The Teaching Life: A Way of Love

It’s an old adage, but as I come to the end of a long teaching ministry, I think it’s true:  people care how much you know when they know how much you care.

Students get used to being “passed around” in the educational system, moving from one class to another—one professor to another.  When that becomes natural for them, they begin to look for something else:  teachers who love them and truly care for them.

I am fortunate to have had teachers like that in my life.  Decades later, we are still loved by them and our friendships grow more precious year-after-year.

A long time ago, I decided to “lead with love” in my teaching, and then later, to do the same when I became an administrator at Asbury Seminary.  This was a conscious decision on my part, not an accident or a failure to “understand” what leadership is.  I’ve had examples of people whose styles were regulatory, dictatorial, and punitive—people who think they have to create a “culture of fear” in order to lead.

I have chosen another way.  And if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way.  Teachers are ultimately respected and leaders are ultimately followed when those around them feel valued, appreciated, affirmed, and loved.  This does not diminish our ability to critique and challenge; in fact, knowing we’re loved is the way we know that another’s disagreement is based on a genuine desire to see us do better.

If we do not know we are loved by another person, we never quite know what their motives are in relating to us.  But when we give and receive love, then even the hard times can produce a good harvest.

And when you come down to the end of that “professional season,” you can leave with a host of friends who will genuinely miss you, not secretly be glad to see you go.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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3 Responses to The Teaching Life: A Way of Love

  1. Kenna Sapp says:

    Oh Steve,
    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate and agree with this timely “word!” Yes, you did teach/lead this way and how we need more folks like you in such positions.

  2. Kandace Brooks says:

    Amen Steve! I am discovering once again the importance and joy of incarnational ministry – if we can teach anything to our students, it would be that being with the people that God puts in your care and loving them deeply goes so much further than anything else we can do as pastors and leaders. Thank you for being a teacher/leader who did so from a position of love. I am better for it!

  3. Pastor Kim says:

    Since I graduated Asbury in 2005, I no longer takes classes from you, so I started missing you long ago. You truly lived out the type of leader you set out to be.

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