I was thrilled to hear that my recent interview with Dr. Douglas Estes (see The Pastor-Scholar: An Interview with Douglas Estes Pt. 1 and Pt. 2) benefitted several people, even motivating some to connect with him to discuss his dual role as an academic and a pastor. Today I provide a similar interview with Robert Jimenez, who is no stranger to this blog since he was a contributor at one time. Robert is an Associate Pastor with Praise Chapel in the Los Angeles area. Also, he has been active as a student through King’s Evangelical Divinity School. As a pastor-student he happens to be the person who oversees education in his local church. For those who have been following my series ““Educating the local church” (see Pt. I: introduction ; Pt. II: the concerns of pastors ; Pt. III: what do congregations need to know? ; Pt. IV: how do we do it? ; Pt. V: introducing critical scholarship ; Pt. VI: avoiding quick and easy apologetics) this should be another helpful interview (along with the one with Estes) with someone who is active in the task of discipling “thinking Christians”. I hope you enjoy the interview!
Brian LePort (BL): Robert, can you tell me a bit about your current pastoral ministry?
Robert Jimenez (RJ): I’m the Associate Pastor responsible for all adult biblical teaching ministries. We started a Bible Institute that has now been running for 5 years where we teach Biblical Interpretation, Theology, Bible Survey, and go through various books of the Bible.
BL: You have been doing studies online working toward your graduate degree. How has that changed how you teach in the church?
RJ: It has caused me to think deeply about how the church goes about teaching and informing its members. There is much that is taught in school that is not very useful to most church members. It has affected my preaching more than my teaching since I now make a greater effort to understand its original intent, and its historical setting before moving on to application. It has certainly made me be a more open person and not so dogmatic about various subjects.
In regards to teaching at our Bible Institute I have been able to provide more informed historical backgrounds that has enhanced my teaching and proven to be very useful to the students.
BL: What has your education done to change the way you imagine the educating of a local church?
RJ: People who go to seminary are expected to learn certain academics that is far beyond from what most people want to learn at church. Also, seminarians are looking for something far deeper than what the church has to offer. I think that both have a place in the body of Christ, and there is some overlap. But it would be a huge mistake to try and convert the church into a seminary, and visa-versa.
If I taught on such subjects such as the “History of Hermeneutics” behind the pulpit, I’m confident that such a subject would just bore people to sleep and I might even be asked to never speak again at our church. Can I survey and mention some of the history of hermeneutics or even teach it? Sure. But you have to know your crowd. Most are not seminary students and are not looking for a seminary education. We have to find a balance and use what we have been taught in ways that make it practical and meaningful to our congregations. That’s what good experts do.
Frustration will quickly set into young graduates who cannot for the life of them understand why no one in church is interested in reading through Karl Barth’s
Church Dogmatics, or Wolfhart Pannenberg Systematic Theology, or Biblical Interpretation by Gerald Bray. These topics and great minds must be read and reread, and they do have a place in our Christian lives. There is a time and place for all of this, we just need to be wise enough to know the difference.
BL: Many people who are open to doing pastoral ministry are concerned that the vocation has morphed in the United States to the point where it is all about raising funds for a new building, counseling married couples with rebellious teenagers, and quickly writing a sermon in their spare time. What have you done to make sure that as a pastor who have time to write and study, to stay engaged in academia, and to make sure that your role as pastor doesn’t prevent you from doing the these things?
RJ: Let me clear up a few things first. I’m not a full time pastor, nor am I the Senior Pastor of the church. I work a full time job with IBM, and I’m a volunteer Associate Pastor. Making time to study for school, sermons, and classes I teach at church are most challenging to say the least (it’s why I stopped blogging). I preach once a month and teach on a weekly basis. We have a staff of three Pastors, and only the Senior Pastor is full time. Just to be very clear, he is the only one that is full time at our church. We have two part time administrators but everyone else is on a volunteer basis.
I don’t see how a pastor can remove themselves from having to deal with people issues. Caring for people is as important as properly studying for ones message. If we look at the example of Jesus he was always caring for people and meeting their spiritual needs. I think that there needs to be a balance between teaching and the spiritual needs of people. Both seem to be neglected at the expense of the other.
