What's missing?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Following my meeting this afternoon I needed to stop in at the local Christian Paraphernalia Book Store to check on a study book which as it turned out, they didn't have. Not a "Popular Title" it seemed. 

Anyway, as I was browsing I overheard three loud pastors sitting in the big chairs in the corner carrying on and holding court with anybody who would overhear them. They were showing one another what great knowledge they had about the various bible translations and how they could use their greek skills that they had, didn't you know, to draw broad sweeping conclusions about which was the best translation for their highly esteemed work. They went on about how their knowledge was a great thing for their churches who should listen to them more because they had great education that would help their congregations, unlike churches of other denominations. It was embarrassingly arrogant.

What a load of bollocks. (Please pardon my english Anglo-Saxons)

There seemed to be a huge disconnect with their churches who needed to listen to them more, let alone the world whom they didn't seem to be relevant to at all. It was like they had all the right answers to questions not being asked of them at all.

I gotta tell you that if I was in one of their churches, I'd really find it hard to stay there. Life is too short to listen to people who don't get it, or worse yet, think they have the answers to questions I don't care about. It becomes a joke, an inside joke and they are all outsiders.

They seemed to base their qualifications on their education but they had no experience or understanding of the Spirit and his working in lives, at least as far as I could tell by the spirit of their conversation. There wasn't a great deal of the evidence of the activity of the Holy Spirit there among them.

Ahem, no wonder the church is in a tough place these days.

Why do some pastors think it's more helpful to curse rather than to bless? Not curse curse, but to speak down to someone because they feel insecure about their own stuff? Why can't we be a blessing, in deed and in word, wherever we go and whatever we do? Rather than to be calling people down.


I don't often if ever speak with such language about those called to care for and lead the body of Christ, but what we seem to be creating is a group of educated, Spirit-less, insecure individuals who have a religion devoid of power.

Yes, there are some AMAZING pastors out there. Our own meeting today was a place where we could share our hearts about how we are caring for the church and how we attempt to care for the world too. We talked about character issues. Good people trying to be faithful to the calling they know, who know it's not about them.

But some pastors out there have never fasted and prayed for a week, or have never prayed with a sick person until they are better or have died or have heard God say my grace is enough for your illness. They have not had to pray in enough money to pay their bills or had to stick it out in a difficult church simply because God told them to remain.  Some of them have never even heard what God's voice sounds like.

We need these kinds of times with God for our character to develop. We need these opportunities to learn the ways God works with us and leads us. Surely they are humbling times, but God gives grace to the humble. We need all the grace we can get, so bring on the humility.


I guess this post comes from a place of concern for the church. We, at least in the west, have figured out some of the more formal ways to educate and train individuals for the ministry. We need to find ways to allow for and encourage the character building types of activities as well.


I think I should stop now for fear I will begin rambling.

I need to hit either delete or post now, and while I am inclined to hit delete I know that's just the easiest option.  So if you have an opinion feel free to have a go.


  1. I guess you see the fine line that exists between academic education and true spiritual formation. It is far to easy to quote degree and education to justify ones place in the cosmos.

    I venture to guess that had you sat down with them, they may have learned something from you that they would probably not "get" without your witness. That's where we say "But for the grace of God go I. I could be them!" but you are not them. And for that we are all thankful.

    Men who depend on paper rather than spirit are less spiritual leaders than talking heads. They may have some good talent, but not a lot of applied skill at listening and following the voice of God. I guess they will come to the point where they will have to marry the two disciplines, or else they will go on as ignorant as you saw them today.

    I take it you were in the big city and these were big city pastors. And you are a spiritual man who preaches in the field. You own a specific ability in your ministry. Something they probably may never see because (in my opinion) men like that would not deign to lower themselves to preaching in a field because they have such great academic credentials. And Jesus was just a man, the Son of man, but all the same he was just a man.

    All the wisdom in the world of education does not bring one closer to the God of our understanding until you spend a season ministering in the field with the people of the field.

    And don't we all aspire to become the man who met the woman at the well?

    Blessings on your head

  2. Reminds of my first experience of Christianity when I went to a Catholic primary school. My folks aren't Catholic but it was the best school in the area so I went and my siblings followed me. Turned me away from Church for what I thought would be the rest of my life, alas how things change.

    I remember when the 'Chief' Father would visit and all I could tell that was different about him was a bigger hat and cross. I never could work out or get over why him having a bigger golden cross was more important. Likewise I can remember arguments breaking out between alter boys about who did what and who would spend more time in the limelight.

    Yeah, formal religion, blergh!

  3. I guess you can work for the organization - for which you need impressive credentials - or you can work for God's Son - for which you need a heart impressed with his fingerprints.

    I think that your life and ministry is the result of God's shaping and molding. You have been willing to let God's Spirit instruct you and have learned well. Formal theological education can't hold a candle to that. Because of how you have responded to him I think he has gifted you with wisdom to supplement the formal education you have acquired.

