Dallas Willard has said that anyone who stands up and speaks for 45 minutes is bound to be badly mistaken about some things. That’s a perspective I always try to keep in mind and that I hope my readers and students keep in mind as well.
To be a pastor is to presume to teach others and to teach others is to have to communicate a certain level of confidence about what one teaches. This can come across as a sense that the teacher believes he/she knows everything, or has it all together. Not the case! This blog, over the past few months, has begun to pick up some steam and I think this is a good time to go on record as saying I’m not interested in being anyone’s Svengali. Though I enjoy theological topics and write frequently on them, I am not a theologian. (Okay, I am an armchair theologian.) I never went to seminary and do not have formal theological training, other than the theology classes I took for ordination. Having said that, here’s why I presume to teach, and why I write this blog.
Seminary isn’t everything. Have you ever had contact with a pastor who seemed to know a lot about God but didn’t project any real understanding of people? At its core, effective spiritual work with people is about bridging a gap between people and God, and this requires understanding of both. In fact I am convinced we cannot understand God if we do not understand people, and we cannot understand people if we do not understand God (insofar as that is possible). In fact I believe true understanding only happens where God and people converge. My formal training is in counseling. I believe I understand people pretty well, not just because I have degrees and a couple licenses on my wall, but because of 15 years of work with people as a pastor, teacher, administrator, counselor, leader, and communicator, in clinical, religious, and university settings.
In addition to this, I am a voracious reader. Most of what I know was not learned in graduate school but from the school of life, and from books. Many dismiss those of us who can’t get our noses out of books, claiming it’s impractical. In some ways it is. (You definitely don’t want me to work on your leaky faucet, or landscape your yard.) But let’s face it, we bookish types are usually the ones people come to see when their real, everyday lives aren’t going very well. But we are not consulted simply because we have read a lot of books, which leads to my next point.
Reading books and acquiring information can actually be dangerous.
After all, once we have acquired information, what are we to do with it? To properly understand information, one needs a broad perspective. (This is why you and your child both know it’s important to do well in school and avoid hanging with the wrong crowds, but only you fully understand why, and just how important it is. You have a broader perspective.) Good perspectives should be informed by experience, wisdom, compassion, creativity, commitment, courage, and love. We’ve all seen the religious fanatic whose religion has led them only to hatred and arrogance. Most of us sense intuitively that something is out of whack with that. Religion can be, and often is, approached from an overall perspective that actually contradicts what the religion itself teaches!
So I believe my strength as a pastor and teacher is to a) constantly cram truly ridiculous amounts of information into my head; b) distill that information down into insights that be can easily communicated with people who want to spend their lives doing things other than constantly cramming truly ridiculous amounts of information into their heads; c) show why extremely difficult concepts are sometimes critical for people to understand; and d) and make those concepts understandable to all who wish to understand them.
I do not, and will not ever, do this perfectly. But I’m in my sweet spot when I’m dealing with that all-important intersection between God and Joe Blow. What exactly does one have to do with the other? Honestly, I’m not always sure I know, but I’ll give you perspectives on that that are different than what you’ll hear and read in most other places. You may like it, or you may not, and my goal isn’t to be anyone’s Messiah or hero (or mouthpiece or fanboy). I just wanna be the guy who somehow gets you to think about something a little differently. The rest is up to you and God.