Dr. Eric Schansberg always thought of himself as a nice guy. But being nice isn’t the same as being a fully committed follower of Christ.
“I knew there was an intellectual part of faith, but I thought Christianity was reduced to believing good things and being kind and moral,” said Schansberg, 56. “Being nice gets you through everyday, normal stuff, but when you come up against big challenges, it’s not enough.”
In 2002, Schansberg and then Southeast Men’s Ministry Leader Kurt Sauder created DC: Thoroughly Equipped, a 21-month curriculum to help men move from the sidelines to leadership roles.
“One goal we had was that everybody talks the same amount,” Schansberg added. “That’s a crucial feature to discipleship. We’ve all been in these settings where three people do all the talking. To that guy who doesn’t want to talk: ‘Sorry, you’ve got to talk or we’re going to invite you to talk.’ That’s crucial because if this quiet guy can’t talk here, he won’t talk to his neighbor. We need him to find his voice. He’s a nice guy, so he’ll do stuff. He’ll hand out bulletins, carry babies, be nice to his neighbor, maybe run a small group … and press play on the DVD player. I have higher goals for that guy.”
Almost two decades later, more than 2,500 men around the country have completed the course.
“We always say, ‘Don’t give a guy a fish, teach him how to fish. Even better, teach him how to teach other people how to fish.’ That’s how the magic happens,” he said. “That’s not just a Christian principle, that’s anything. If you can teach other people how to teach other people, you’ve got a movement.”
Schansberg has been a professor of economics at Indiana University Southeast for nearly 30 years. He loves teaching anything from economics to card games.
“I’ve always loved to teach, whether it’s bridge, board games, two-stepping in Texas or algebra. I just love teaching. It rocks my world,” Schansberg said. “My second son loves board games. It’s not just teaching him how to play, but teaching him how to teach other people how to play. That’s where you get multiplication. If I’m just teaching him, that’s not enough.”
Schansberg said teaching and discipleship are similar.
“Discipleship is a big deal to me as a teacher,” Schansberg added. “Discipleship and teaching both battle this idea that we just cut your head open, have a pitcher of information and pour it in there. That’s not good teaching. Teaching leads to empowerment and long-term retention. It’s really closely connected to discipleship because you’re trying to communicate with the audience you have in front of you.”
A fork in the road
Schansberg was born in Louisville, sang in the choir and walked the salvation aisle as a teenager. Life changed after his parents divorced when he was 15.
“It was a real wakeup call,” Schansberg said. “I think without the divorce, I would have ended up as a nice guy in a Baptist church, a deacon, a Sunday School teacher, a solid citizen, take-out-the-trash and don’t-cheat-on-my-wife sort of Christian. The divorce made me realize that’s not enough. If God is going to empower us to do extraordinary things through ordinary people, then there’s got to be more out there for us.”
Schansberg graduated from high school at 16 but struggled in college. He switched majors from engineering to economics because he got D’s and F’s in every class except for the B he got in economics.
Schansberg said he had a real encounter with Christ his senior year at George Mason University.
“The preacher did a full year on the Book of Romans, and it was the first time I’d been challenged in my faith ethically and intellectually,” he said. “There was more to it than a bunch of nice teachings. There was meat to it. God used Romans 12 to convict me, and I realized I fell so short of what God wants for us.”
While trying to decide whether to attend graduate school at Ohio State University or Texas A&M University, Schansberg sought God’s wisdom.
“For the first time in my life, I committed something of significance to God in prayer,” Schansberg said. “I prayed, ‘God, I’m willing to do whatever.’ It was the first time I surrendered a decision to God, prayed for guidance and took visits to both places. It was as clear as a bell I should go to Texas. That was laying down a memorial or monument, if you will, and I’ll always remember that. God communicated in a clear manner through providence and took me in an unexpected direction.”
While in Texas, Schansberg read through the Bible for the first time and his love for the Old Testament was awakened by a pastor who taught the Book of Joshua for a year.
School was tough, but Schansberg’s dissertation advisor, Dr. Reed, was a Christian and encouraged him to press on. He also inspired him to adopt transracially.
“I’ve emulated a lot of his life with respect to what the family and home looks like as it interacts with other people—a very open house, tremendous on hospitality, work with international and college students and transracial adoption,” Schansberg added.
After graduation, Schansberg began teaching at Indiana University Southeast in 1992.
“My grad school friends and I would sit around on Friday nights … and one of the things we used to joke about is working at a ‘bidirectional’ university,” Schansberg said. “That meant two compass directions in the name of the school. You might go to Western Kentucky, but not Northeast Idaho State because it might not be as prestigious. Where do I end up? IU Southeast and Southeast Christian Church. God has a sense of humor because more than half my life is bidirectional.”
Schansberg began attending Southeast in 1993 and started leading a small group through the Single Life Ministry. For each lesson, he immersed himself in Scripture for about 10 hours a week.
Schansberg met his wife, Tonia, through the Single Life Ministry. They have two biological and two adopted sons and currently host a small group for Southeast’s College-Age Ministry.
When he is not teaching, Schansberg enjoys writing. His latest book, “The Word Diet,” is a resource to help people read and understand the Bible.
For info, visit www.thoroughlyequipped.org.