From the Pastor…
Thursday my family and I will be traveling to Columbia Seminary in Atlanta where on Saturday I will receive the Doctor of Ministry degree. I began this degree in the Fall of 2008, and had completed the coursework prior to coming to May Memorial. Since coming to May Memorial I conducted and wrote my doctoral project, the final requirement of the degree.
When I first sensed a call to ministry in middle school I could have never imagined the number of years of education in which I have invested my life. I am truly grateful for parents, a wife, and church families who placed a high value on education and supported me through the educational process.
Seminary education is a strange thing. Those who receive a seminary education are people who are generalists in a culture of specialists. In seminary a person studies Biblical Theology, Hebrew, Greek, Church History, Homiletics, Worship, Counseling, comparative Religions, Ethics, Philosophy, plus she learns how to organize, grow, nurture, and lead a church. The end result is that a pastor has a fair amount of knowledge in many different disciplines but is a specialist in none. As I was finishing seminary several years ago I was a bit discouraged to finally realize that a seminary education did not produce the specialized expertise many other professional schools accomplish. You go to a lawyer and she is the authority. You sit with your cardiologist and you listen and do what he says. You talk to your CPA at tax time and you know she is the expert. But pastors, even seminary educated ones, do not carry the same level of expertise in the business of God. Though initially discouraged with this realization I have finally learned that what churches most need is not an expert, but a pastor, and those can be altogether different things.
As I receive this degree on Saturday there are things that I am most grateful to have learned. I am grateful that God is infinitely bigger than I ever could have imagined. I have learned that God is the God of limitless possibilities, and God is not bound by my limited perspective. God does not have to operate within my mental box, which I have also learned that more often than not is way too small. I have learned that the greatest “outside the box” possibility that God pulled in the world was the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and because of this we have eternal and limitless hope. I have learned that although God’s people may think, look, and act in many different ways we are all the same in our desire to be united as God’s people through the good news of Jesus Christ. I have learned that the Word of God who comes to us in the Bible is our greatest source of being what God calls us to be, and when we listen to God’s Word we are changed and formed into God’s people. The Bible may not always give us the word that we desire or expect but the Word that we need. I have learned that the Church is the hope for the world and that the Church is the only life-giving alternative community in a culture that deals too frequently in death-dealing ways. I have learned how God loves the Church, and I have learned that a good pastor does the same. Perhaps the greatest thing a pastor can do is love the people, and I am grateful that I am in a place where that is easy to do.
You may be thinking to yourself that these are things that anyone can learn in a good Sunday School class, and you may be right. It seems that although seminary coursework can deepen and expand Christian concepts and can bring in many different voices and perspectives, it is at best another way of teaching how to be the people of God. Jesus never invited people to learn and follow a doctrine or a train of thinking, and rarely did he ever invite people to believe a set of ideas. Jesus invited people to follow, to journey with him, and however we learn to do this it is an adventure we take together into being what God calls us to be.