The professor of Christian studies seeks to enter into the lives of his students with a little wooden box and big questions

H

e’s the guy with the beard. The professor with the tattoos. He likes that. But he loves being the one with the little wooden box.

Previous students know what to expect when they walk into Anderson Campbell’s class the first day, and the others soon learn. Come with 3x5 index cards. Write your name and the date, and place it in the box. This is your attendance record. The hinged lid closes 10 minutes into class; after that you’re absent. But what makes the simple wooden box meaningful is the opportunity given to each student to write a prayer request on the card. “I’m going to pray for you either way,” Campbell tells students. “You can’t stop me. So you can either tell me what to pray for, or I’m going to make something up.”

Right after class, Campbell goes to his office and prays through the cards. “I’ve been astonished by the depth and vulnerability students enter into when I invite them to write something down for me to pray for,” he says. Relationships. Job interviews. Family members with cancer.

Praying specifically for his students has shaped Campbell’s view of them. “It’s helped me remember the fully human people they are,” he says. “It can be really easy for teach- ers to view their students in a thin kind of way. We tend to focus on our class ... we forget all of the other stuff they have going on in life.”


“I teach because I love the opportunity to come alongside students and help them discern who they are and who God is calling them to be.”


Four years ago, Campbell began teaching in the university’s College of Christian Studies. Three semesters in, he removed the desk from his office. “I have a circle of six chairs now,” he says. “I learned that when I was in my office I wasn’t doing paperwork, I was talking with students. This big desk had a power dynamic, so I had it removed.”

Campbell teaches and meets regularly with students across all majors in that now-welcoming office – social work and biology students, psychology and English. “A lot of students say, ‘How can I take this calling and my faith and integrate them? How do I let my faith motivate and guide the occupation God is calling me into?’ If God has called them to something, God wants to use them in that thing – in maybe ways that are explicitly connected to the church, but maybe ways that are not.”

To figure out faith and calling, to understand who they are and how God interacts in their world, Campbell is convinced they must learn to ask questions. Good questions.

“I am a question asker,” he says. “So in many of my classes I move away from lecture and toward asking powerful questions. I want to form students into reflective practitioners, people who can think deeply about what they’re going to do.”

Campbell teaches by modeling, asking open-ended questions that pull students into answering and asking questions themselves. He’s been known to cancel class and declare everyone absent when discussion lags because the outside reading was not done.

“Those students get the reading done next time,” he says. “There is a roll of the dice there, but I try to ask good questions. We try to find God in the text – even if it’s not an explicitly Christian text. We look for the movements of God, for the whispers of God in the texts we read. I want them to have an encounter with the mind of the author ... and with God, in that I want these things to matter to them. And I could do that maybe through a lecture, but I found it to be so much more powerful if I can engage a class in conversation around why these ideas matter.”

When students want to engage further with the material or when they just need to talk, they know about the prayer box, and they know about that circle of six chairs in Campbell’s office.

“I teach because I love the opportunity to come alongside students and help them discern who they are and who God is calling them to be,” Campbell says. “I pray for students just to help them know that somebody cares about what’s going on in their lives on this campus. A lot of people pray for them; the prayer box is a tangible reminder.”