    May God spare us from falling into the trap of pride for our great learning and teach us more and more of his Spirit.

  4. You know, it's not just ministry that this applies to. Earning formal education and then acting on that alone leaves many gaps. I was telling Dean the other night that I believe my nursing skills took a drastic change about 2 years ago when I started getting outside myself/my shell and started touching (don't gasp here) my residents - I hug, I put my hand on their back, I pat their head, I caress their face, I sing to them - and somehow my approach to nursing changed big time. The residents respond really well to me, even remember me, which is saying a lot when you work with dementia. And, yeah, I care about them more. Am I the best nurse in the world? Nope! But it's made a difference, like I was released into something further in my career, if that makes any sense, and it happened because of a freedom that I found in God that summer, a joy renewed, something like that.

    So, my point is that book learnin' and showing off your knowledge/skills doesn't a good pastor make. Doesn't a good nurse make. There are some things that have to happen from the heart, the Greek interpretation or dynamic nursing skills may help, may even save the day sometimes, but that's a small piece of the pie.

  5. Randall,
    I have lots of thoughts about your post. I think you make an excellent point. I would say more but my thoughts are all over the map, maybe I'll write a blog post of my own.
    Thank you for not pressing delete.

  6. Wow Maureen, thanks for your story.
    And true it happens many places. Maybe the application of love is a big factor in it. Maybe that's what its all about.

    You guys all give me more to think about.

  7. I wonder if they were insecure with each other and had resorted to displaying delusions of adequacy?

    I've ranted on here before about Baptist churches and bible colleges. I'm sorry it also happens in Canada.

  8. Hmmm - this post has been rattling around in my mind all day, partly because these guys seeem to have pushed your buttons hard; I reckon your response has to do with a lot more than this one encounter.

    Having stated the blindingly obvious, a couple of thoughts. I too hate the competitive and showing off conversation you overheard, but people with those character traits aren't just those with a certain type of education to flaunt. I've been alienated in the same way by plenty of "my church is bigger than yours" types who show little pastoral care or humility. I don't think you were knocking degrees etc in theology per se, and I don't think they are crucial to be a follower of Christ, but I would want to defend the Godly people who have transformed my understanding of scripture by adding depth and context from their learning. Sometimes in the simplicity of a blog conversation it can sound like gaining theological qualifications and living faithfully with Christ and his people are diametrically opposed. I think the important thing is that we all keep listening and learning and reflecting in humility throughout our lives - whatever learning path God gives us.

    Now I'm off to work out which buttons of mine have been pressed :)

  9. I agree that insecurity was kind of happening at that coffee table, but these guys were in their fifties and i would think should know better, or at least have a deeper sense of personal awareness.

    And yes Barb you know me. I'm not about one or the other or one is better or worse than the other, but this has been brewing in my heart/head for a while and I guess it kinda just exploded onto the screen in this manner.

    I too have been looking lately at why my own buttons are being pressed about this. And I think it comes down to character issues, places of the soul issues. And the damage these gaps seem to be doing to the church, let alone the world at large.

    People who only know how to tear down, rather than to build up are not ready for prime time pastoral work. People who move away from a church quickly because it starts to go places in their hearts that they don't want to go, so they move away, they're not ready for prime time.
    People who think they have an education but don't know how to love, probably are not ready for prime time pastoral work. And so on it goes.

    I'm not saying they are disqualified from it, but maybe that they are just not ready for it.

    If there was any saving grace for me when i was 25 and taking my first "Full time" church, it was that the church was small with some solid leaders in it, and having Lauralea, my best friend and pastor, with me to share life and ideas with, and i seemed to have an insatiable desire for God in my life. I was hungry and thirsty and there was room for that pursuit to grow and develop.

    Enough for now lest this turn into Rant Pt. 2.

  10. Bring on rant part 2 - these are not bad thoughts.

    "Sometimes in the simplicity of a blog conversation it can sound like gaining theological qualifications and living faithfully with Christ and his people are diametrically opposed."

    My observation has been that actually gaining 'formal' theological qualifications does oppose walking with Jesus for a lot of people. I've seen guys who were on fire for Jesus come out of Spurgeons college lacking said fire. I've known others that have lost their faith in bible college. It doesn't *have* to be like that, but often is.

    There is a problem when bible college tries to produce 'pastors': they should be there to equip those who are pastors.

  11. Interesting discussion (and a little unnerving for someone in my position :) )

    While I don't disagree with Toni's last comment, I'm reluctant to place the blame for that solely on "formal" theological education. The problem is that what is taught at Bible colleges and seminaries often doesn't trickle down to the masses. So Joe "On Fire" Christian grows up with certain beliefs and expectations about Christianity and for Christians and then goes off to Bible college or seminary--even a seminary belonging to his particular brand of Christianity--and discovers many things that he was never told about or made aware of at home or in his church.

