Elders, Learning and Doing Theology


I am spending sometime doing theology. Doing theology is not just a matter for those who have been trained to teach theology. Every member does it, some badly and some brilliantly. Doing good theology is important for the well-being of God’s people.

For instance, as Reformed people we affirm the sovereignty of God. And yet we all know times when people have affirmed the will of God in a way that was not a comforting word of grace, but a devastating declaration in which God appears arbitrary and uncaring - a God who inflicted an unjust death upon a poor victim. The difference between the outcomes illustrates the point: how we think about the sovereignty of God is important.

Every conversation about the things of God is laced with reflection about God. As elders, we are challenged to lead people in clear thinking. But that means elders need to think things through as well. So this makes me wonder: when and how do elders practice disciplined learning in the matters of faith?

I know a council where the members spend time thinking through theological questions. I have usually encouraged elders to take time to develop the skills of ministry and deepen their insights into particular issues they face (last blog). We have spent less time on theological or biblical training. Here is the point: developing a learning stream for the coming year of service is not just a luxury. It is part of growing in the wisdom of shepherding. It is not theoretical: it is practical wisdom for shaping lives in the good news of the gospel of Christ. Part of this learning needs to include theological learning.

One way of learning is forced teaching. We don’t like the word forced. But many of our best experiences come in those times when we were led to go where we would not have chosen. There was a great line I heard this last week as listened to Jeremy Begbie on Theology Through the Arts: “hearing music you would never known to listen for” (Seamus Henry). So many times in teaching we get challenged and begin to work through theology we would never have known to consider. So pick up a challenge. Teach. Teach one person or a class. Not just a conversation, but a disciplined learned with good questions, shared discovery and listening to the wisdom of God revealed in Christ.

Leaders learn. Elders grow. While it is not in the job description, it provides the solid food for the ministry of grace.

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