Why a theology reading group?

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In the next few posts, I’ll continue on with pastoral reflections on why a theology reading group can be of benefit to pastors.

Today, we’ll hear from two relatively recent students of mine, both of whom were involved in my Barth reading group and both of whom were pastors before coming to Seminary. First is Jon Coutts, who has served in two Christian and Missionary Alliance churches and is now completing a PhD at Aberdeen under the supervision of Dr. John Webster.

Second is Clayton Puddicombe, who is now serving as associate pastor at a Baptist Church in Whitecourt, Alberta.

Jon Coutts

1)    What is the “value” to you of a “theology reading group” (such as the Barth group) as a pastor?

Well, pastors need to get together, but so often we feel like it needs to be for accountability or intercessory prayer or strategizing. But this is often forced. Accountability can arise naturally, but usually we already have that in place. Intercessory prayer: Which people get prayed for? Strategizing has been overkilled already.

Why not gather under the heritage of Bible-focussed writers of the past to love God with our minds, be replenished, have our preconceptions and directions challenged from someone outside our “target group” and even our time and place. It helps us to think clearly, to hear the Word better, and even to believe in the “one Church” that our ancient creeds attest to but which I’m not sure any of us believes in so much.

And a reading group, especially with a good book, is no pressure on anybody. It disciplines you to read something not either for the church directly or merely devotional. And you have to put your ideas out there to be tested. That doesn’t happen much.

2)    What is the top reason you would give for why a pastor should engage in long-term reading of theology, especially theology that is “unrelated” to the specific preaching and teaching you are doing?

Oops, did I already answer that? I think it is precisely because it is “unrelated”. It is so easy to pulpit counsel, to preach in a way that reflects the perceived needs of the people or the culture, or worse yet simply to appeal. And if the reading all goes toward the preacher, at worst you are eventuallly just a regurgitator of what is being sought. Reading outside the preaching cycle puts whatever your current study is into a perspective that makes you grapple with how it fits the whole of the gospel, which is very important.

Clayton Puddicombe

1)    What is the “value” to you of a “theology reading group” as a pastor?

So much of the pastor’s life can be lived in the urgent and by that I mean much more than crisis.  People often demand immediate, succinct, black/white answers for life’s problems.  They don’t want to think through the tensions and paradoxes of faith.  In the anxiety of these encounters, a pastor is tempted to default to trivialize the problems and solutions as the inquirer wishes.  The value of theology reading groups is their ability to transcend the pastor/studentinto the tensions which, in a strange way, becomes therapeutic against the ‘cheap’ trivial answers which eventually disappoint.  I think exposure to such reading challenges these pastor-congregant conversations . . . to slow down, to consider the complexities of life and faith, and to learn new postures of living in the incomplete which in the long-run strengthens our faith/relianc in Christ and His Word over and above human answers.

2)    What is the top reason you would give for why a pastor should engage in long-term reading of theology, especially theology that is “unrelated” to the specific preaching and teaching you are doing?

The temptation in shepherding God’s people is becoming consumed with human-to-human relationships at the expense of our vertical relationship with our Lord where the working out of our call is irreplaceably affirmed and challenged.  In other words, long-term ‘unrelated’ reading better ensures a proactive rather than reactive posture.

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