There’s a Lot of Book Choosing Going On

Photo Credit: Flickr user, Mr. Ducke, used under CC license

Photo Credit: Flickr user, Mr. Ducke, used under CC license

“There seems to be a lot of book choosing going on here.” expressed one of my church members in a recent conversation. I knew exactly where she was headed, because it’s a common sentiment among evangelicals, especially those out of the Restoration Movement, of which I’m a product.

The follow-up question is always a plea, ” Why can’t we just study the Bible?” It’s not a bad question, but it is a question that is self-limiting and self-preserving, a question that doesn’t lead us to also ask, “Why wouldn’t we take advantage of so many great Christian thinkers that allow us to enrich our understanding of the Bible?”

To begin to answer, we need to know why the question is being asked. It is assumed that “book choosing” is happening, because we’re lazy or we have a lesser view of the Bible, but it takes a serious amount of time to create a quality Bible study even with the tools and knowledge to do so. Why reinvent the wheel when someone has spent years in study and practice and is possibly (though unlikely) wiser than your pastor? But this is only a side point to their real concern.

The concern in my tradition comes in the form of a sola scriptura argument combined with a firm belief in free will and accessibility of the Bible. If our theology is determined by the Bible alone, and we’re fully capable of reading and understanding it, then reason follows that we only need to pull out our text and study the Bible. We don’t need someone else telling us how to think.

The reality is that there are deeper issues at hand in these arguments, and we can only address them briefly today. If we are honest, we recognize that we are not approaching the text for the first time or in a vacuum. We bring to it our preformed beliefs and our own context.

When we read, and even study, someone else’s thoughts and approach to scripture we are exposed to new perspectives on texts we’ve read many times before. Not only do we learn more about the text, we also learn about ourselves and our own beliefs. Sometimes when asked about my theology, I reveal that the person that had the most impact was a professor that I disagreed with.

To wall ourselves off from other Christian thinkers becomes a form of self-preservation. Our beliefs are always right, if we’re unwilling to hear from another. When you are unable to listen, disagree and grow, you cease to grow entirely, and so it becomes a self-limiting question as well.

There are a wealth of quality resources available to us, that can help guide our conversations, help inform our studies, lead us into new understandings, and sometimes reaffirm our current beliefs. We are squandering our resources and our time by reproducing materials.

Worse than that, we are slowing down our potential for growth, understanding and action, if we fail to identify and use these resources appropriately.

Next time I’m asked (church, if you’re reading this), I’m going to respond with my own question, “Why wouldn’t we take advantage of so many great Christian thinkers that allow us to enrich our understanding of the Bible?”

From Non-Profit to Ministry

It was my theology that moved me to non-profit work initially following my M.Div. at Emory, and after two years of working in various capacities with non-profits, I begin making my journey back to ministry. It is necessary to explore what has led me back to church ministry, and because the work was tied so closely to my faith, I have to find a way to utilize my education, experiences in and passion for non-profit “ministry.”

I was drawn to community building in non-profits, because I believe the church often misses the needs of the neighborhood community, in particular the community that lacks a voice or the unity to find a voice. It was also appealing that non-profits reach out to their community with no alternative motives; it is because one cares to make a difference, believes change is possible and believes in the untapped potential of those they are reaching. I idealized the space created by that “freedom” in non-profits and assumed that those involved were there for the same reasons. I was disillusioned by my own ideals of the non-profit community. Like a lot of churches, many non-profits are unorganized, lack direction and practice their work in ways that further dehumanize individuals rather than lifting up and helping one realize their voice and individuality. The reality of the true non-profit landscape is one of the reasons I am led back to church ministry, where I spent almost 10 years prior to my non-profit ventures in New Orleans. However, I cannot leave behind the ideals that I first saw in the non-profit field, and I will not forget the organizations that successfully carry out those ideals and practices in sustainable and empowering ways.

The second large piece of the puzzle came in understanding the great deal of community work that is needed within churches. Though a different stage and organization, much of what moved me to non-profits can and should be practiced within a church community and from within the church, as every church sits in the midst of a broader neighborhood and community. Where I saw a particular need being neglected in churches, I now envision an area of growth, learning and opportunity for the church. The “freedom” in non-profits is not exclusive, and I believe it could be tremendously helpful to discover this freedom in our ministry and outreach, the freedom to love, minister and offer support without condition or alternative motives.

Additionally, the further I was removed from church ministry, the more I missed it. I miss the studies, the environment, the supportive community and the unique opportunity to take part in the faith process of individuals on a daily basis. Returning to church ministry has not been a light or easy decision, and I have been thankful to have mentors and friends helping me think through the process. With their support and the support of my family, I am excited about the new possibilities and adventures that are inevitable.