Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Skool, Part 2 (Or, "I Was an Accidental Bail-Out Proponent!")

Skool is an ongoing series, chronicling my journey through Sojourn Community Church's Pastor's School,  with further reflection on seminary education and the predominant form of ministry training in America today.  I hope that these biblically grounded musings will prompt you to reflect on the role of seminary in ministry training. 

As the economic train soared off its tracks and into a deep canyon last Fall, then Secretary of the Treasury came up with a big, bombastic plan to get the choo-choo going again.  This plan to inject Federal cash into the economy, particularly by propping up failing bastions of business, was quickly dubbed "The Bailout."  Initially in favor of the plan, my enthusiasm for it began to quickly wane.  It wasn't until I sat down at Quills Coffee for a "relaxing" game of Monopoly, however, that I came to a shocking realization that I had been in favor of the bailout my entire life.  Growing up, I called it "Free Parking."

In case you've never played Monopoly with the "Free Parking" house rule, here's how it works.  In the middle of the board, a crisp orange $500 bill is played to seed the pot.  As play advances, and players are tagged for fees, fines, and taxes, this money, previously due to the bank, is paid to the middle instead. Over time, this can accrue into quite the sum, and Free Parking, that space that's so hard to hit, changes from safe zone to gold mine.  I've played so many games in which a player on the verge of collapse suddenly has the resources to build those hotels on Marvin Gardens, Ventnor, and Atlantic with enough cash left over so as to survive a walk on the Boardwalk.  By simple, dumb, luck of the die, a player can survive whatever previous situation they've gotten themselves into.

This isn't an economics point, though: This is a spiritual one.  It is remarkably easy to decry a system intellectually while yet supporting it practically.  How many of us have been angered by the steady flow of jobs outsourced to foreign countries but have outsourced the training of ministers outside the direct supervision of the local church?  Here's some propositions for you:

1. The Bible conceives of one community of believers, that being the church.
I could proceed to bombard you with proof texts, but I think that that's overkill.  The power and primacy of the church is self-evident in the New Testament, so much so that Paul points back even to the creation of the family (husband and wife) and says that this, the most prime of all human relationships, is a model of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-33).  For the record, I'm coming at this issue, (the training of pastors), with the primacy of the church assumed.  Also assumed on my part is that the church exists in a universal or "catholic" sense, but membership in the catholic church assumes membership in the local church.

2. The Bible proclaims that it itself, (the Word of God), has been given specifically, to the church.  All of its commands and teachings are given to her and for her.

Academics have contributed much to the study of Scripture but the cart-horse relationship works best when the cart knows which of the two has the requisite power for transportation.  Academics are needed, but they are in needed in service to the church, not as supplement to the church, nor as superior to the church.  Thus, Scripture has much to say about how to train pastors and what pastors must be in regards to character, etc.  These were written for the sake of the church. 

Having established that the church is the Gospel community and that she has been armed with the Word of God, why on earth would we want to outsource the bulk of training outside her fellowship?  ("Greek and Hebrew" someone will say.  We'll come back to this one at a later date.)  In addition to being irresponsible, it is also less effective.  Case in point: preaching.

Teaching and preaching is a crucial task of the elder.  Not every elder must be able to deliver a sermon in the pulpit, but every elder must be able to teach the Word of God (1 Tim. 3:2).  Paul  charged Timothy to pass on what he learned to faithful men, thus creating an organic program of expansion and multiplication (2 Tim. 2:2).  Specifically, he was to "entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."  The snarky old phrase: "Those who can't do, teach" deserves to be stood on its head.  Those who do, must teach.

I bring up preaching because that is our current area of study in Pastor's School.  We're working through Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Preaching and talking through the weekly sermon with Daniel.  We're required to critique each message, and hopefully, chances to preach will come soon.  I come into this class having the benefit of having learned much about preaching by one, watching my father for 18 years, two, preaching myself, both to my father's congregation (my old church in Arizona), and three, having taken preaching classes in college.  Let's focus on three.  I had an incredible preaching professor and he taught me so much about the "big picture" of the Bible.  But the weirdness and oddity of preaching to a classroom of student peers is next to impossible to overcome.  Discussing "application" in the classroom is eerily abstract in and of itself.  It's like a zoo.  Zoos are great, but wouldn't you rather go on safari? 

I do not desire this series to be simple deconstruction.  Anyone with a brain can deconstruct just about anything.  Rather, let's think about what we can build in its place.  What are your thoughts?  How should aspiring young preachers go about learning their craft?  I think a good first step is asking one of your preaching elders to walk you through the process they take in studying/querying the text.  What do you think?

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The Discipline of Writing

It's been nearly a month since my last post.  It's a good example of how writing can be either a discipline or a sweeping force.  My previous post was a review of Derek Webb's Black Eye Tour.  I wrote it on the night of, sitting at my computer typing as fast as my thoughts and fingers could synchronize.  I was inspired, I was moved, I had to write.

My struggle to put the metaphorical pen to paper for the Skool series, though, is a good example of the need for discipline in writing.  I believe it was Sir Francis Bacon who said that "writing makes an exact man." (I am too lazy to do a basic Google search to confirm this, but I think John Piper tweeted this quote a month back.) I desire for the Skool series to be part travelogue, part argument.  Experiential, yes, but I want what I feel to be guided by what is real, that is, by Scriptural teaching.  Thus, part of the reason my Skool postings have been sparse has been because I've been reflecting on the issue.  Part of the reason my Skool postings have been sparse has been because my reflections have been undisciplined.

So, without further a-do, it's time to write Skool, pt. 2.  See you in an hour.