Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ongoing Thoughts About Church

With the end of seminary in reasonable distance within the next year and a few months, I have been continually introspective about what I have learned up to this point. I have encountered some people who have become more dogmatic in their own beliefs as a result of seminary, not having gone to expand their horizons or learn new things, but just to solidify their already weakly constructed theological system. Not that this couldn’t happen anywhere, but I think there are particular seminaries that may have a propensity for this as that has been my experience.

There is also another school of people who have undergone some major deconstruction on their journey through seminary. The system of beliefs that they had once held onto has been completely deconstructed and they are not even sure that they believe in God anymore. In my experience, it hasn’t been so much a result of the particular institution that people have attended so much as the approach towards discipleship up to that point. That’s a subject for another post…or even a book.

When I made the decision to go to seminary, it wasn’t because anyone was telling me that I needed to. I already held an ordination in a nationally recognized denomination, which was enough for me to call myself a “pastor.” Problem was, I had encountered too many so-called “pastors” who held ordinations and degrees and yet when it came to actually fulfilling the calling and responsibility of being a pastor, they…..well, there’s no other way to say this…but they stunk. So, my decision to go to seminary was really for my own benefit and fulfillment. I knew that if I approached my seminary education with humility and openness, God would have the chance to continue to shape and form me to be the pastor that he wanted me to be.

My first class of seminary was taught by a professor who was somewhat non-traditional compared to what I was used to. He is an advocate of the house church movement and holds some different viewpoints about the church in America. I was thrust into a deconstruction of my own from the very beginning, but it was a very good thing.

As I approach the end of my seminary education, I just completed another class with this same professor and it has been interesting to be a part of his class after 3 years in seminary. It has become apparent to me that the aspect of my beliefs and theology that has changed the most over the last few years has been in the area of ecclesiology, or the study of the church.

The funny thing is that it was in that area that deconstruction had started many years before I started seminary. In fact, that may have been one of the main things that led me to seminary. I had been trained and educated as an engineer and felt God calling me into full-time vocational ministry after nearly a decade of engineering and my first few years in ministry were…interesting. They lead me to read a lot of books, continue to search Scripture, and build lots of relationships with people who held differing ecclesiological views than I did.

I have always heard it said that the more you learn the more you realize how much you don’t know. I have found that to be very true and I hope that it has cultivated humility in me as I have learned more. I never want to be the person who claims that he has it all together or knows all of the answers. Anyone who tells you something like that is selling something or wants to use you. But I do feel that I have begun to understand that in regards to the Church, Christ’s body on the earth, there is as much gray as there is black and white.

I have often found myself frustrated over the administrative responsibilities that I have, especially when they take me away from relational aspects of my job. One of my biggest struggles since being in ministry has always been maintaining relationships with people who don’t hold to the same belief system that I do while still caring for those who fall under my care. It gets particularly frustrating when people who already know Christ begin to complain that they are not being cared for, calling for additional time spent on them and less time spent cultivating relationships with people who have not yet met Christ. There is not enough time in the day to do both well and if I had a choice between one or the other, I would most likely choose cultivating relationships with those who don’t yet know Christ. Of course, if I had the choice between keeping my job and losing my job, I’m sure you know which one I would choose as well.

The Church has come a long way from the 2nd chapter of Acts. The western culture and mindset have heavily influenced the way that we think, talk, and act about Church. We do things in a way that makes sense to our culture and yet doesn’t always make sense in light of Scripture. Some try to reckon the two while others take the “black and white” approach and abandon all efforts to make sense of it.

I don’t have the answers, but I am continuing to dig deep and search. I do know that I have not been satisfied with the way that things have gone in the American church. Instead of railing against it though, I figure that the best way for me to change it is by allowing myself to be changed first. If I can be influenced and then influence the people with whom I interact, then change can have a ripple effect. I can’t change others, but I can change who I am and what I do. That’s the best place for me to start.

As I approach the end of seminary within the next year and a half, I don’t know that any of the answers will be clearer, but I think that my approach is clearer. I don’t want to make Church cool or hip. I don’t want to dress Jesus up in clothes that make him acceptable to our culture. After all, the message of the Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. At the same time, I will not limit the creativity that God has given me but will do my best to communicate the Gospel in as effective and creative a method as possible. I pray that I would continue to speak the truth in love, not holding back from what Scripture says. If I allow Scripture to speak to me, change will take place within me and I can only hope that the change that takes place in me might influence others as well.

The journey is long and tedious at times, but the end result is not always the most admirable of goals. Sometimes, it’s the journey that makes the difference; it’s usually way more formative than the end goal. If it’s as formative as my journey has been so far, than greater things have yet to come.


  1. Isn't it inconsistent to question or even reject the American Christian Church model because it has been weighed down by the trappings of Western Civilization yet work as a professor in a seminary; since seminaries are a product of Western Civilization's educational approach rather than a Biblical one of preparing people for ministry.

  2. I think it's all about the journey! The more you share about where you are and what you learned on the journey to get there, the more folks understand that you are not dishing out dogma but showing how God has changed you--through your understanding of the Word and what you have experienced. There's power in first-hand testimony! Not flip-flopping, but transformation.

    I can understand your frustration with people who know Christ and still are very needy. I'm always surprised when people who follow Christ still question if they are going to Heaven. There's a lack of confidence in living out faith. We all have our weaknesses here, which is why we need each other. Folks are dependent on those who "know more," "do more," etc., as if they have a leg-up on something. Believers seem to continually need to be reminded that we are empowered ministers who can enter the field in full confidence in the One in whom we believe, since He's working through us.

    I haven't done the reading you have. But, having lived out years in the church in many roles, I can see what things do and don't work. I do know that the more we talk and share about our journey--one-on-one or corporately--the more we share in our understanding of one another and can grow in seeing how God wants to use and change us.

    Keep studying. Keep sharing!