Thursday, October 26, 2006

Christ Formed In Me

"You wouldn't have written this five years ago," was my wife's statement to me after she read my final draft of what would become my first Grad School paper.

The truth is now that I think about it, she is right. When I finished my undergraduate work five years ago I knew that the last thing I wanted at the time was to keep pursuing more education. I was ready to "get my feet wet" and experience ministry seriously and not just think about it like I had done for the 4 and 1/2 years at ACU. And "get my feet wet" I have done.

In the Spring it will be five years in full-time ministry and what a ride it has been. I was thinking about my time here in Huntsville the other day and how God has stripped and refined me in ways that I never thought possible. To put into words how much I have grown is a difficult task. I understand more fully why so many people jump into ministry and then quickly decide the water is not for them. I have thought this so many times I can't even count them and yet by God's grace I am able to continue on in the ministry that he has called me to here in Huntsville.

I wouldn't have written that paper five years ago because I had no clue what I was doing (and still don't some days.) Christ has been formed in my life in unexpected and exciting ways over the last several years. I talk differently, think differently, and Lord willing that translates into living differently. On most days I fall terribly short but am encouraged by the fact that God uses weak and broken people.

The thing about ministry is that you set out to touch other people's lives with the love of Christ and if you don't stop every once in a while and look around you don't realize that the life being touched the most is your own. I have been blessed with great friendships with adults and students and co-laborers who I know will be lifelong partners in ministry. I have two men who I consider my mentors and two of my biggest encouragers. I have seen students graduate and go to college and come home different people because of what they are experiencing away from home. I have seen my wife, L, move to new heights in her own personal ministry with people. I have the huge honor of being called DAD by two kids who, I am afraid, minister to me more days than I do for them.

And so what started out as a paper on ministry and scholarship turned into a paper about the journey that God has taken me on for the last five years. I long for good scholarship now more than ever before. I see the need to keep reading and learning and pursuing the most mysterious, powerful, awesome being in all of creation. And yet somehow ministry is what has led me to see this more clearly. This is such a revelation because five years ago I would have never been able to tell what the purpose of "continuing education" was.

But it seems to me that the more I pursue God the less I know and understand about him. Not that studying or reading makes you able to understand God more, but rather the more you pursue God the more you realize the distance that you still have to travel. "School" really becomes a place of growth, reflection, and learning. It is more about spiritual formation, God breaking into my life, than it is about a degree or having more books on my shelf.

As I wrote in my paper, "Beginning to understand the necessity of spiritual formation and its role with scholarship is beneficial for me because it has caused me to realize that I am in need of more than just learning but am also in great need of being formed into the image of Christ. I need to orient my entire life around the person of Jesus, and it seems that pursuing this task through scholarship makes sense. I realize that ultimately I am only going to be able to give people what is being poured into me through God’s Spirit. I know that in my life spiritual formation, apart from Graduate School, has not happened to the capacity that I desire either because of laziness or busyness, or both."

Some people think that continuing to learn is a waste of time. "Churches need people who are down to earth and relevant." I guess when a statement like this is made it is assumed that people who continue to learn can't be relevant. This, in my mind is why ministry is so important alongside scholarly learning.

"Scholarship needs ministry and ministry needs scholarship. It is not that ministry is less significant without scholarship or vice versa. It is that ministry is in need of people who will be dedicated to the task of serious theological work. However, serious theologians need people who are living out “real life” ministry experiences everyday in order for there to be appropriate balance. Ministry and scholarship must be constantly intersecting and launching me into a pursuit of God and a pursuit of his mission in the world. "

And so as I pursue God I will, by his grace, learn a few things along the way. I look ahead with anticipation to drinking deeply from God's well and to the ways that spiritual formation will happen in my own life. I am committed to pursuing God, no matter how difficult the task until, as Paul says to the Galatian church, "Christ is formed in me."



Anonymous said...

oh doug. I respect you so so much for the work you do with us. I know it has to be hard, frustrating and tiring. I want, more than anything, for you to know that you DO make a difference in mine, and many, many others, lives. Your work gives me a reason to actually come to church--you know I'm not kidding. The "program"(for lack of better words) that you are "running" in huntsville is really encouraging. I know it can't be easy at all, and i really do appreciate you and Lana for sticking with us and putting up with things(you know what i'm talking about i think). thanks so much. I love you and Lana beaucoup(that's french for a lot). :)


Kyle Smith said...

I think the quote from your paper about the balance between 'real life' scholars and 'school' scholars is an interesting point. I do think inevitably there will be a balance formed there, in a healthy setting.

What I wish existed was a desire from the average member in our churches to be more educated, theologically. I don't know what it would look like but I believe it is important. Some program, some initiative where church members were encouraged and expected to read material and incorporate that knowledge into their spiritual/daily lives.

Larissa and I visited a church in Chicago that had a reading list put together by the ministers. It was broken down in 3 years and had some pretty basic books in the first year. By the third year the books were pretty heavy, graduate level type material. The preacher made a point of encouraging everyone to, that hadn't yet, pick up a list and stop by the bookstore and get started, or continue, to learn. I was very impressed.