Academia, at all levels, is much like ministry too. I may not have pastored people in my classes, or prayed with professors, but learning to appreciate the process is half the battle in managing the rigors of academia. While pursuing my degree in social responsibility and sustainable communities, I took a class called “Community Based Research Methods.” I learned to engage in community-based research realizing how vital the processes and tools were that the researcher used. In fact, the processes and tools used to mine the research were more important than the findings themselves. Randy Stoecker, author of Research Methods for Community Change: A Project-Based Approach, wrote a chapter in the book titled “Implementing: When Research Is the Project.” As I read that whole chapter – even the chapter title itself – I could not help but remember the praxis of ministry. Like academia (and community-based research), having the proper processes and tools in ministry directly affects the results, and the proper processes and tools are directly related to the gifts and skills of the individual. David, in his battle against the Philistine, Goliath, almost used the wrong tools in the fight. At the time, King Saul gave David his tools with which to fight – a sword, a shield, and armor. But, when David put them on and tried to walk into battle, he could not do it. David took them off, then used the tools related to his gifts and skills – a sling, five smooth stones, and a shepherd’s staff. Likewise, in academia I learned that I could not write like someone else. I could not conduct research like someone else. I could not understand like someone else because the processes and tools with which I engaged my learning were particular to me – Enger – a young adult, educated, middle class, black woman from Prince George’s County, Maryland. The practice of ministry cultivated a deeper resilience and tenacity in me for academia. Sure, there is most definitely an end to academic pursuits – the degree. But, no one tells you how to take care of you in the meantime. No one tells you how to stay in academia when it gets hard. No one tells you that academic failures are not a waste, but much needed seeds for success and self-discovery. Here are a few ministry lessons I’ve learned to navigate academia well – at any level:
- Take care of you. Do not neglect the basics of drinking water, exercising, eating well, resting.
- No person is an island. Seek out a village of love, laughter, accountability, and support.
- Ask for help. You do not know everything, nor can you do everything. Be kind to yourself.
- No is a complete answer. This short yet powerful word reminds you that everyone has limits - even you - and that is okay.
- Risk failing boldly. Then, examine the failures with your village and learn from them.
- Learn to laugh at yourself. Laughter is good for the soul, and laughing at your mistakes reminds you that you are human.
- The work will always be there, but you may not be. So, bring the best and healthiest you to the work.