Monday, 18 November 2013

Be Careful With Water, Electricity And The Bible

One man I know is heavily into DIY, but he once told me there are two things for which he will call in a professional.

The first of these is water. One mistake, and a place can be flooded, with the possibility of an insurance company not paying out. Safer to get a plumber in.

The other is electricity. One mistake can be fatal. Safer to get an electrician in.

Water is essential to life. And in the modern Western world, electricity is a very important feature. Ever had a power cut and realised just how much we depend on it?

Water and electricity are both dangerous, and they need to be treated with respect as a result. I like swimming, but can never totally relax in the water - if anything goes wrong the consequences can be serious.

Last week I was at a course at church on How To Teach The Bible, and I realised that I actually enjoyed it - looking at a passage, seeing the main points, devising a structure, thinking about how to apply it to our lives, what examples there would be etc. And when I saw the list of indications that one might have the gift of teaching, I found myself thinking, yes, that's me.

There are two extreme poles on the idea of the gift of teaching. On one end, there is the idea that if there's any Bible teaching to do, well that's what the dog-collared Rev is there for. I remember mentioning to one clergyman about 15 years ago that I was wondering if I had this gift and making the terrible faux pas of suggesting I combine it with secular work. Very quickly I find that the two types of ministry he takes a very dim view of are Non-Stipendary Ministers and Lay Readers. It was clear that as far as he was concerned, these were the people who wanted the glamour of being up there at the front leading or in the pulpit, but were not willing to put in the hard slog of day-to-day parish work. So I left the idea.

There is another end, and for this I need some background. I love Maths, and when I was young I wanted to grow up to be a Maths teacher. And when I became a Christian as an undergraduate, quickly came across what we can call "the Four M's" approach to careers. Mission, Ministry, Medicine, Minds. Basically, you are called to become a missionary overseas, or be a vicar/rector (if a man), work as a doctor or a nurse, or a teacher.

Well, I don't like hot countries, so that rules out being a missionary. Couldn't see myself as a vicar. Am squeamish with blood. So by default that left teaching as the only career option for me. And I did start a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) but realised it wasn't me, so withdrew after the second term.

As a result I was unemployed until I started temping in the secular world of factory work. Two things would grate. The first was when well-meaning Christians would ask whether I had considered teaching as a career. The second was when this was followed up by a comment about how Christians find teaching easy. Yeah, thanks for that.

But it is easy to see where this comes from. I didn't grow up in a Christian home, so a lot of things are alien to me. But I would get the impression that helping out at Sunday School was very much a rite of passage for teenagers from Christian families - hence the idea that teaching was a gift everyone had.

And in Bible study groups it is normal for everyone to play their part in leading.

There were a few things that struck me about what we learned. The first is the benefit of teaching through a book of the Bible Sunday-by-Sunday. That way the preacher doesn't choose his favourite passages. Nor can anyone feel singled out - and I can give a practical example from yesterday.

After my PGCE I did factory work, but there were also in that 18-month period between that and starting an MSc in Astronomy times when I was unemployed or only working part-time. And there was a small group of young Christians who got very hot under the collar about "the sin of unemployment". Two passages would be shown to me:

Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, (Ex. 20:9)


Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. (II Thess. 3:6-14.)

In their worldview, being unemployed was an deliberate lifestyle choice, not something that happens to someone, and the way it should be dealt with is via church discipline - in particular the "have nothing to do with him". This would mean an unemployed man should not be allowed to become - or remain - a church member, and that he and his wife and children should be excluded from church activities. Excluding the family would help shame him into becoming employed, as he would realise that his remaining unemployed had consequences for those who meant the most to him.

Last week I was due to have my interview about becoming a church member (this is how we do things in the free churches) and before it I decided not to go ahead as I was unemployed and had this all going through my mind, with it keeping me awake quite late the night before. The reassuring email was that it was OK, I wouldn't be barred from membership for not being able to find work.

I spent Sunday with at my parents', and went to the main morning service at the Anglican church in their village. The preacher preached on the Thessalonians passage. Now, I could have thought that it was chosen because I was there - but it was simply what was the Epistle reading in the Lectionary.

The second thing that struck me is that a preacher needs to avoid a hobby horse, with the example of a preacher who could drag baptism into every passage - we need to draw out what is in the passage, not read in. One example springs to mind, a Baptist church, where the minister and elders made the controversial decision to nominate a woman to fill the vacancy in the presbyterate. And the Sunday before the church meeting with The Vote, the sermon was from Nehemiah 3, the rebuilding of the Wall.

And the key verse was verse 12:

Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.

There we have it, in the buidling of the Wall, there were no distinctions between roles men and women had. And so in the building of God's Kingdom, yep, you've got it. Loaded Sermon Klaxon.

I have to say the best sermons on giving are on days which are not Gift Days.

What have I taken away from the training? The thing is that if I do indeed have this gift then, however awkward it would be, I have to use it:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Pet. 4:10)

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom. 12:6-8)

One thing I need to carefully consider is what my motivation would be. Last year, we had a school reunion, and I received an apology for one man for bullying me at school. My reply was, "I deserved it".

I was very talented academically - at secondary school at the end of year exams, I once came top in every academic subject. The other two years where we had end of year exams, one girl came top in at most three subjects (cannot remember exactly). And this made me arrogant.

This is my fear. Those who preach and teach can be put on pedestals, and I have known preachers who have done terrible things and prior to that been seen with respect. At primary school, some books we read would be quite old-fashioned (why, oh why, was "Grandmother North" insistent that just because it was wartime, there was no reason to stop having dinner in the dining room?), and in some we would come across the idea of the "Sunday best" with clothing. And sadly, there will be preachers who have their own "Sunday best" of piety and appearing spiritual.

If I have a gift, I don't want to use it in a way that puffs me up and doesn't point people towards Jesus.

If I were to teach the Bible, I would have to make sure, above all, that I was teaching responsibly. It is a dangerous book:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12a)

Like anything dangerous, it has to be treated with respect when being handled.

No comments:

Post a Comment