Trust Me…I Went to Seminary

The Joy of Teaching

I have really begun to flourish in teaching ministry.  Much of the credit belongs to engaged students.  Also, I am teaching topics that I am interested in (a class on Prayer using Richard Foster’s Prayer and a class on Genesis, which I designed myself).  Early on in my ministry, I got pegged as an intellectual, which makes me laugh.  I really don’t read as much as many other pastors.  My reading is mainly blogs, magazines and newspapers.  I do read books and enjoy them.  But I am so slow that I can’t knock off as many as I’d like.  I much prefer listening to music to reading.  Apparently that makes me emo.  Who knew?

Another aspect of teaching I enjoy is teaching with lay people.  I get a great deal of satisfaction watching them open up to the scriptures and really dig in.  It is a pleasant challenge to me.  Now, I have to work harder to prepare a conversation on Cain and Abel.  I expect that I’ll learn a lot about sibling issues in my congregants.  Teaching with lay people is a great way to unearth their sensitivities and their world view.

After a long discussion on Adam and Eve and serpents, a parishioner said, ‘if Eve hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be here’.  The class debated why Adam and Eve hadn’t procreated by then.  In my lesson plan, I was headed in that direction, but really this student got there more quickly.  It brought to mind a conversation in Intro to Old Testament my first semester in seminary.

The Church vs. The Academy…and age-old conundrum (emphasis on the old)

After several weeks of Dr. Fewell wowing us with new perspectives on Genesis, and doing some great defending of Eve, someone exclaimed ‘Why don’t we hear this in church?’  A large portion of the class period was devoted to discussing what is learned in seminary versus what is learned in church.  The class seemed to divide into several camps.  The first camp said ‘parishioners can’t take this more-unsettling view of scripture and God, they prefer safe answers’.  The second camp said ‘clergy are afraid to rock the boat for fear of losing parishioners’.  The third camp surmised that a church taking this view of scripture/church/God/life would actually appeal to more people and lead the church to more authentic ministry.  Now I think that camps 1 & 2 are both wrong and that camp 3’s idea is much easier said than done.  I am wondering if the matter is more about tactics than truthfulness or open-mindedness.  One can be bluntly honest and truthful and, due to lack of tact, lose the battle with parishioners.  On the other hand, proving oneself pastorally opens up other opportunities for ministry—including a more thorough and engaging approach to scripture.  Because the congregation knows that I am not going to deceive them or judge them or neglect them, they are more open to hearing a differing perspective.  I guess the difficulty is when this trust-building requires more time and patience than we’d like.

After class, I actually had another agenda item.  I was so tired but in a satisfying way.  I napped in my office chair and then just went home.  It felt like a useful day, where the church was meeting mid-week to go elbows-deep in scripture.  This collection of retirees showed up ready to learn, to discuss, to think, to grow and to change.  The notion that lay people don’t want to learn is just wrong.

Where to Begin

One of the principles of pastoral ministry, I am learning, is “Know Your Starting Place”.  I do this in the first session of every class I teach: what do we already know about________.  For the Genesis class, I gave them a quiz.  The quiz contained 20 questions (see below).  The first 10 were things that I thought they would know about Genesis (“Who built the Ark?”).  This set of questions was designed to instill in the students confidence that they could know the Bible and to downplay the mystique that often surrounds scripture.  The second 10 questions were different (“Who told Eve if she touched the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil she would die?”).  These were designed to certify that there is still plenty to learn and to introduce the matter of ambiguity.  There are things we know, because the scripture tells us.  There things we don’t know because the scripture is unclear.  There are things that we might just have to figure out for ourselves.  I have found this to be an effective way to introduce a topic and to engage students.  ‘You can and do know some of the Bible, but there is always more to learn.  Let’s dig in.’

This principle translates to other aspects of pastoral ministry.  A shepherd doesn’t stand beside the still waters and scream into the pasture “I’m over here!”  The shepherd walks across the meadow, up the hills, over the river and through the woods to where the sheep are (forgive the sheep imagery: I don’t think lay people are stupid).  Calmly, with a voice the sheep recognizes, Shepherd says “I love you and know where the water is”.  It’s not that parishioners don’t want to grow.  They give money every week and wear deep butt-prints in the pews in order to love God more deeply and to understand God more clearly.  I think it is more common that clergy are unwilling or unable to get close enough so that the laity will trust them.

There is nothing the digital age can do to speed up the long, arduous task of trust-building.  But it must be done.  The fastest shepherd to win the trust of his sheep was Jesus of Nazareth.  Of course, the whole thing almost blew up on the last day.


The Genesis Quiz

  1. On what day did God create humans?
  2. Who told Eve it was okay to eat from the Tree of teh Knowledge of Good and Evil?
  3. Who killed Abel?
  4. Who built the Ark?
  5. Who did Abraham try to sacrifice?
  6. Who was turned into a pillar of salt?
  7. With whom did God wrestle?
  8. Who had a coat of many colors?
  9. To whom was Joseph sold as a slave?
  10. How many Tribes of Israel are there?
  11. Which came first, Animals or Humans?
  12. Name the 4 Rivers in the Garden of Eden.
  13. Who told Eve that if she touched the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil she would die?
  14. Name Adam and Eve’s 3 sons?
  15. Who fathered Tamar’s twins?
  16. How many of each animal did Noah place on the Ark?
  17. Who was Sarah?
  18. Who was renamed Israel?
  19. Name all the people buried “in the cave of the field at Machpelah, the field near Mamre, which Abraham bought as a burial site from Ephron the Hittite”?
  20. Who became a “wild ass of a man”?

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