Do I think the pastor should be the sole care-giver? NO! I think this should be done through the community of believers. Which I think is a sad situation, members of the church need to take on a more Christ-like attitude and learn to bear the burdens, and pray for each other. Being a Pastor is a very demanding task and mega churches only exacerbate the problem. I’m a strong advocate of smaller churches 200 or less. Once a churches get bigger than that you lose intimacy and connection with other believers. Our adult attendance is hovering around that size now. At some point we will pass that size and have to deal with those issues.
I personally make an effort to read a lot, and attend at least one or two seminars a year at one of our local seminaries. This keeps me engaged and current. I still follow a few blogs such as yours as I think this is another method to stay academically challenged.
BL: What should people know about educating the people in the pews? What mistakes have you made when trying to transfer the knowledge you’ve gained to people who haven’t had the same educational opportunities and what would you do differently?
RJ: The biggest mistake is to try and duplicate the classroom in your church. You cannot just get up and teach behind the pulpit what you were taught in seminary at church. I’ve stated that already. You have to be wise and have great presentation skills. I look at pastors such as Chuck Swindoll and he is a master at communicating God’s word. I think that he is a great example. By that I mean he is very creative in teaching God’s word while making it highly applicable. I was in a class once with Dr. Craig Blomberg and he went into great length explaining the possibility that Jesus did not actually say John 3:16, but that it was in fact John commenting on what Jesus came to accomplish. A student asked, how do we explain that to church members? Dr. Bloomberg said “well I wouldn’t explain it the way I just did now (everyone started laughing), tell them to read the footnotes in their bible and leave it at that”. That’s being wise.
I also have strong support from the Senior Pastor in my quest for teaching.
We recently started having a yearly seminar called “Theology Matters” where we have been fortunate to have Dr. Fred Sanders be our guest. We did our second one just this last October once again with Dr. Fred Sanders. He loves what we are doing and is willing to partner with us and do this every year. He expressed to me that more academics need to make themselves available to local churches. It is one his campaigns at BIOLA to challenge other professors to get out to local churches during their downtime and offer to make presentations at their churches.
BL: Your church has roots in the Pentecostal tradition—one know for being somewhat skeptical of “the world’s wisdom”. How do you encourage people in this tradition to find value in the academic study of the Bible and Christian theology?
RJ: The Pentecostal group that I live and associate with are more open, especially the young people. They don’t have the baggage that you would find with older Pentecostals. They are not as worried about “tongues” as the older generations were. They want valid answers, they are more interested in transformation of ones life and a clearer understanding of what the bible means to us today in a historical contextual manner. Most of my students are the younger people, although I do have some over 30 that do attend. I do focus much more of my efforts with the younger people as I see them as the future and hopefully they can make a greater change than I ever will. Several have now entered into bible college and have commented on how much my classes have helped them personally and academically.
BL: If you were part of a committee aiming to hire more people to your a pastoral staff would you desire to hire someone else who has done doctoral work to function as an associate pastor or director of education or do you think someone with administrative experience is more valuable?
RJ: This is a difficult question for me to answer. Traditionally the organization that I belong to never hires anyone. All pastors and ministers are trained locally and appointed from within the church. There are pros and cons to this approach and it would be a much longer response and out of context for me to go any further.
I will say that the best type of person suited for being a Pastor is (this should go without saying, but one that is called by God) one that loves and cares for people, and is well trained in biblical matters. I don’t think they need to be a Hebrew and Greek scholar, that is a point that is really over exaggerated. Nor do I think they need to solve everyone’s problems. If I have learned anything is that you can properly prepare technically correct sermons without being an expert in the original languages. The tools available today are far superior than anything any other generation has ever had at their disposal. Knowing enough of the original languages will carry you a long way. A doctorate degree might be overkill for the pastoral ministry, but I certainly would never discourage it. Again this is just one philosophy of ministry, I’m sure many have different models and would surely disagree with me.
BL: Finally, if there is one thing you could say is necessary for a church to incorporate into their “philosophy of education” what would it be?
RJ: Incorporate a systematic method of preaching through the bible. Cover thematic themes in the bible, don’t be afraid to explain some of the background and tackle the theological challenges that are presented. In our churches too much topical preaching occurs which I’m personally not against (although Kaiser would think I’m being blasphemous). But when the only preaching that is done is topical you overlook to many biblical themes that should be preached/taught behind our pulpits. You lose the overall thought of the biblical writer and the message that he was inspired to write.