Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Guest Post--Ben Smucker--1. Responses to Previous Post; 2. Ten Ways Being an Instructor is Like Being a Pastor

Ben points out the eagles' nest along the Back Way, by the sugar beets

The following guest post by Ben is the final installment of the Smuckers' April Blogging Challenge.

You can catch up with Emily's posts here and Phoebe's posts here.

If you haven't read Ben's previous post, this one will make substantially more sense if you read it first. You can find the link here.

Hitting “send” or “submit” on a piece of writing sometimes feels like the spin of a roulette wheel (or at least, what I imagine spinning a roulette feels like). You’re never quite sure how it is going to land with your audience. Previously when I’ve sent pieces of writing off into the ether, the responses I remember are usually a mountain of edits from my Ph.D. advisor or the scathing remarks from the enigmatic and anonymous “Reviewer 2”. 

It’s been really encouraging (and almost overwhelming) to see all the responses to my previous article. I would have loved to reply to all of them, but as I deal with emails from students all the time, there is only so much brain space for responding to messages, one reason I limit my social media usage. (If you actually want to ask me a question, email is a better way to get a response; bensmucker93@gmail.com).

If you’re expecting an article like the previous one, prepare to be disappointed (just like Reviewer 2). When you’re teaching two college classes (one with 100 students, the other with 85), are supervising seven TAs, have two midterms to give and grade, and are behind on two other side projects, writing a thoughtful blog post is nearly impossible. In the middle of all this, two of my sisters were in Oregon so we had a family vacation and I was trying to carve out as much time as possible for them, so there wasn’t a lot of time or brain-space for well-written blog posts1. Life comes at you fast.

So what do you do when you have no original ideas? You riff on old ones, and pull some other random bits you have lying around. This blog post will have two parts. Part 1 is my answers to questions I have received from people after my last post. Note that not all of these were asked directly, and some of these are just me wanting to write a bit more about things I didn’t have time and space to put in the first one. Part 2 is a list of ways being an instructor is like being a pastor. I wrote the initial draft out of boredom while administering a final.


Q: Will you be writing more?

A: I hope to. I’ve considered starting a blog for a while, but did not have the time while in grad school (and who wants to write for fun when a good chunk of your job is writing?). I also did not know if there would be an audience for my writing. I’m still figuring out the rhythms of life in my current position as an instructor, but I’ll probably try to start it up over the summer after I wrap up some more of the research from my dissertation (I’m still working to submit them for peer review).

Q: What will you write about?

A: What I observe that I find interesting. I don’t think I can get my audience interested in something unless I am interested in it. This will be a side project, so I want to have fun with it. There will probably be some topics where only a fraction of the audience will have any interest, but I’ll write about them anyway and maybe we’ll both be surprised. There may be other topics that get a lot of cultural attention that I’m just not that interested in, and I probably won’t write about them (sorry British Royal Family, personality tests, and Taylor Swift), though I might write about why they are so popular.

Q: What exactly is your current academic position, and what are you hoping to do in the future?

A: Currently I am an instructor in the mechanical engineering department at Oregon State University. I teach classes (mostly 3rd-year), but I do not do research like a tenure-track professor at OSU would. While I am a faculty member, it is a year-to-year appointment. I do not intend to try to become tenure-track faculty at a school like OSU, because I don’t want to do that much research. I will probably look for tenure-track professor positions at smaller schools where the job would be mostly teaching, but I’m pretty happy where I’m at.

Q: How did you come up with that last line in your previous post?

A: In my younger days when I would venture into more mainstream Mennonite culture at Bible schools and BMA conventions, I would have people say “Oh, are you Dorcas Smucker’s son?” It kind of became a running family joke. So after my mom visited my church, I asked her (mostly) in jest, “How does it feel to be known as ‘Ben’s mom’ for a change?” Turns out, my attempt at humor encapsulated my story better than I initially intended.

Q: Why did you join an Anglican church?

A: Several reasons.

  1. The strong intellectual tradition while remaining theologically evangelical; think of people like C.S. Lewis, John Stott, J.I. Packer, and N.T. Wright.2 

  2. The liturgical worship style. 

  3. Most importantly, my church is a group of dedicated Christ-followers who meet relatively close to where I live. 

When I left the Mennonite church I grew up in, I initially attended a more mainstream evangelical church for a couple of years (at that time the Anglican church I go to now was actually Presbyterian (PCA)). While there are definitely things I appreciated about that more mainstream evangelical church, the modern worship styles felt hollow to me. But when I read about more liturgical worship styles, they really resonated with me (I would highly recommend Tish Harrison Warren’s The Liturgy of the Ordinary or Prayer in the Night, whether or not you have any interest in Anglicanism). 

The church I had been a part of had become very large, and it was hard to get to know people. When I realized I was going to be in Corvallis after grad school, I realized that if I were just now deciding on a church in Corvallis, I would go to the Anglican church (some of my close friends were already going there). That’s when I decided to join my Anglican church.

Q: Should I leave if I feel like an outlier in my context? Should I become Anglican?

A: Probably not, but maybe. My previous blog post was intended to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive. If you are having issues fitting into a Mennonite church or some other church, you will not solve all your issues simply by going to an Anglican church, or any other church for that matter. As I stated in my previous post, being the outlier can be really lonely. But it can also be an opportunity for substantial impact, so discernment is required. As Matthew 5:47 says, “If you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Be cautious about simply seeking out “your people” as a means of fulfillment.

