Tuesday, May 23, 2017

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Ministry Lessons from the Professor, the Pastor and the Parent

I have a somewhat uncommon, but certainly not unique perspective on ministry life because of my three main professions. I serve as a research professor in science/medicine/technology at a leading university. I serve as an Assistant Congregational leader of a Messianic Jewish Congregation. And I am blessed to serve as a parent (with a growing family and a loving wife). Thus my perspective is that of a Professor, Pastor and Parent.

Many have commented on the so-called “tri-fold” ministry of Yeshua: Prophet (e.g., Luke 24:19), Priest (e.g., Hebrews 8:1-2) and King (e.g., Hebrews 1:3). Pondering this while running, it occurred to me that in effect I had my own “tri-fold” ministry experience (either that or my brain was hypoxic …). I began to think about how each of my current professions has taught me many valuable and different lessons about myself, God and ministry.

Professor: One lesson I have learned from being a research professor is that you have to do your homework. In science there is no room for sloppy work, and the same thing is true in ministry (such as in preaching and teaching). Too often believers do not engage scholarship, fearing it to be hostile towards God. Some Bible scholars certainly are hostile to God, so sometimes in Congregations and Bible Schools we just ignore them. The problem then is we simply ignore verses or patterns in the Bible because they don’t fit our particular theological bent. In science, we call this “cherry-picking” data; you choose only data that supports your thesis and all the others you decree as simply “misguided.”

Because I believe that Scripture is God’s revelation to us, I have taken it upon myself to leave no stone unturned and address every verse or pattern in the Bible as best I can. I may not come up with an acceptable answer, but like a good professor I am ok with asking tough questions and spending a long time trying to get answers (if ever). Biblical scholarship is a very valuable tool, when used properly. When I look for commentaries, for example, I try to get ones by authors that I like and ones I don’t; I find this challenges me to refine what I believe about a given text. Some see this as a “threat” to the Bible; I see it as an opportunity to learn about God.

Pastor: One lesson I have learned as a Pastor/Elder of a congregation is that ministry is a challenge; the faint of heart need not apply. When I was younger, I thought I had all the answers and I “knew” the mistakes of Pastors I met. The congregational scoffer crowd (of which I was a card-carrying member years ago) suffers from intellectual pride (1 Corinthians 8:1); we think we know everything or that we have deeper insight than the other guy. Such people rarely solve problems, but just create them.

As I found out soon enough, when you are a leader you see things very differently. When you have to counsel someone whose marriage is on the rocks and you find yourself slipping into “just pray about it” … when you come across believers who want to punch each other over doctrinal differences … when heretics show up and promote false gospels … you think you know what to do but when your decisions have consequences it is a whole new ballgame (armchair quarterbacks … armchair pastors). It is very easy to criticize other leaders until you walk a mile in their shoes. It is like being a parent; everybody thinks they know how to raise kids, until they have kids of their own. I have eaten a lot of humble pie as a Pastor, and I’m sure more is on the way. Yummy.

Parent: Being a parent is a strong reminder to me that to have an effective ministry we have to be consistent. By this I mean we cannot be all loving and gracious and holy on Shabbat, yet be filled with sin and idolatry the rest of the week. Parenting (and marriage) is a marathon, not a sprint and we must have great endurance to be successful (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Kids have an innate “hypocrite” detector in that they see how you really live when the rest of the congregation is not around and can tell when things don’t add up. The surest way for a child to lose their faith in Yeshua, but certainly not the only way, is for a parent to live a life in public that is inconsistent with his/her life in private. Being a parent, and watching my daughter pick up my bad habits is a stern reminder that I cannot be a disciple of Yeshua when I feel like it, but I must constantly walk like Yeshua.

What has your profession(s) in life taught you about God?

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