A few years ago I was teaching an Introduction to New Testament class for my local church. We would meet for two hours every Wednesday evening over the summer months. Some nights there would be fifteen or more people present and other nights it would be three or four of us. It didn’t matter who was present (though I wanted people to be there, the crowd size wasn’t important…at first) as long as we enjoyed learning together.
Two things upset me though:
(1) A “leader” in the church went out of his way to inform me that it would be a waste of time to come hear me teach when, “I can listen to [insert a prominent evangelical scholar] on my iPod.” Sure, I knew the person he referenced was a far more learned man than myself, but did he have to say that to me? What about learning as a community? What about supporting a twenty-something seminarian that could use the inspiration that comes from knowing people appreciate what you are doing? Those words stung for a while, especially as the the summer progressed and the class began to dwindle before its assigned completion date.
(2) There was a leadership meeting that same day of the week the hour prior to my class. If it were not for the words of one leader I may not have been bothered as I saw leaders leave the meeting headed toward their car rather than the sanctuary where I was teaching. I began to wonder if more people thought about me the way this person did.
I began to question whether or not one could do serious educating in a church context. I was convinced that if the leadership thought the classes were irrelevant then most people in the church would think the same. I know people go crazy on Sundays when the pastor preaches David v. Goliath type sermons, but it seemed like the average Christian has little interest in topics like the historical background, literary outline, and themes of the Book of James. I knew better than to delve into deep speculative things like the formation of the Pentateuch. I was aware that this type of pure academia was meaningless to most Christians. I wasn’t teaching that kind of content though. I thought I was teaching people how to be better readers of the Bible.
Admittedly, I set my eyes on teaching in an academic context someday. I knew that as a student I was appreciative of my professors and I was willing to spend a lot of money to hear them teach. Why should I waste time teaching people who don’t care?
Now I am not saying that I won’t teach in an academic context someday, but as I’ve grown older and matured (a little) it has become painfully obvious that it is not as simple as (A) go to seminary + (B) go earn a doctorate + (C) make some connections and apply for jobs = viola! employment teaching biblical studies. I know that it is a saturated job market with few openings and I am aware that there are people who are far more intelligent and qualified than myself seeking work.
This may be a good thing for the local church though.
Wouldn’t the local church benefit from having highly qualified resident scholars directing their education departments or functioning as teaching pastors or associate pastors?
Then the horrifying memory of being considered irrelevant by the leaders of my church returns to my mind. Maybe the local church has no interest in these types of people. Maybe the paranoia caused by pastors who speak against education of this sort has inflicted so many congregations that there is no more room in the church than in the college or seminary?
Is it possible that doctrinal wars will make it as hard to find a job teaching in a local church as it is to find a job teaching at a seminary? Won’t nasty words like “inerrancy,” “evolution,” “emergent,” and “love wins,” cause people to reject you before hearing your thoughts on this or that matter?
Since I am unemployed I have a lot of time to think about topics like this one. I may as well blog about it, right? And if you are thinking about it let me know your thoughts.
This is how I aim to approach it:
Pt. 2: What are pastors seeking as concerns the education of their church?
Pt. 3: What do congregations need to know?
Pt. 4: How do teachers educate the church, introduce them to important topics, yet avoid drowning people in jargon?
Pt. 5: How can teachers present the thinking of biblical scholars (especially the ideas presented by critical scholarship) to the church while recognizing that the church is a community aimed at strengthening people in their faith, not eroding their confidence in the Gospel?
Pt. 6: How can teachers educate people without conforming to the pressure to provide quick-and-easy apologetical answers (something like what you’d find in a book written by Josh McDowell) that come across as disingenuous to people who are critical thinkers in our local congregations?
Pt. 7: Should a church budget to hire educators when administrative pastors, small groups directors, and other “titles” seem to be more conducive to “building a church,” at least as many Christians understand the aim of their church’s existence and growth?
Note: I am not a fool. This series of posts will not be providing answers as much as asking questions. Remember, I’ve done several years of graduate school and I can’t find a job with a community college, a church, or anywhere in the great San Antonio area. Obviously, I am not an expert, but I do want the best for the church, and I do want to be intentional when it comes to educating members, and I think that critical thinking about our faith is better for discipleship than purely apologetical thinking.