    An example might be the problems inherent in translation of scripture (i.e. the human element), or perhaps the fact that the Bible didn't drop out of the sky from God but was written by humans in different cultures and circumstances and wasn't "bundled together" officially until several centuries after the apostles went about their business. There are probably better examples, but the specific issues aren't the point: one of the causes of the thing that Toni describes is quite likely shallow discipleship and teaching in the home and church so that people aren't prepared for the realities of scripture and faith. The result is a person of "weak" faith going to a place more suited for people of "strong" faith (I'm not being elitist: I'm thinking of Paul's usage in 1 Cor 8).

    My off-the-cuff two cents.

  12. Toni - just checked in on this and fwiw my comment wasn't a response to yours, I must have been typing as you were posting.

    I am by no means an automatic fan of "Bible colleges" (and there is such an immense spectrum of places and patterns of learning the label covers), but my experience doesn't seem to be as negative as yours. I suppose that my perspective is shaped by some of the hard graft I am involved in - on occasion mopping up the legacy of ineffective ministers. Their education is very low down the list of what has made them destructive.

    But it is always encouraging to know that people like Marc are willing to step out in faith.....

  13. This was an excellent post Randall, it had me reading the whole way through.

    As one who is in a bible college (and some have told me, a fairly "liberal" bible college) being exposed to ideas and thinkers whose names I couldn't pronounce in high school, the temptation to allow education to create superiority above others is a daily struggle. I see it in myself and in others, some who are even planning on going into graduate studies in theology, bible, or ministry. Scary indeed. I just hope the people educating these people notice this faulty attitude and tell them they are acting foolish.

    To be fair though, the feeling to educate others may originate in good intentions, they may reflect and see how much their education has helped them to understand the world so they think the best thing they can do is show it to others. But your right, there is more to teaching and ministry than knowledge. Character is vital, to the point that it effects how your material is interpreted by others when they teach. It isn’t too hard to point out that someone is an asshole.

    I have been reading a lot of philosophers lately and Paul has been convicting me when he writes “...we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Knowledge like many other things, can lure people with things like mastery of ideas and concepts, and can become a power system, giving way to a superiority complex. But with Jesus, it just doesn’t work that way it seems ; ).

    Anyways, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

    Randall if I am ever in Malmo, I will buy you coffee... and if I know my Greek well enough, I'll teach those guys a lesson. (I'm kidding.)

    ...and bring on the rants.

  14. Randall this has been probably my biggest beef with denominations. They put such a high priority on education of their pastors that the application of that learning seems to take a back seat. We tend to forget that when Paul or Peter or John wrote the letters they did, they were usually addressing specific areas of concern relevant to their audience. They had obviously taken the time to get to know the needs of the people. Too many pastors and seminarians have a field of expertise and are bent on making the needs of their congregations fit into it.
    I am incredibly thankful that you continue to point people to the cross. That is where our needs will be met.

  15. You should have pulled out the trump question to one of them, "Hey Karl Barth I really enjoyed.... oh, wait. Sorry. By your level of 'knowledge' I just figured you must be him. My mistake."

    Seminary has taught me that there are some really smart, wise, and spirit filled people (like Karl Barth). And then there are those who just like to talk too much. Abusing education to create distance between the enlightened pastor and the moronic congregation.

  16. wow... lots of people have lots to say... I just wanted to say AMEN!

  17. "the temptation to allow education to create superiority above others is a daily struggle."

    Good point Mark, I hadn't even thought that through properly. Of course that could be a temptation, and down in the local church if i was insecure about myself, I might overcompensate in my work, and failing that I could always tell myself I'm better than the rest simply because i am more studied.
    Thanks Mark. I'll let you buy me coffee.

    "Seminary has taught me that there are some really smart, wise, and spirit filled people (like Karl Barth). And then there are those who just like to talk too much."

    I like that too St. Gregory.

  18. Wow. Well said Randall. We are sooo greatful to have you here in the field...and ditto to the comment 'thank you for not pressing delete'.
    Let it be known that those Pastors so proud of their theology and knowledge have been to the field....and the damage they do in a small country church is as devastating (and I would venture to speculate, more devastating) as the damage done in the big city.

    I first came upon this type of person in relation to our son - for those of you who don't know, he is autistic - an amazing young man. But professionals - from every field you can imagine (medical, education, etc.) - all very determined that because of their education/knowledge knew what was best for our son...and I, being just a parent, could not possibly know what was right for him. With all of their knowledge - the only thing they focused on was 'autism', never once seeing our son and the amazing person he was/is (these people are still out there 25 years later).
    Many never 'get it'. The only difficult thing about being his mother has been educating the educated. So exhausting.

    Unfortunately some of the pastors out there will never 'get it' until they meet God. Right now their knowledge/education is their god.

    That said, I know how I constantly struggle with self-righteousness and fail miserably so many times because of it. I want to be a person who is more good....not better....a work in progress.


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