Spartans of UD: Christopher James

Oct 4, 2017 | Stacey Ortman, director of public information

Spartans of UD is a new feature that highlights what makes University of Dubuque special – the people who live, work, and study on campus. Christopher James, PhD, MDiv, is an assistant professor of evangelism and missional Christianity with the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. He started teaching at UDTS in January 2015.

Spartans of UD - Chris James
Assistant Professor of Evangelism and Missional Christianity

1. What do you enjoy about teaching evangelism and missional Christianity?

“I love inviting my students to enter into new environments and new friendships. It is in these contexts that they begin to discover God at work in new and inspiring ways. Hearing their stories and watching ‘aha’ moments take place is priceless.”

2. You and Alan Roxburgh, founder of The Missional Network, lead a UDTS Doctor of Ministry cohort on Leadership in a Changing Context. Why focus on that topic?

“It's no secret that we are in the midst of dramatic social and cultural changes in the U.S. Forces like urbanization, technology, globalization, immigration, and widespread religious disaffiliation are reshaping the environment in which Christian leaders are called to serve. The skills Christian leaders needed a few decades ago were pretty straightforward, the skills of managing a ‘branch operation’ of the denomination, preaching, and pastoral care. In our new and emerging context, leadership requires an additional set of skills and Alan and I are journeying with our students to help them discover, develop, and deploy these in their own communities.”

3. How would you describe your teaching style?

“I don't believe students learn what they're told, they learn what they discover and what they practice. So my teaching style is all about sending students out to have new experiences, coming back to process these in conversation, and then going out again with some new ideas and habits.” 

4. In your view, how has the way students are called to serve changed over time?

“Not too long ago, seminary used to be almost exclusively for people on their way to a relatively stable career as a pastor. These days, more and more students are coming to seminary who feel called to other forms of ministry. Whether that means serving in a para-church organization, or in a social justice focused non-profit, or being bi-vocational – doing ministry and mission while keeping a 'regular' job. Others come to seminary not to get a new job, but just go deeper in their faith.”

5. Your first book, Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil: Theology and Practice, will be released in December 2017, delves into your research about church plants in Seattle, Washington. What are “church plants” and why are they important? Also, when do you expect your book to be published?

“‘Church plant’ is a pretty funny term, but I didn't write a book about ferns in the church foyer. Church plants are new churches, start-up or entrepreneurial churches. The fact is every church was planted at some point, and – like other kinds of organizations – some churches are always closing while others are being started. In our time, a lot of people are paying attention to the closing churches with the idea that Christianity is basically dying. The truth is Christianity is changing, not dying. And the new churches can give us a glimpse of how Christianity is changing and what it's likely to look like in the near future.”

6. You delivered the commencement address, titled “The Question,” at the University of Dubuque’s 165th Commencement in May 2017. What do you hope graduates took away from your address?

“Graduation from college is one of life's great pivotal moments. It was my hope that as our graduates began a new season that they would look at the journey ahead not only as one of making a life for themselves, but of fulfilling their destiny to help the world thrive. I was also aware that many of the parents in the audience were at a stage in their careers where it is common to begin wondering whether their work actually mattered. For everyone, I wanted to dignify work as more than a means to a paycheck but as a way to contribute to the common good.”

7: What do you do with your free time?

“Free time is family time and community-building time. Our kids are 4 and 7 years old and they add so much energy to every moment. Our latest favorite activity with the kids is scaling the climbing wall at Creative Adventure Lab. We also spend a lot of our free time investing in the Dubuque community. When we moved here, my wife, Lindsay, and I dove right in and became very involved. I was appointed to the Dubuque Community Police Relations Committee and started a monthly community event called New World Brewing. Last May Lindsay announced a run for the Iowa House of Representatives and it has been a blast working on her campaign together and dreaming about how to help more Dubuquers and Iowans thrive.”