The Teaching Church

Lately, I have really enjoyed the teaching ministries in my charge.  We have a covenant group reading Richard Foster’s classic Prayer.  The participants are smart and curious, a real treat to be with.  This week we also began an afternoon study on Genesis.  I was delightfully surprised by the number of participants.  It is very encouraging to take the time to prepare a lesson and a study and realize that you didn’t bring enough copies.  The result has been that I feel a certain good pressure to provide quality teaching.  It also helps that I feel particularly equipped for this area of ministry.

But now I have to change everything.

Evoking the Spirit

I love the Christian Century.  I especially love Century Marks—the news and notes section where they excerpt snippets from other (usually obscure) publications.  I always learn something new.  Recently, they reviewed a piece from Worship, a Catholic journal out of St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota.  In the snippeted article, Nathan Mitchell recalls how the sense of smell characterizes his early church memories: the aroma of incense, the smell of the priest in the confessional booth and the wax used on the floors.  He critiques how liturgy works too hard to explain and does little to “evoke”.

This is the word that I have been looking for and my current challenge as I grow as a minister.  In the end, it’s not my theology that drives my commitment to the church, it is something much more primitive.  I love church because it was there that I was accepted as a teenager.  It was there I laughed the loudest and debated with the most intensity.  My fondest memories are not of seminary lectures, though I remember some stellar seminary lectures.  My most seminal faith memories are of foot washing with my US-2 class, pounding nails in a new porch with a family in McDowell County after their SonServants team abandoned them, serving Communion at my wedding, Behute mich, Gott at Taize, the cool water and the surprised infant laughter at my first Baptism, laying hands on my wife as she was Ordained.  In seeking out “spiritual” memories, I am struck by their physicality.  Something in me moved at all of these.  And isn’t that the point…to be moved?

Preaching and Teaching

In my first encounter with a dCOM, I was asked to explain the difference between teaching and preaching.  I successfully stifled an inner scoff, and quietly asserted that I didn’t see much of a difference.  The question and the questioner’s reply was intended to demonstrate how much more the questioner knew.  But I am a student and fan of ‘engaged pedagogy’.  As a Christian, I understand that I have an angle on things.  I am not being completely truthful if I claim to be entirely objective.  Complicating matters is the notion that there are so many competing truths out there.  How can I feign neutrality?  And why on earth would I be ashamed to teach from the perspective of the truth of Christ?

But of course, the full truth of Christ is too magnificent to fully fathom.  So before my head swells, let me confess my iniquity.  In fact, it is because of Christ that I must always temper my ‘truth claims’ with humility: an inward and outward confession that my finite being can only grasp so much truth.  A block-quote also in the Christian Century from Frank Schaeffer proclaims: “No one ever blew up a mosque—or an abortion clinic—after shouting ‘I could be wrong!’”

Knowing and Experiencing

I have been preaching and teaching to explain.  This is not bad and I’m not even apologizing.  People yearn for truth and part of seeking God is seeking answers.  People want to know why and how and explanation is part of the work of the church.  “Why follow Christ?” many want to know.  Part of knowing Christ is experiencing his grace.  You can talk around it until you’re blue in the face, but if its grace, you can’t fully know it until it’s in you.

So I have to reinvent what I do.  I have to learn to evoke.

Right now this means that instead of trying to hash out why Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are different, teaching Genesis is about loving Earth: appreciating its power, gasping at its complexity, devoting ourselves to its preservation and fruitfulness?  I’m not speaking to idiots and I’m not manipulating them to be something contrary to their religion.  They can take issue if they want.  Or they can love the land that’s been given to them.

I’m almost 5 years into my first appointment.  Some days I think: there can’t be anything more to learn.  I guess that’s not really the case.

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One thought on “The Teaching Church

  1. I am writing to inquire about your statement above that you were working on a home in McDowell County after “their SonServants team abandoned them.” I am a volunteer and former employee of Son Servants and have been part of the organization since I was a teen – over 20 years. I am wondering when your (or this family’s) negative experience was and what the context was? We certainly do not “abandon” the families we serve, but if there is a sense that we did so we would like to rectify it. We have been serving people in McDowell County for about 20 years and have many wonderful relationships there. We believe God has used our organization to not only do much good in the world (and much in WV), but also to teach teenagers about following Christ and about serving His people. It is therefore quite discouraging to see a link from your site to ours in a negative context, especially since, in my opinion, “calling us out” for a perceived wrong doesn’t really seem to further your point about your greatest “faith memories.” I am writing on my own here – the full-time employees of the organization do not know about this. I really love Son Servants and really believe we try to act with the highest level of integrity and love we can, so it made me sad to see this link. I am not asking you to change the wording of the post, but simply to allow us the opportunity to discuss this incident, and then possibly remove the link.
    Thank you for your time.

    Under His Mercy,
    Ellison Manley


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