"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
September 21, 2009

Why Have Church Ministers And Where Do We Put Them

There’s a great discussion on Matt Stone’s recent post, Has Theology Become Too Introspective? In a way I’m as guilty as anyone of being part of the problem – most of my theological blogging is deeply introspective, or as I like to call it, biographical. I don’t really see that as a problem, rather, I […]

There’s a great discussion on Matt Stone’s recent post, Has Theology Become Too Introspective? In a way I’m as guilty as anyone of being part of the problem – most of my theological blogging is deeply introspective, or as I like to call it, biographical.

I don’t really see that as a problem, rather, I find biographical theology more honest than the kind of theology-from-nowhere that claims to be objective, but is really subjective generalisation dressed up normative truth. Or, to put it another way, “I Think, reworded as “God Says.” I try to upfront about the fact that my theology is impractical, flawed, inconsistent, unsystematic, subjective, contextual, occasionally incoherent and for the most part, random. All I ask is that others do the same.

In Matt’s discussion,the question came up of the role of church ministers (or pastors in Baptist-speak) in furthering the job of “theology.” Matt is (quite rightly) keen to see ministers take a central role in doing theology and a connecting thinking and practice in church life.

The whole debate can easily drown in semantics when start trying to define theology. No one definition is perfect and there are merits to different descriptions. I’ve typically found myself connecting with Robert Wuthnow’s approach to this question.

Put as simply as I can, theology (well, Christian theology) is our attempt to explain the world and our place in it, with reference to Christian doctrine. To use some jargon, theology is essentially hermeneutical (all the way down), which is another way of saying all theology is act of interpretation, always. It’s a story we tell to make sense of who we are, where we are, why we are here and what we are trying to do about it. It’s a story we tell in relation to and referring from the other “big” stories we find in the Bible and in the history of the church, but it shouldn’t be confused with those bigger stories.

In a way, it’s easy to see how people might think that church ministers are the ideal people to do this. They are employed by churches aren’t they? They went off and studied theology, didn’t they? Well, yes and yes. But, in my experience, theological education doesn’t always (and maybe doesn’t often) train people to do this kind of task. It may (perhaps) give them the tools, but more typically it hands them more prosaic tools for communication and church management. Moreover, most churches don’t employ ministers to focus on life in the broadest sense, but rather to focus on life in the narrowest sense of what happens within the church itself.

If we imagined the typical set of church activities as a circle, with those activities that only attract the attention of “believers” near the centre and those that attract the attention of the wider community nearer the edges, where would most ministers be? Where would most churches want them to be. If those minsters are nearer the centre of that circle, then, it would seem to me, it would be harder for them to do theology in the sense I outlined above.

Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. Different churches make different sorts of appointments and some churches put people both near the edge and near the centre of the circle. Moreover, some denominations train for both locations (though rarely do they train people do lead from the edge!). All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t assume that a theological education is the same thing as an education for theology, or that a minister has either the training, opportunity or inclination to undertake that theology.

Responses
Hamo 13 years ago

Yeah good thoughts Fernando and I would also suggest that a minister rarely does his / her best theology from a place of stability and predictability. By that I mean that if we ‘know the ropes and know the game inside out’ wetend to work to serve our framework rather than asking questions of it. When we lead in a more questioning manner then we are required to grapple theologically with all manner if things that simply don’t matter when you have it all prewired.

My journey into a place of unfamiliarity has been the most powerful catalyst for my theological growth, but I did need to leave the mother ship to find the space to do it!

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Great point, especially since a lot of people, myself included, tend to assume that security and familiarity are required for this game. Maybe because what plainly never works well, is putting people in a situation where they are struggling to get security.

The “questioning” approach is where I want to be, but that does make me wonder how that fits with the idea of church as sanctuary.

Ryan Hant 13 years ago

God is good worship him!

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