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Thursday
Dec032015

THE BEST TOOLS

If you have ever held a garage sale you will discover the vast number of individuals who are looking for that “bargain” when someone has decided to sell all of their tools. People get excited about saws and wrenches and finding a great deal! The point is, the more proper tools you have the more efficiently you can do your work. Or, at least this is the excuse that many husbands use when they arrive home with the latest power tool!

Recently I was speaking with a retired District Superintendent who shared with me his observation of ministers with whom he had worked. He said that he didn’t have any direct data, but it appeared to him that NTS graduates seemed to have a longer tenure in the pastorate because somehow they were able to adjust to changes which inevitably occur over time. This prompted me to check in with the research department of the Church of the Nazarene to see if there may be data which could corroborate this assumption and sure enough, an NTS graduate who is currently pastoring serves, on average, two years longer than someone who has not attended Seminary. This brings us back to the issue of tools. Could it be that just as it comes to fixing cars and projects around the house, the better the tools a pastor has in his or her tool box the more complex issues he or she is able to confront?

There are numerous pathways to ministry and to ordination in the church and God uses all of these in the kingdom. At the same time there are those who are asking whether there remains a need for a Seminary education, or whether there could be faster and/or cheaper ways for people to get into the ministry. We should never continue to do things the way we’ve always done them simply for tradition’s sake! At the same time, being a historical theologian, I am amazed at what we can learn from history. Historically, when the church has been at a major crossroads she has needed a clergy with the ability to utilize a full tool-box to respond to the seismic changes in the world around them.

The Apostle Paul speaks of his own upbringing at the feet of Gamaliel, and that he was “educated strictly according to our ancestral law.”[1] Paul had one of the finest educations of his day for Gamaliel was schooled in philosophy and theology. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and his influence so great that he is “one of only seven Jewish scholars who have been honored by the title ‘Rabban.’” [2] Paul goes on to use his education tool box to become the greatest missionary the world has ever seen. His life and writings comprise half of the New Testament and influence all of Christianity to this very day.

Basil of Caesarea was a minister and theologian in the fourth century. He lived during the first century in which Christianity found itself free to worship without the threat of punishment from the government authorities. This time of cultural shift was difficult to navigate for no one had experienced Christianity in this context. Basil was educated at home in the Scriptures and then studied Rhetoric in Caesarea. After this he traveled to Athens to study at the great school of the philosophers. In reality, he had the finest education one could receive in day. For Basil there was no separation between the study of theology and his life in service to God for they were one and the same. His voice in the doctrinal debates of the 4th century, those between the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, continues to shape Christianity to this day. He was able to employ everything that he had learned and experienced in life as tools to help Christianity forge a new future in the midst of radical change.

In less than two years we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The world was changing rapidly during this period of the Renaissance, including major shifts in political power. The role of the Roman Catholic Church was being tested in ways she had never quite imagined. Enter a man by the name of Martin Luther, an ordained priest who had taken years to study for the ministry. He had two bachelor’s degrees as well as a Doctorate in Theology. He served on the theology faculty of the University of Wittenberg. Reaching into his toolbox he translated the Bible into the German vernacular which became transformational in the lives of generations to come. He was able to use his mind and tools to adapt and minister in new and different ways.

John Wesley was an Anglican minister who studied at Oxford. He earned both the bachelor and master’s degrees, taught Greek and lectured on the New Testament. Of course there is much more to Wesley’s life and many experiences which followed his formal education which led him to eventually co-found the Methodist movement along with his brother Charles.  Wesley believed that his Methodists needed to be well-educated on a variety of topics therefore he, himself wrote numerous books and encouraged all his Methodists to be well-read. So that they could be well-read he was a proponent of Sunday School, a place where low-income children could learn to read and write. As a result of a creative imagination and a box full of tools Wesley was able to have a major impact on Christianity and society as a whole within a politically hot environment of cultural change.

 Any of this sound familiar? Just read the headlines on a regular basis and we realize that we are living in an era of major shifts in society and Christianity: 

Mainline Protestants make up shrinking number of U.S. adults[3]

Demise of Christianity: 1,000 churches could shut across Britain as congregations shrink[4]

Christianity Has Only Itself to Blame for Its Demise[5]

While these may be the headlines, they provide a glimpse into a new future that will not look like the past. Just as the great leaders of history utilized all the tools and resources at their disposal to transition through times of great change, we too have that opportunity. Os Guinness suggests that we are entering a “Grand Age of Apologetics.” He comments that the era of “Christian consensus” is coming to a close and as a result “we have a fresh opportunity to make the gospel appealing.”[6] This requires an ability to communicate truths at a depth that reach to the very heart of the people to whom we want to minister. Os reminds us that Jesus didn’t use the same techniques over and over again, but spoke directly to the needs of each individual. This requires discernment and an ability to adapt, utilizing different tools in each setting. 

Not everyone will have the ability to attend Seminary; but if it is at all an option, it is one which ought to be explored. Phineas Bresee once said, “If I knew that I had but ten years to live and serve, I would take five years for preparation, and do more in the remaining five than in the whole ten years.”[7] We need those who will take the time to fill up their tool boxes, not just with the tools, but with the capacity to think about how to use those tools and then work beside a master craftsman until the tool and the person become one. We need those who will be able to lead us through the storms which lie ahead and will carry us through without losing our faith or theological underpinnings. Sometimes you simply have to invest in the best tools possible and combine those with the work of the Holy Spirit and then move out in faith into uncharted waters to lead us through, safely to the other side. It’s been done before and it can be done again. The Church needs those who are willing to sacrificially give of their time to study, seek the face of God and lead us as a holiness church into the future.

 


[1] Acts 22:3

[2] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 838). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[3] Pew Research, May 18, 2015. Cited December 3, 2015. Online: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/18/mainline-protestants-make-up-shrinking-number-of-u-s-adults/

[4] Express, August 1, 2015. Cited December 3, 2015. Online: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/595398/Demise-Christianity-1000-churches-shut-across-Britain-congregations-shrink.

[5] Huffington Post, June 9, 2015. Cited December 3, 2015. Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/byron-williams/christianity-has-only-itself-to-blame-for-its-demise_b_7546058.html.

[6] Os Guinness, “Welcome to the ‘Grand Age of Apologetics.’” An interview by Tim Stafford in Christianity Today, July 23, 2015. Cited December 3, 2015. Online: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/july-web-only/os-guinness-interview-welcome-grand-age-apologetics.html.

[7] Brickley, Donald P. Man of the Morning: The Life and Work of Phineas F. Bresee. (Kansas City MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1960), 21. 

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