. I mentioned Walter Bradley before; I think Walter is able to do that. Phillip Johnson would be the paragon of someone who can operate on any level and in any environment on campus and challenge, from a Christian perspective, the orthodoxy in any area.
RI: How can professors help churches recognize their calling on campus?
Cogdell: I think the first thing they ought to do is become involved on campus. Then if they are asked to do things that are not a part of their calling, they can explain what they’re doing and how God has called them to that. And that’s true for any Christian; they should involve themselves in what God has called them to do and not allow themselves to be distracted by others.
It’s very important to have God’s call in your life confirmed. People should sense that the church is there to encourage them to go out into the world and minister.