When it comes to faith integration, are our students really “getting it”? Do we stop to analyse our methods of integration to ensure that they are not only present in the class but properly interpreted by the student?
As we think of the integration of faith and learning, perhaps it is best to examine the end result: the changed life of the student. If our integration is not producing transformation then we must consider how it can be improved to bring about the desired result. In a way, integration is nothing more than discipleship. So often the church world has reduced discipleship to memorizing Scripture and maintaining personal disciplines. However, the very nature of discipleship involves all of life and thinking "Christianly" in all aspects of life.
A recent study sought to gauge students’ perceptions of faith integration. In the article, The Other Side of the Podium: Student Perspectives on Learning Integration, a group of educators polled 595 graduate and undergraduate students, asking three questions. These questions included what the best example of integration was in their institution (the study spanned four institutions), what did the school do well overall when it came to integration and what would they like to see improved?
When the responses of the students were compiled a single theme appeared: the foundational element in integration is the professor. Of all the aspects of integration, course content, course material, goals, assignments and so on, it was the professor that held the most sway over the developing student. One student shared, “I appreciate that integration is not taught but lived” (p. 23). Another agreed and commented, “Spending time with professors before and after class, as well as outside of school, I was able to see their personal integration, and that was more powerful than any of the formal training” (pp. 23-24).
It was, in fact, the integration of faith and living by the professor that provided the necessary reinforcement of faith and learning. When the study drilled down to discover more detail, five characteristics emerged of the fully integrative professor:
- Self-revelation (transparency and sharing of personal growth)
- Caring or receptiveness (genuine concern for the student)
- Welcoming of integrative discussion (supporting free and honest dialogue)
- Dedication to integration (commitment to more than just devotions or prayer)
- Open-mindedness (allowing other points of view to be entertained)
What is more, the study shared that three categories of integration helped reinforce the professor’s example:
- Integration as propositional content (connecting class concepts to Scriptural truths)
- Integration as embodiment (living out a godly life with apparent conviction)
- Integration as practice (connecting godly principles to one’s course or discipline)
It becomes clear that the professor has a number of tools available to use in integrating faith with any and all course concepts; however, at the end of the day, integration depends on the witness and testimony of the professor’s life. Isn’t this the way that Jesus lived? He was the perfect integration of the God-man and lived out God’s kingdom truths in an easily understandable human way. His great favor has deposited his spirit on the inside of us, reproducing his life in us. Let us depend on his strength and inspiration to live from the inside out. After all, time and time again the results prove that the integration of faith in the classroom is more easily caught than taught.