A couple weeks ago, at our Presbytery’s Clergy Retreat, Phyllis Tickle explained why we are in the throes of a Great Emergence. One of the more controversial comments she made was that our children are Biblically illiterate because their mothers and grandmothers are no longer home to share Bible stories to the children in the routine of daily home life.
Without getting into all the issues I have with this assessment (as much as I appreciate Phyllis) the truth is that my mother and grandmothers – both devout Christians and active in women’s church groups – never told me Bible stories while we baked cookies or set the dinner table or weeded the garden. Not to discredit my mom and grandmothers in the spiritual nurturing department, but they just didn’t do this. My father and grandfather didn’t do this either. If I asked questions about Bible stories, they answered them. But it was at my prompting.
Actually this blog post is not about this.
But I was talking about this with one of my colleagues, and we realized that most seminary professors don’t do this either. They don’t tell the stories that help us make narrative connections between daily life and Scripture.
Obviously Church History professors tells fascinating stories about our church mothers and fathers and Bible professors use Greek and Hebrew exegesis to make interesting Bible stories even more interesting. But it was up to us – the students – to ask questions as they might relate to daily life in the field.
Then I remembered that my best seminary professors had had experience as parish pastors and they told different kinds of stories.
Of the dozens of seminary professors who taught me, only three had experience as parish pastors. Isn’t it weird that many of the people who are teaching people to be pastors have never themselves been pastors?
Again – my best seminary professors had also served as pastors. One Bible professor, when sharing something about the Synoptics, said, “I used this story for a child’s funeral in my first church.” And that’s what I wrote in my notebook. A practical application to Biblical scholarship. Another worship professor shared his favorite liturgical ideas from his parish experience and why they’d worked so well. Again, that’s what I wrote down.
As pastors, we have the opportunity to be with people in the daily toils of their lives – from the milestones of marriage, birth, and death to the ordinary events of life. Someone gets a new job. Someone starts dating again. Someone takes up gardening. Someone gets a new puppy. Someone gets her tonsils out. We know these things about people. It’s our task to connect life events with the holy, and it helps to be mentored – if not in our families of origins – then in seminary so that we might know better how to coach people to make those holy connections too.
Do any of you see a trend towards expecting seminary professors to have parish experience?