July 13, 2017
A full day spent researching theological curricula for use with lay pastors in Cuba makes me realize how far I’ve drifted from the world of academia. I found some detailed material on the website of my seminary Alma Mater; merely looking at the syllabi makes my head spin. I don’t remember digging that deeply when I was in the M.Div. course! Forty years later, it’s hard to tell how much of that education made any difference in the day to day work of ministry. Learning to think theologically certainly laid a foundation, but the more pragmatic courses on church administration were outdated even when I took them. Education is a good thing; I’ve watched pastors and church ‘professionals’ make unnecessary mistakes simply because they didn’t know better. Most of what I know about ministry however, has been learned through the School of Hard Knocks. Experience is a good teacher, but she is also tough: she tests first, then teaches.
To be able to look at this material from the perspective of someone who is on the tail end of his professional ministerial life is a freeing experience. I am glad I don’t have to write academic papers anymore. Those with whom I have spent most of my life are more receptive to plain talk, and that is what I’ve tried to give them. It doesn’t take an education to tell someone you love them; a PhD isn’t required to sit silently by someone’s side as their loved one slips away into eternity. Those letters after one’s name have a place, and I am as impressed by scholarship as anyone else. But what really impresses me is faithfulness, integrity, loyalty, and forgiveness. I’ve experienced grace far beyond what I deserve, and hope I am even half as good in dispensing it as I have been at receiving it.
The people most influential in my life have not been men and women of great education; but they were people of great love and faithful service. Their names are unknown by most people today, but their faces are etched in my mind and on my heart. For them, I am not only grateful, but also deeply indebted.