Mastering your theological education: Church
June 7, 2010
In this post of “Mastering your theological education” (click here for previous entries) I want to discuss the student’s involvement in church (assuming he’s not on staff).
Since most likely when you begin your studies you will be new to the area, you will begin looking for a new church at once. This need not be a complicated and lengthy process. You’ll save a lot of time if you keep in mind that no church is perfect. Rather than visiting many churches for numerous weeks to find the right “fit”, know that virtually anywhere you go you will find imperfect people just like you who genuinely want to know and love the Lord.
When my wife and I moved to the area, we visited a nearby church on our first Sunday, and have been attending it now for three years. We never looked at others. We knew we could be a part of this church for several reasons. First, it held firmly to the gospel in word and in deed. Secondly, it was close by, in fact it was the closest one I knew of. Finding a church close to home is important. Why drive past three solid gatherings of believers to attend one farther away? The closer you live to it, the more you’ll be able to be involved in various areas of service, and the more likely you’ll make lasting friendships within the congregation.
As you consider churches, keep the benefits of a small church in mind. Small churches tend to have many opportunities for you to serve. Agree to as many of these as you can. After all, church is a place for you to bless and edify others, not just a place to be blessed yourself. So take these opportunities, whether that means teaching the children, serving in the nursery, helping a committee, or learning to operate the sound equipment. Such involvement will give you practical ways to bless others and even apply what you’re learning in school, so that you don’t simply become full of academic knowledge.
Smaller churches, especially those near the seminary, tend to have fewer seminary folks in attendance. This gives the church, I think, a more realistic nature to it. People tend to be a bit guarded toward the seminary crowd–and I don’t blame them. Too often, seminarians are an aloof bunch, inconsistently seen in the assembly, gone in a few years, and have a reputation for being the know-it-alls who are simply trying to climb a career ladder. When you visit a church for the first time, avoid the common mistake of flashing your “seminary badge” when you introduce yourself. If it eventually comes out, that’s fine, but tell people other things about yourself so they’ll know there’s more to you than just school.
A church full of seminary folks easily becomes an extension of the seminary. Consider a small church where you can build genuine, life-long relationships with local folks. Be as involved as possible, and seek to serve, not to be served.