account on goodreads.com that allows me to maintain a list of books that I have read, am reading, or planning to read. It's also a kind of social site in that I can "connect" with other people who are on the site to discuss themes and topics from books we have in common. And there's a "feed" on the home screen that displays the latest book updates from all the people with whom I'm connected.
I especially like it because I can look back at all the books I've read since 2009 when I started using the service (it's free by the way, so you should definitely sign up...and they have a free iPhone app too). But what is most interesting to me is the journey I take by simply glancing at the covers of those books.
When I look at those covers that I categorized in the 2009 folder, I'm able to trace the origin of my thinking on certain topics. And then I open the 2010 folder and am reminded of the ways those original thoughts took root and grew in various ways based on what I was learning at the time. To be sure, some of those book covers remind me of wasted money on books that I thought missed whatever mark they were supposedly aiming at. But more often than not, I am staring at the digital image of thoughts that shaped the ideas I have and teach today.
So I was alarmed the other day when I talked with an old seminary classmate of mine who is currently pastoring a church. I referenced one of the books I just finished reading, and mentioned some current debates about issues facing the Evangelical edition of Christian faith (just start rattling off some topics and you'll almost definitely stumble into one that is being discussed in the back rooms of untold numbers of churches: women in ministry, infant baptism, hell, evolution and Genesis 1, justification, interacting with other religions, declining attendance, alcohol, prosperity gospel, just war, illegal immigration, pastoral duties, and internet church), but this guy wasn't up to speed on any of the books or contemporary voices weighing in on either side of any issue.
Rob who? (Bell.) Mark who? (Driscoll.) Brian who? (McLaren.) N.T. who? (Wright.) Roger who? (Olson.) Scot who? (McKnight.) Francis who? (Chan.) And on it goes. These are the guys who are shaping the faith of thousands of younger Evangelicals.
I immediately thought to myself:
"What is this guy reading? What is he listening to? What is he learning? What is he thinking?!"
The answer to those is a simple one: he isn't.
He left seminary with a diploma, obtained a position at a church, and decided he knew all he needed to know about the finer points of Christian faith. Now he just uses Andy Stanley's latest thoughts and spins in a nice story from Joel Osteen to illustrate the point. In other words, he has nothing of his own to say...about anything (on politics he's content to parrot Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck).
Here's what I see happening:
The simple fact is that what you learn today is what you'll teach tomorrow.
If you're not learning anything today, then you'll have nothing to teach tomorrow.
Doctors, sales people, and school teachers all have to take courses for continuing education, but I'm not aware of any such standards for pastors. Therefore, pastors must fight the urge to point to the degree(s) on the wall that they earned x number of years ago; instead, they must learn about and engage with the questions, issues, debates, and discussions that are happening within Christianity in the 21st century (appealing to what was "settled" in the Reformation almost 400 years ago simply won't do).
The church is waiting. What will you be teaching?
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