Thinking Out Loud

March 10, 2015

Echoes of a Life that Might have Been

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:03 am

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Take your Bibles and turn with me to…

In my last year of high school my parents arranged for me to have a tour of what was then called Ontario Bible College. Most of my friends were heading toward the University of Toronto; the hometown school offered the cheaper alternative of continuing to live at home. But I took the tour.

Classrooms are classrooms, libraries are libraries and cafeterias are cafeterias. I had no criteria by which to appreciate or not appreciate any of these. And then we got to the gym.

“All first year students,” the guide said, “are required to take Phys. Ed.”

And at that, we were done.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke…

I had not taken Phys. Ed. since my freshman year of high school and I barely passed. In fact, in my middle school, which ran on a trimester system, I actually failed a term of gym. I was terrible at basketball and volleyball, had no endurance for track, and while I could swim a lap or two I couldn’t dive, and still can’t.

Sadly, the required course was all it took for me to reject the school outright. After three years without having to face my lack of skill, coordination and strength, I was not about to be put back into that position of humiliation.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15…

Years after graduation, I worked on senior staff of a Christian summer camp where a large number of the counselors and instructors were students or former students at the seminary associated with Ontario Bible College. Seminary = graduate school = no gym requirement. Another tour. Another chance to catch the bus that was heading toward opportunities for church ministry.

But again, the bus left without me. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going back to school, and was already doing work for a number of Christian parachurch organizations.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable…

After getting married we attended a church in the Plymouth Brethren tradition, a church where the laity (well, the men anyway) are expected to share in the teaching ministry of the Sunday services. I had already done a couple of midweek Bible studies, and I am sure that they had me on a draft list.

But I was immersed in parachurch ministry at that point. I was being offered a wonderful opportunity to plug into the life of a local church, but I tended to want to limit my contribution to things music-related. Eventually, we moved to a city where there was no such church, something I often regret.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal…

We later ended up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church which was between pastors. I got to speak about 15 times on Sunday morning and about 4 times on Sunday night. Some of those messages were great, the outlines would still stand up today, and some of them were terrible.

I always figured more opportunities like this would arise, and off-and-on, they did, in everything from a Pentecostal (Canadian equivalent to Assemblies of God) church to a Christian Reformed Church, both of whom normally have restrictions on who gets to be in the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I did some regular supply work for a United Church in Toronto as well.

But of late the opportunities have diminished.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son…

Every once in awhile I find myself lying in bed and suddenly there is this voice; it’s my voice and I am hearing myself speaking and it makes me sad. It’s frustrating to have a gift, to know you have a gift, and not have anywhere to employ it.

It’s like I’m hearing echoes of another life that might have been, another set of options that I could have chosen, a consequence of opportunities on which I chose to pass.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, chapter 15, and today we want to look at the parable of the prodigal son, his older brother, and his loving father…

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July 12, 2009

Dreaming of Greater Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:39 am

Back in May, Maranatha News, a regional newspaper here, did an interview with Canadian filmmaker Karen Pascal, who is currently working on a film about Eric Liddell that picks up where Chariots of Fire left off.

Toward the end of the interview she was asked for advice for people with similar dreams:

“Obviously you need training.   Sometimes that training will, in a very useful way, knock the dream out of you…”

I couldn’t help but think of the parallel to ministry.   So many people I know left high school with dreams of doing great things for God in ministry.   Cutting edge ideas.   Overflowing passion.

Then someone told them to go to Bible college.

Eight semesters of Church history, hermeneutics, homiletics, Hebrew culture and Greek verbs later; the cutting edge got dulled-down a little.   They ended up comfortably doing what I now call “status quo church.”

Some of them recognize this, but are too caught up in the system to do anything that would threaten the weekly salary that provides financial stability to their spouse and children.

What do you do when the very system that requires great amounts of formal education before a person can go into ministry, is the very system that robs them of the dynamic that would optimize the fruitfulness of that same ministry?   Is something wrong? And what do you think Karen Pascal meant in the quotation above by the term “in a useful way.”?

February 17, 2009

Bible College and Seminary Grads Want Paying Jobs

not-hiringI have been part of this discussion before; the issue being that after emerging from seminary or Bible college,  many students expect to find an entry level position at a multi-staff church that offers a regular salary, book allowance, conference allowance, paid vacations and health benefits.    Despite this, many also expect to find employment in a setting that is postmodern, or missional or Emergent; so that they can live out many of their ministry dreams and ideals.

At his website, Andrew Jones, a.k.a. the Tall Skinny Kiwi raises this issue on a post from last week:

I have seen a number of Seminary graduates come overseas to hang with us and to potentially find work in the “emerging church”. After a short time, they have gone back to USA disappointed that there are no paid positions. Huge and wonderful opportunities . . . puny financial benefit…

I found this discussion through Jordan Cooper’s website, where he offers some kind of explanation:

I think Andrew has some good things to say here but he is missing the point that a privately funded (this means paid for by massive tuition bills and student loans) theological education creates a system where all by the wealthiest have to find full time ministry jobs just to service the student loan debt.  Right from the time we start to seriously educate church leaders, we ask them to embrace a worldview of debt…

Okay, I agree with that as a kind of background to the issue.   But obviously the system is flawed somewhere.    While I don’t usually cross-post my comments at other blogs, here’s what I responded at the time:

Expanding the concept of seminary is a start, but what if we’ve already got alternative vehicles for ministry education, but we just aren’t recognizing them as such? For example, I’m not a YWAM-er, but if I were on the personnel committee for my church and someone applied who had done a YWAM DTS and maybe one or two of their other schools, and all the appropriate field-trip components that go with it, I would weight that equally with the applicant with the BTh from a Bible College. And that’s just one example.

Another lifetime ago, as a student at U. of T., I served on a Communications committee that was screening applicants for a paid job in campus media. They asked one guy what formal training he had and without blinking he said, “No formal training, but lots of doing training, which some say is better.”

But that doesn’t mean the end of Bible Colleges and Seminaries. Generations ago, the University of Waterloo advanced the concept of co-op education at the post-secondary level. Many students leave their programs with their education fully paid for; some actually leave with money in the bank. This does however mean the end of field-placements and internships as Seminaries and Bible Colleges have traditionally understood them …it goes a long way to meeting the debt-servicing issue you’ve correctly raised.

But here’s another point that I wished I had added:

Churches can go a long way toward easing the situation for seminary students by budgeting something each year to go towards both students from their own congregation and direct gifts to the institutions concerned — designated for tuition aid and scholarships, not the maintenance of the infrastructure or staff salaries.   This should be part of the missions budget of every church.

What do you think?

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