A Pastor’s Reflections: Theological Outlets
One of the more important things you need to tend to in your ministry is ensuring that you have some theological outlets. What do I mean? Well, chances are you will be one of the most theologically educated people in your congregation. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you given that you’ve spent 3-4 years in seminary and regularly spend a large portion of your workweek studying the Scriptures. In some cases, there are churches where there are other equally trained and informed people. As you study and learn, there will likely be few others in your church who can engage in technical and in-depth discussion about the theological issues you’re reading about. Some in the church may take offense to what I’ve just written, but it’s true.
Who can you talk to in your church about the significance of the latest book on discourse analysis, or the medieval influences of Duns Scotus upon later post-Reformation views on contingency, or the latest dictionary of the Septuagint that was just published? I have a colleague, for example, who was really excited because he just received a published doctoral dissertation on donkeys (no joke) in the Old Testament. He was also reading another book about (no joke) spit in the Bible, i.e., saliva, and its relationship to Old Testament purity laws. It’s this type of full-frontal nerdity in which few in the church take interest. (Of course, some of you might be thinking that maybe I’m just a nerd and have too many nerd friends. I am a nerd and am proud of it. I have a great deal of street-cred in the nerd community, in fact. But that’s beside the point).
You need to make sure that you have colleagues and friends with whom you can discuss your latest theological subject of inquiry. It’s good to have fellowship. We belong to the body of Christ and, therefore, we’re not supposed to study the word in isolation. One of the benefits of this is that you can benefit from others who have similar interests. Having another friend to discuss such matters can also keep you stable. Sometimes you can suffer from the tyranny of the last book, a problem when the last book you read so dominates your thought that you go off into the weeds. Think of it like trying to forget an advertising jingle but it keeps on going on and on in your mind, but it’s a theological idea that can end up distorting your view on things. Moreover, it’s nice to be able to have a discussion with someone without having to translate or explain what you’re studying. Don’t ask my wife, for example, to tell you all about seventeenth-century hypothetical universalism. As much as I like reading about such things, she’d rather not be pestered with it.
What can you do to find a theological outlet? First, don’t resort to the Internet. Boo hiss. You need flesh and blood, real world, human interaction. If you are in a city with other ministers, schedule a time to get together once a month for lunch where you can discuss a book, for example. Pick up a phone and call a colleague for a scheduled discussion. Or, if you don’t have too many colleagues near by, investigate membership in a theological society, join it, and request that your session (or consistory) pay for you to attend their yearly meetings. Browsing books and listening to academic papers at a societal conference can be very enriching (yes, sometimes boring as dirt, but beneficial in most cases). Or schedule time at your next meeting of classis or presbytery so that you can engage your colleagues in informal discussion about a specific theological topic.
The whole point is to continue to study and learn, and to feed that thirst and hunger to the benefit of your ministry—to the benefit of your congregation. If you never have a theological outlet to foster your continuing education, then your ministry is likely to suffer. Learn to benefit from conversations and fellowship with your ministerial colleagues.