May 20, 2011

Fact Checker

Every now and then I find myself in a little debate about what pastors ought to know. The debate seems to center around should pastors be specialists or 'jacks of all trades'? Should pastor's zero in on the bible, or should they know a little something about everything?

It is a tough debate. On the one side you venture into dangerous territory when you say knowing the bible is not enough. If you take that stand sooner or later someone will cry out that you are neglecting the study of the word, for the wisdom of the world. On the other side if you neglect broader study you can be rightly criticized for not following the example of Paul at Mars Hill. He learned about the people and their beliefs so he could best communicate the gospel.

So how does one break this ideological dead lock? Should pastors know nothing except for Christ crucified or should we become all things to all people so we might save a few?

I would like to toss one idea into the debate.

As pastors we seek to communicate something about Jesus, God, heaven etc. Jesus knew when we was trying to communicate these truths he had to wrap them in the familiar. So he told stories about fishing, farming, feasting, and other things that don't start with 'f'. He wrapped the knowledge of the supernatural in knowledge of the natural.

For the most part this is still the method we use. We communicate about the supernatural but we use more familiar situations, and stories to help people understand.

And it is because of that method that I think pastors ought to know a little about everything.

Think about it this way, Jesus told a parable about the mustard seed. His point was just like that seed is small but it grows into a large plant so too will the smallest piece of the kingdom spring up larger than you can imagine. Jesus was trying to teach people about something that they didn't know (the kingdom of heaven) through something they did (seeds and plants).

But what would have happened if Jesus was wrong about the mustard seed? What if his comparison had been flawed? Think about it what would have happened if the mustard seed was in fact a large seed that grew a small plant?

Had Jesus gotten it wrong about the mustard seed I suspect many of those in the crowd would have assumed he got it wrong about the kingdom of heaven too.

Don't Let Truth Be Seen An Off Ramp In Your Conversations.

Jesus didn't do that. But I fear there are times when we do.

By on large people are better educated now than they ever have been before. More people are getting a bachelor degree or higher and almost everyone is plugged in to the internet.

Therefore if I tell stories from history, or give an example from the social sciences, or comment on medicine or make some kind of proclamation about science I had better get it right. If I don't get it right it is likely someone in the congregation will know that. What is worse they may assume if I don't know what happened at the Alamo I also don't  know what happened at Jericho.

Imagine it this way. You and I have a conversation. We cover two topics. One of them you know well, the other you do not. I on the other hand talk with equal authority, elegance, and passion on both topics. While we talk about the topic you know well, you noticed that while I may talk with authority almost everything I say is wrong. When the conversations shifts and we move on to the topic you know nothing about what happens? I talk about this topic with the same level of authority, I am equally as elegant, and equally as passionate as I was during the last topic.

The question is do you think I am giving you accurate information about the second topic? I can't speak for you here. Maybe you are more charitable than I am. Maybe you would give me the benefit of the doubt. However if the roles were reverse I know I wouldn't. If you we're completely wrong about something I knew about I would not trust you as a source of information for something I do not know.

When we neglect broader study, such as studying in the arts the sciences, and philosophy this is the position we place ourselves in. We run the risk of getting the facts about earthly things wrong, which can lead people to rightly or wrongly assume we also have the facts about heavenly things wrong as well.

Make sure you check your facts.