Theology, the cerebral pastor, and me

I’m an impatient person. When I was in high school, I tried my hardest to earn college credit before I even picked out my university. I already knew what I wanted to study and what I’d like to do when I was done.

I graduated when I was 20 so I could start my career as soon as possible. To my great surprise, I found out that you can’t plan out your entire life and have it turn out the way you intended without a hitch.

A couple of years into my well-planned “adult career,” life took a detour when I made a switch and started seminary at 22. When I got to seminary, I found myself drawn to certain classes and, well, less so to others. I just didn’t have a strong interest in theology, especially when compared to, say, biblical studies.

Tell me what I need to know, I thought, and I’ll figure it out. I don’t need to learn how to think. I need to learn what to do.

I didn’t get it. Not the theological concepts—those sank in for the most part, some sooner and some later. It was the reason behind all of it. I couldn’t stop wondering: why did I have to learn about a bunch of angry, detail-oriented early church fathers who bickered over minor details of scripture when we could be talking about the larger message of the Bible, the good news that actually affects people? Or better yet, how to be pastors?

Over my year-long internship as a student pastor, I started to feel more appreciation for theology as a subject. I started to see theology as a way to make sense of who God is, who we are, and what kind of relationship we all share. I started to draw deeper and more meaningful connections between theology and real, everyday faith.

I noticed more and more how members of my internship congregation had theological questions of their own. Through my yearlong project, a pub theology group I led called Faith on Tap, I tried to open up a forum for anyone who was interested to come join a group of parishioners and me for conversation over beer (or soda).

I wanted to know: What questions do you have? How do you connect God to current events, to events in your own life? How do you make sense of it all? I got a lot of responses I didn’t expect and I’m better for it.

I can’t help who I am. As much as I love to read and learn, I’ll never be a lofty and cerebral pastor. Thankfully, we have plenty of pastors out there who are (and just as many who aren’t). We need all kinds.

Even so, I’m appreciating my theology classes more as time goes by because they equip me in ministry on a level where I’d have a huge gap. It gives me tools I didn’t know I needed and words to express ideas I wouldn’t have otherwise contemplated in the first place.

I’ll probably always have the softest spot in my heart for the so-called “arts of ministry” instead of more academically oriented seminary subjects. All the same, I’m finding that it’s difficult to really have one at all without the other.