Here’s the third series of pastoral reflections on the value of a theology reading group. Today’s reflections come from two former pastors, both of whom are now involved in Christian academic setting.
First is Steve Elich. Steve has pastored two churches and is now serving in our Briercrest Distance Learning division, and is also the program Coordinator for our Master of Divinity at Briercrest Seminary. Steve holds a DMin from Western Seminary in Oregon.
1) What is the “value” to you of a “theology reading group” (such as the Barth group) as a pastor?
When I graduated from seminary and took a pastorate in rural Saskatchewan, I resolved I was going to keep fresh on theological and biblical issues. I had just come from four years of swimming in these things and wanted to continue thinking about these things. I was going to read through each issue of JETS and BibSac that came to the house. I was going to maintain a healthy reading plan. Then the reality of regular sermon preparation showed up. The daily routine of driving the school bus took over. The responsibilities of church activities and ministries soon pushed aside that level of academic resolve.
- A reading group provides a structured excuse to set aside the regular things and make time for that level of personal development.
- The value of such a group is the opportunity to be involved with like-minded people who are willing to be stretched in mind and heart through the investigation of theology.
- The pastor of the rural church deals with a fairly narrow-minded group of people (pardon the generalization). They are conservative, cautious, at times judgmental, and quick to point out any differences to their opinion (a reflection of my experience). It is easy as a pastor to shut down any sense of exploring the outer limits – other voices, theologies, theologians. A reading group would keep the thought processes flexible. The ability to stop and consider alternative expressions, interpretations, and ideas is more easily cultivated in such an environment.
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 top reason reflects the last point above, the benefit of remaining flexible, wider, broader, and deeper in thought, outlook, and expression. A pastor needs to do more than think about the issues of the church, the elder board, the sermon series, the Wednesday night prayer meeting (if it still exists), and the senior’s Bible study.
Second is Randy Nolan. Randy was a regular part of our reading group this past couple years. He just defended a PhD from Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland on the theology of learning. Randy has taken up a position in the Distance Learning division at Horizon College & Seminary in Saskatoon, SK. Randy has also pastored in a rural setting.
From what I’m learning in my project, attention to how the brain functions shows us how formative is the matter of pattern formation. Barth & post-lib[eral]s would put it in terms of dwelling in the world created by the biblical text. The hard work of reading theology, especially when done with others, creates background patterns of thinking to which we are more likely to default in the rest of our lives & ministries. I appreciate the Barth group mainly for that reason, but there have been practical, measurable results, too: I now am much more careful to think & speak theologically (Christologically) in my preaching.