Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dive in!

I’ve been on pastoral staff at Harvest VCF in Edmonton for 15 years.  I, however, didn’t grow into the place that I am now through the same means that are typical of many pastoral ministry workers.

Upon completing high school and entering into post secondary education, my life plan was going in quite a different direction than pastoral ministry.  Having grown up in a home where my parents were in pastoral ministry as were my maternal grandfather and several uncles, I had pretty much resolved that this was not the life for me and that I was going to go a different direction with my occupation. 

Having done well in high school in the sciences, I had entered university pursing a degree in chemistry and physics (double major).  While pursuing this course of study I had a wee personal revelation.  I’m pretty good at this stuff, but if I have to do this for the rest of my life I think it will kill me.  There’s zero life in this for me.  Throwing all thoughts of financial security and wisdom out the window, I transferred into a jazz music program.  I loved it.  I graduated with distinction. 

Like countless other educated musicians with big dreams, after school I had to get a real job that, you know, actually pays.  I ended up staying with the company that I worked with through high school and university and worked my way up into a good management position.

It was a few years after I had been with this business that I received a call to come and join the staff of Harvest VCF as the worship pastor (where I had already been active as one of their worship leaders).  I had a passion for Jesus and all the musical skills necessary, but unlike most people who enter pastoral ministry I didn’t have a formal theological education.

I had been privileged to grow up in a church environment where I received quite a lot good solid Biblical teaching and had been through many programs taking me through the scriptures.  I was familiar with the Biblical narrative and many basic core theologies.  I had also received some ‘on the job’ training and mentorship from some of the pastors in the Edmonton Vineyard churches. Yet I was still feeling somewhat underprepared for some of the challenges and adventure or pastoral ministry.  I realized that I needed more in-depth materials beyond what I had already learned.

A few years into my pastoral ministry my father and a small team of others began to plan and assemble the ThoughtWorks theological education program.  As this program was being put together, I ended up being a guinea pig for my father.  I went through and tested out a bunch of the material.

I must admit that entering the process I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it.  To me theology seemed a little intimidating to start studying.  I remember as a boy watching my father read the New Testament in Greek and asking to learn to be able to do the same.  I didn’t get too much further beyond the Greek alphabet and a few words – which is not bad for a ten year old.  My assumptions about theology, however, remained – that it was technical, difficult, and a little boring.

As I began the process of educating myself, I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed studying things like church history, world history, biblical theology, detailed studies through biblical books, biblical interpretation (exegesis and hermeneutics), philosophy, and historical theology to name a few.  In each of these areas I found myself connecting with a community of believers, most of whom have long since gone befor me, and benefitting from their journey with God.  My study of each of these things opened up my understanding of God, His story, myself and my place in His story, and the place of the community of believers in His story.  It helped me to ask deeper and more meaningful questions and lead me on a continuing journey of discovery.  Through the process, I had developed a love for the subject area that has caused me to continue learning far beyond the material in the program.  With theology, I had become a life-long learner.

What I appreciate most about the ThoughtWorks program was its accessibility.  It couldn’t be easier to access the resources.  As well, I was able to learn at a pace that was compatible with the demands of full time ministry and raising a family – which at times can get overwhelming.  I found that I could go as slow or as fast as I needed to keep a healthy balance between life’s demands. 

The ThoughtWorks ‘theology on the road’ events that would be held in our region periodically were also an excellent resource to further bring life to the subject.  Being able to interact with both instructors and other learners over the material was tremendously beneficial and uplifting.  As well, in our local area (as some other areas do), we have periodically had learning groups going over the same material together under the supervision of a mentor.  This not only enhances the learning, it also makes the learning more enjoyable when done in that kind of relational community.

So, I would like to offer myself as a personal testimony to the usefulness, convenience, and quality of the ThoughtWorks theological program.  If you are like I was – actively ministering (in one capacity or another) and needing more theological tools to help you become effective – I’d highly recommend this resource to begin your journey of learning and growing.  Dive in and enjoy the ride!

1 comment:

  1. This is really timely Nathan. Over at the Society of Vineyard Scholars Facebook group there is a new thread on the future of theological education for our movement. (Personally I think it would be a beneficial conversation for most Christian traditions that care about the health of their churches.) Many, many people are just like you - educated in other things and called into ministry. I think the consensus is that accreditation is not a necessity for pastoral ministry (or other forms of Christian leadership) but strategies of life-long learning are essential. One of the key problems the Vineyard in Canada has had to face is that many of us were adopted in from other traditions without a comprehensive understanding of the theological heritage of the Vineyard. Yet most of us were attracted to the values that fall directly out of that theological heritage. But how do you do this while maintaining a church and most likely tending to family and friendships as well. Add to that the fact that many of our leaders are bivocational - who has time for theology? The theologian in me responds with "how can we not have time for theology if we care for our people?" but the reality is that I'm a working pastor, husband, and father as well!

    ThoughtWorks is about meeting that need. Rather than just a programme - ThoughtWorks is a network of people who recognize this problem and have decided to be the ones to do something about it. This blog is a good example of how ThoughtWorks evolves to meet the needs of the contemporary church - I love this growing network of bloggers sharing their experiences and insights with us weekly.

    Thanks for the post Nathan! Looking forward to more of your insights.