However, if you are a Christian, you should be a part of a local body of Christ-followers that can speak into your life, and you into theirs. “You’ll never find the perfect church” can feel like a trite phrase, but it’s also true. Looking for a church can very easily become consumeristic (there’s a reason we call it church-shopping), and the idea of finding “the best church for me” can be deeply infused with consumerism and individualism. But at the same time some of us face certain challenges and have certain pains from our past that may mean that we’ll need to leave the tradition we grew up in to grow more Christ-like.

If you are in a phase where you are looking for a new church, my two pieces of advice would be: 1. Proximity matters; 2. Assuming they have the basic tenets of orthodox Christianity (note the lower-case “o”), how well they disagree (with you and with each other) is probably more important than how much you agree with them. A community that can disagree with each other and still love each other deeply is a beautiful thing.

Q: How do we integrate those who feel like outliers into our communities?

A: This is really the important question. I don’t really know, but two places to start: show that you value them as a person, and that you value the thing(s) that makes them feel like an outlier, or the perspective that comes with it; take an interest in their lives, even if you can’t fully understand their “other world”.

Churches can very easily become stratified along racial, cultural, or socio-economic lines. My own denomination is the most educated Christian denomination in the United States. To my understanding, all of the adult men (and most if not all of the adult women) in my church have at least a 4-year degree; more than half the men have an advanced degree of some sort. Yes, it is a college town, so the surrounding general populous has a pretty high level of education, but I imagine that someone who did not have much educational background could very easily feel out of place at my church. This highlights that integrating outliers isn’t a problem unique to Mennonites; every Christian community will face the challenge of integrating those who feel like outliers compared with the rest of the group.


At some point, I realized there are a surprising number of similarities between being an instructor at a university and being a full-time pastor of a small church. Here are ten of them:

  1. You ramble on to a bunch of people who look like they don’t want to be there. When I was younger, my mom used to hint sometimes that she hoped I would become a pastor when I was older (while she also lamented the challenges my father faced as a pastor, ironically enough). So when I started teaching classes, I started telling my friends “when I was growing up, my mom wanted me to become a pastor. Sure enough, now I ramble on for over an hour to 30-80 adults who look kinda bored.”3 This served as the inspiration to come up with the rest of this list.

  2. The people you lecture to are paying you to be there. It’s easy to worry that you’re not living up to the expectations people have for you, since you are being paid to be there.

  3. You get concerned about the people who don’t show up. Sure, sometimes people have good reasons for not showing up. But there are some people you know would be doing better if they were showing up more.

  4. People contact you at odd hours with existential crises. Granted, the existential crises I hear about all seem to occur right before exam day or when homeworks assignments are due, and they’re usually in the form of an email I see the next morning instead of some middle-of-the-night phone call.

  5. You have a surprising amount of control over your schedule (sort of). There are certain times when you have to be in certain places (Sunday mornings for pastors, lecture times and office hours for instructors). But if it’s not one of those times? Sure, you can meet someone for coffee or go for a quick hike. Until you push off too many things and your procrastination comes back to bite you. 

  6. You wish you could spend all your time reading or talking to people informally.4 Sure, the most visible part of your job is talking up front to a larger audience. But really, you’d rather be interacting with people in smaller settings or off reading a book somewhere.

  7. You’re probably underpaid for the amount of education you have. You don’t work as an instructor for the money. While I have a very comfortable middle-class existence it is certainly less than I would be making if I was a tenure-track professor or working in industry as an engineer. If someone is the pastor of a relatively small church and has at least a Master’s degree, they are probably also making less than the average person with that level of education.

  8. It’s easy to be judgemental towards your constituents. Sometimes, you just feel like saying “How do you people not get this?!? How many times do I have to repeat this?!?!” But then you remember that you need to be patient, because…

  9. Seeing the growth in people makes it all worth it. Sometimes you wonder why you chose this line of work. Sometimes you wonder if all your efforts are worth it. But then you see the growth in people you spent so much time with, and it’s all worth it. Plus, your mom is proud of you.

  10. Your longest-lasting effects will come from showing up. In a world where people are showing up less and less, your embodied presence will be what people ultimately remember the most (I recently read Drew Dyck’s book Just Show Up, which talks about this in more depth). 

1 Even as I’m writing this, I really should be grading my students’ midterm exams. Hopefully they don’t get too annoyed at me for getting them back a bit later.

2 Note that not all Anglicans would necessarily be theologically evangelical (by Bebbington’s definition), but the Anglican Church in North America (the denomination my church is a part of) is.

3 If any of my friends from the Christian Graduate Fellowship are reading this, I apologize for making you hear this joke for the 17th time.

4 I don’t know how true this is across the board; it’s probably just something I have in common with my pastor.

Ben grilling at his house.


  1. Ben, I know you're a doctor now, but You're going to melt your siding if you don't pull the grill away from your house. Don't ask me how I know this. Sincerely, "Griller 2"

    1. The Baritone5/04/2024 12:48 PM

      Upon closer inspection, it appears that the siding right there is not vinyl. So it probably won’t melt, but I would think that it CAN do some damage, either to the paint or the siding, given enough time and heat, and I also would recommend moving the grill. :-)

  2. There are MANY points you make here, Ben, that I could respond to, with interest. I mean there is a lot of content that begs further discussion, that I know would be a learning experience— for both of us. Suffice it to say, your contributions reflected in both your blog posts, are indicative of a good mind— and heart—- and for this I say, thank you. Thank you.