Reading chair In the previous video blog about ministry skill, I said that Churches of Christ tend to stress knowledge over practice. This causes us to know more about ministry than we practice…to have more professors of anatomy than M.D.'s that practice medicine. Both are needed. Let me explain further.

If one looks at curriculum offered in the ministry programs of our colleges and universities, there is a disproportionate amount of training in text, theology, and church history in comparison to ministry. There are various reasons for this. One may be that ministry is not viewed as a scholarly discipline (a subject for another blog). It is viewed as a practical discipline…like being a mechanic, a plumber, or a school teacher. Some believe while all of these are worthwhile and admirable fields of employment, but they don't require as much training as being a "scholar" of the supposedly serious disciplines. Others assume (more correctly) that what is needed to be an effective minister is text, theology, history, etc. The belief is that ministry will just kind of work itself out in the field. Just like Mr. Miyagi gave Daniel, "wax-on, wax-off," would-be ministers are given "text on, text off," and other tools, and left to figure out how to use them once in the field.

For example, when a person takes preaching, they learn the history of preaching, how to do exegesis, some basic stuff on sermon form, etc. However, would-be preachers are not adequately prepared to feed a congregation at least twice a week all year, every year. While I'm not sure one can receive such preparation from formal training, I believe we could do better. We could allow seasoned ministers to share from their experience, and help young preachers find their "voice," from the pulpit. Young preachers should not just be coached on being a theologically substantive, doctrinally sound, textual wizard preacher, but also an effective communicator, church leader and cultural exegete. The former emphases are encouraged and taught in ministry preparation. The latter emphases are not.

I would suggest we more adequately supplement the "scholarly" theological disciplines at the academic level with more practical considerations. This isn't to say the fields of text, theology, and church history don't have their own intrinsic value. Of course they do. They are invaluable foundations for ministry. However, the greatest scholars in the history of scholarship viewed their scholarship as service to the church. I'm thankful that most of the scholars in Church of Christ colleges see their vocation similarly. However, I believe we can better integrate our intentions with reality—make sure we're equipping the scholar-preacher, and the ministry-minded scholar. We need to make sure we're remembering to ask the questions that should emerge from theological reflection—Why does this matter? How could this change human lives and shape the ministry of the church? What means of shaping the ministry of the church will actually work?

Every minister should grow to be more effective over time, but we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to prepare them well and keep them growing in the practical side of ministry. On a side note, ministers who are not effective themselves will not do well at equipping the church for ministry either. If we want our churches to flourish, we must pay attention to the practical. If we just want people to understand, we don't need to do anything. If we want them to understand and "do" ministry well, we need to emphasize practical ministry more.

If we want our churches to thrive rather than survive, it's going to take a more intimate marriage between the church and academy and a deeper value for excellency in ministerial practice than we have at present. Make no mistake, if we jump to relevancy over theology we will end up with relevant heresy. Ministry must flow from theology. But, for Churches of Christ, ministry sometimes gets trapped in theology…if that makes sense. In all of our reflection, we must ask: What's the right thing to do? What's the right way to do it? And, what's the most effective way to do it?

Let me say lastly that I am deeply grateful for the great scholars from within our heritage. I and all ministers in Churches of Christ stand on their shoulders. Their love for the church is astounding and their service to it admirable. What I'm calling for is a fellowship-wide attitude shift and better implementation of our intentions.

Here are a few things I think could help:

  • Let's get a good working definition of "effective."
  • Resolve to be as effective as possible—defining "effective" as bearing the fruit of making real disciples.
  • Beef up ministry courses in our schools. Add more courses taught by effective ministers—at least as guest lecturers.
  • Churches must offer adequate continuing education allowance for their ministers…allowing them to access the best resources for practical ministry available.
  • Servant leadership development within the congregation must be a high priority.
  • Look to those who are effective in ministry for ideas and guidance on how to improve.
  • Speak truthfully to ourselves about reality, and have the humility to admit what isn't working and move to fix it.

What other suggestions do you have? Do you agree that Churches of Christ could grow on the practical ministry side? Or, do you feel as though too many churches are already overly-focused on the practical to the detriment of theological reflection?