I visited the seminary last Thursday. It’s been quite a while since I actually sat in for a whole chapel service which was good for me to be in the congregation rather than upfront.
Before the service I had about 5 minutes to give an anouncement for the 2 events mentioned above. In order to give some context on where I was coming from and why I thought engaging in such conversations are important I used the following diagram to illustrate:
in short, I shared how before I stepped into seminary how my Christian life was mainly shaped by the popular Christianity fed to me either by my local church or whatever that was available – e.g. usually promoted at bookshops or conferences. These were important phases and input as far as who I was before I checked into the seminary dorm or started my first class.
Then I was plunged into a whole new world of academic and critical thinking which was quite foreign to the popular Christianity feeding I was familiar with. And I remember for some of my seminary mates it was very hard because at times they felt that some of their treasured beliefs whether to them were essential or non-essential was going through severe test as best, or even being torn apart at worst. For me, I was fortunate to have a bunch of good friends to walk with me as we processed many questions together, I think it helped when we did not feel we were alone. In addition to that, many of us theological students continued to opened our eyes to the strange world of church and Christian ministry, it was easy to become cynical and numb if we were not careful (some did go that route). So it was quite a lot of “stuff” cramped up for some who who felt they were called by God to serve him and required to work through in 3 or 4 years! Especially, if you are expected to put everything back together again before the day of graduation so you’d be ready for ministry!
After graduation, some of us were tempted to just revert back to the “popular Christianity” mode and carrying our certificate signifying we had some qualification jump into the ministry realities before us. Others who actually felt liberated in the “academic and critical world” would wait for the chance to walk the scholars route depending on available opportunities. What about those who are ordinary pastors who are “left behind” and yet want to do some serious theological reflection and ministry praxis integration? Is there any way for us to move forward?
with that question, I shared a little of my own baby steps I managed to take the last 7 years which would require another post.
Last night I was engaged in a fruitful email exchange with a more senior church leader in our Malaysian scene. The process was helpful for someone like me who finds it harder just to think inside my head. I think what I wrote represents what pushes me or pulls me depending on who’s point of view. here are some edited excerpts:
“…I guess I’m one of the more “lucky” (I’mean blessed) ones who have this ongoing educational conversation with you. I appreciate your willingness to engage in respectful and guided dialogue. Part of the reason for me personally, to get the event in March going is to bring this kind of engagement we are having here into the “mainstream” of the Christians and leaders but perhaps with less technical and academic language.
… in our Malaysian context and here I am speaking more as a younger pastor. I’m increasingly finding:
(1) Most people are unable to connect with the way we formulate the Christian faith – often it’s (a) either at the popular level where the pulpits or the pews regurgitate without due “processing” what’s exported to us , (b) or at the academic level, scholars or lecturers are using language and approaches which do not relate to the common people and pastors, and worse when there is a certian “we know better” elitism, Whether it’s approach or attitude, this troubles me. The question I’ve been asking since graduation till now, and the quest I make for myself and hopefully beyond, is … how can we integrate it better in theory and praxis? how can the best of theological educationand the local church for example, nourish each other? and there’s always more …
(2) We seem to still be locked in the conservative and liberal divide in terms of our church relations and partnerships as well as theological categories. There are signs of moving forward, whether it’s organizationally through official organizations or organically through various networks . And yet, there are also real signs of moving backward when groups like XYZ ministries are setting their base here, or ABC ministries having a stronghold on the Malaysian church mindsets. This would also include within our denominations where there are forces pulling us apart either in terms of ministry philosophy or theological leanings. My gut feeling is our churches tends to be more”rigid” whether organizationally or theologically. And I wonder whether the fear of liberalism and anarchy has paralysed us from encouraging guided genuine attempts in healthy reform or even theologizing.
(3) The last year has been quite an educational learning experience as I spend time listening to the dechurched, the burnt out, the doubtful, the frustrated, as well as the lazy, the proud, and the consumeristic Christians of all shapes and sized.. The added bonus is meeting Christians who desire to intergrate their social activism and their faith but feels there’s no place in the normal church for them because everything is either about what goes on in the church or marketplace ministries (usually meaning business). This particular concern arose mainly as the seeds of the more holistic gospel begins to take root and blossom in my own ministry journey. Especially when I ask what does all this mean for me as a pastor and servant in the church? Does the church at its most grassroot have a role to play? and how?
(4) There’s more but since it’s Chinese New Year, Let’s enjoy our family and friends and food! We’ll talk another time.
So, the above (3) or (4) concerns are the underlying motivations for what I invest in whether it’s as a local church pastors as well as side support and partnership efforts with theological institutions, more ecclesiological structure opportunities, dialogue with people lwho are not from my tradition, etc. And the context forces me to ask REALLY hard questions about my own theology, spirituality and ministry. I’m thankful I can survive by God’s grace and his gifts through good friends and mentors.
I hope I have not been too longwinded before the eve of CNY. And I appreciate the opportunity maybe to clarify my own thoughts catalyzed by your email.