I'm a part-time student at a
denominational seminary, where I'm working (very slowly) on an academic-track
masters. It's generally been a good experience, but the school's not a perfect
fit. Again and again, professors and coursework assume a ministry context.
That's understandable in worship or preaching class, maybe even in biblical
studies (where the many M.Div. students in the room all have homiletics on
their minds). But theology, or church history? I'm constantly wishing we could
just study the subject at hand without putting on our future-pastor hats.
Especially because some of us don't have one.
But when professors fail to
put things in ministry terms, it's not long before an M.Div. student raises a
hand to object. "How is this relevant to the people in the pews?" he or she asks.
There probably isn't a
solution to my particular frustration as a non-M.Div. student in these classes
(other than to go to a different school). But a great post by Century contributing editor Jason
Byassee addresses the issue for ministry
students. Jason's an academic and a writer who recently took his first
full-time appointment as a Methodist pastor. Here's how he describes the
single most striking thing to me about my new appointment is the level of
specifically intellectual demand that's been placed on me from the word
sat down to a men's Bible study my first Saturday, expecting good biscuits,
lots of hearty laughs, and a little discussion of Scripture. And I got this:
"Jason! Explain predestination to our brother Henry here." It was a joke, of
course-who wants to talk about God's choice of individuals for salvation or
damnation at 7 o'clock in the morning?
Henry did. The question drove him out of his former church.
Jason goes on to tell of other
parishioners who didn't hesitate to call on the theological training of their
pastor. My own response to the make-it-relevant police might be, "How could big
questions like 'who is God' and 'what is the church' not be relevant to ministry?" But I'm aware that I'm more than a
little naive about the realities of parish ministry. So I was glad to read
Jason's concrete examples of how his theological education is serving him well.