By Gordon Govier

Focused on Faculty

Craig Gartland, InterVarsity’s newly appointed Director of Faculty Ministry, has been working with faculty ever since he joined InterVarsity staff in 1989.  His first assignment was the University of Chicago, where Christian undergrads, graduate students, and faculty were all involved with InterVarsity.

Later he became Midwest Regional Director for Graduate and Faculty Ministries (GFM) and his focus narrowed to just grad students and faculty but expanded geographically. And now his focus is narrower still, but the whole country is his purview.

The role of faculty

More than 1,600 faculty are involved with InterVarsity on campuses across the country. Faculty have been a part of InterVarsity’s campus ministry from the very beginning, as they provided spiritual leadership on campus. In many cases, faculty have been the backbone of a campus ministry, since the student body changes every year and InterVarsity staff can also change on a frequent basis. But faculty have not been in the mainstream of our ministry, at least not yet.

"This job has captured my imagination because of the potential of the faculty, some of which has been tapped but much of which I still think is out there untapped,” Craig said. Faculty involvement has largely been left up to the faculty. He plans to explore new ways to invite more faculty involvement.

Engaging the campus

One of the most dynamic interactions with faculty occurs on campuses when InterVarsity and partner ministry Veritas Forum team up to sponsor a night of debate on academic and social issues.

“The best Veritas Forums are the ones where there is a partnership with Christian believing faculty and non-believing faculty, owning the event together, having dialogue that is civil and yet doesn't pull punches,” Craig said. “It's modeling the kind of discourse that we can have. It shows that Christians can hold their place at the table and not have to take a defensive posture, or be combative."

At some schools, non-believers among the faculty who have been involved in Veritas Forum events seek out InterVarsity staff to find out when the next forum will be held, because they enjoy the intellectual stimulus in the pursuit of truth. The forums embrace what college is supposed to be about—the adventure of learning—but which is largely missing for many faculty who get entangled in the bureaucracy of higher education.

Craig reflects on the many graduate students he mentored during his days at the University of Chicago who are now faculty members on campuses from the University of Colorado to Gordon College. He plans to seek their input for ideas on how faculty ministry can expand and improve. But already he has a vision for involving more faculty in ministry as mentors for Christian students through GFM’s Emerging Scholars Network.

Allies on campus

While at some campuses there are communities of Christian faculty who meet regularly, facilitated by GFM staff, Craig believes that undergrad staff can also benefit from a relationship with just one faculty member.

“I want undergrad staff to see faculty on their campus as allies,” he said. “The faculty are there for a long time. At community and city colleges, faculty and administrators are key in planting new chapters. Some of these people have been praying for years for some kind of Christian witness on campus. The potential for all of us in InterVarsity to see the benefits and own faculty ministry as something we'll benefit from is part of the potential that I see."

Craig’s wife Sharon teaches in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Through her he has another perspective on the world of college and university faculty.

Craig is also a competitive bicycle racer and he gains additional insights through a bicycle club that he joined and became elected president. Some of the members are professors. “It's a wonderful coming together of my two worlds,” he said. “These are faculty I don't know how I would've met otherwise. For them to put their heads around what I do—most of them are fascinated by it.”

The professors often find Craig’s job mystifying at first; but as he talks with them about the religious and ethical dimensions of their work they become intrigued. That often leads to deeper conversations. And that’s what faculty ministry is all about – introducing faculty to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.


For more of Craig’s thoughts on Faculty Ministry see his article Why InterVarsity Needs Faculty Ministry, written for a staff publication.