Having been a student at and employed institutions of higher learning I get the divide that sometimes occurs being learning and doing. Students constantly want to be able to connect with they are learning to ‘real life’ and teachers are constantly trying to figure out what exactly that means. Questions surrounding the practicality of education and how is translates into job skills is a perennial issue on college campuses everywhere. Seminary education is no different.
Two recent examples stick in my mind. Let me preface these examples by saying that I think my seminary education has done a great job of making my classroom learning ‘portable’. I have several examples of this that I could share and hopefully will at some point. But the examples that I share now are more on the negative side and represent what I think are some of the frustrations that church members sometimes have with pastors.
Last week in my discipleship and teaching course we were having a discussion about the hidden ways that churches operate. Things we do or say and things we don’t do and don’t say that have unintended consequences.
An example was raised about crying babies in the worship service and it went something like this: What if a baby starts crying during the service and rather than the parent(s) trying to calm the baby or remove her from the sanctuary what if the pastor would take the baby in his arms and just finish the sermon while holding the baby for the parents. What would that act communicate? Classroom responses ranged from, “it would make it seem like the baby is supposed to be there” to “it would show love and commitment by the pastor to take care for every member of the congregation.”
My first reaction, on the other hand, was to say that it would communicate that those parents weren’t able to keep the kid quiet and it was distracting the rest of the congregation so the pastor had to take matters into his own hands and the parents would probably be mortified. This point of view was met with a fair amount of resistance in the room.
Now, I’m not saying that my response is right and it’s probably more cynical than it needs to be. However, I stand by my believe that that’s how a good number of the members of the congregation would view it – right or wrong.
Sometimes, when I’m sitting in class, I have to try really hard to remember to think like a regular member of the congregation sitting in the pew each and every Sunday. More often than not, I find myself saying, “Yes, that’s how Michael, the pastor, might view that situation; but how would Michael, the banker, view that situation?” Often, I find those two points of view at odds with each other.
When I’m confronted with those sorts of ‘real'-life’ situations in a classroom context, I’m thankful that there is an attempt to make practical connections, but I’m equally aware of the fact that I’m surrounded by a classroom full of future pastors. Their responses are from the perspective of future pastors and how we wish the church would be.
As much as I’d love to think that the congregation would react positively to my soothing a crying baby during a worship service, I believe the reality is, they wouldn’t. If anything, I think it’d make the distraction worse.
Even if I’m wrong about that, the point is that I have to constantly remind myself that just a 2 years ago, I was sitting in the pew each Sunday just like everyone else and I’ll continue to try to bring that perspective with me to the classroom and I think about how to translate what I’m learning about ministry into what I’ll be doing in ministry.
One of those things is remembering that less is more and that too many pastors like the sound of their own voice. This post is too long already so the other example will have to wait.