Recently I read this blog post by Greg Strand, the Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing for the EFCA. In the post he challenges us to reflect on the dichotomy of theological academia and ministry. In my post dissertation phase of life–teaching at a seminary and serving as an elder in our church, that tension between theological academia and ministry is where I live.
Feeling the Tension
I feel the tension on Monday when, in the morning I teach “A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament” and in the evening I attend our elder meetings to talk and pray over interpersonal issues between members of our congregation. I feel it on Tuesday when I prepare Hebrew exercises for my students in the afternoon and then attend our campus group in the evening to encourage students to kingdom focus their lives.
I especially feel the tension when I know I need to sit down and write an article to hopefully publish in a journal so we can improve the accreditation standing of our seminary. I’m committed to the seminary because I know the existence of the seminary is important to the health and growth of the church in Slovakia. But I’m also committed to preaching and teaching in my local church and in churches throughout the country once a month. So I also know I need to sit down and work on that sermon for the church in Bardejov on Sunday.
It’s Not a Matter of Priorities
It’s tempting to think about my ministry on the grid of the priorities and gifts that God has given me. If I do that, though, I might end up setting aside the ministries that are outside my primary calling (with loci more directly in the local church) and focus strictly on my teaching activities at the seminary.
But if I did that, then I would feed into this abnormal dichotomy that is the reality of the modern educational system where knowledge has been extracted from skill and wisdom. If my ministry flows from my being and my being is rooted in the body of Christ, then I have no choice. To deprioritize ministry in the local church removes the seminary to an alternate universe.
Here’s another way to look at it.
Freeing the Church from my Pantheon of Priorities
In a Christian worldview, God can’t be one of my priorities. Even if God is the most important of all my priorities, he is still just one in my pantheon of priorities. (I have made him qualitatively more but ontologically equivalent to all the other important things in my life so that either God is no god or he is just one of my gods along with all my priorities.) I make God a part of my world instead of me being a part of his world.
That’s pure pagan. God isn’t one of my priorities, he’s the sovereign creator who defines my priorities.
In the same way, the fact that my being is rooted in the local church (the local manifestation of the body of Christ) means that I cannot prioritize seminary over the local church because of the gifts and calling God has placed on my life. In that case, I make the local church a part of my world, when in reality I am a part of it’s world.
But the local church isn’t one of my priorities, it defines my priorities.
My Cross to Bear
Right now I don’t feel like I’m in a comfortable place. The activities I’m involved in strain my ability to keep up with my responsibilities. But I do feel like I’m in the right place. I do feel like my ministry is rooted in and feeds back into the local church. And I do feel like that tension is a part of what I need to do in order to play my part in bridging the gap between academia and the church.
These are challenging words of application to where each of us live; whether involved in academia or not. Praying that the Lord of our priorities wouldn’t become just one of our priorities…thanks for the challenge.