In his book “Rejoice and Tremble,” Michael Reaves writes this:
“ … Infatuated with new theological concepts, the young theologian is filled with gnostic pride. His love dies in the devilish thrill of acquiring a knowledge that means power. Then this skewed knowledge proves its own perversity in his character as he becomes a graceless theological thug, ever itching for a chance to show off his prowess.”
Many Christians are reluctant to engage in theological study because it is a place in which many others attempt to show off their prowess. Young pastors can be susceptible to this pitfall. For many, theology means debate. Knowing this, we over-correct and teach other things, as if to say we would rather give them something spiritual and life-giving instead of theological and dead.
Before I became the pastor, we had a member join our church from another church. They complained all the time about how bad their old church was. Well, we all know that soon the current church will replace the old as the one being complained about, and a tiger doesn’t change its stripes (unless the Holy Spirit gets involved).
Sure enough, practices at our church soon became the source of this curmudgeon’s complaining. Small groups, worship music, service style—everything was a problem to this person. But guess what—the Lord used the most unlikely thing to turn this person from a complaining curmudgeon to a strong advocate and servant in the church.
He used theology.
I blame JT English. I had read JT English’s “Deep Discipleship” and decided to start teaching some Wednesday night equip classes at the church. I was reluctant when I saw the previously mentioned curmudgeon step into class. Actually, I was reluctant because most of my class consisted of the older people of the church. They didn’t know what they signed up for. They were just there for Bible study with the pastor.
I cursed JT in my head as I handed out the outline for the lectures and readings that night. The class looked unsure, and I felt unsure. Fast forward two years, and after every Wednesday night, I would go home so excited about what God was doing in this class. He was using theology to transform our people. When I think about it, why was I surprised that learning about our God was transformative and made hearts sing? I was seeing people being transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2).
Here are five reasons why I believe theology helped the “curmudgeon”:
When your identity is in the Lord, it will not need to be validated by people agreeing with you theologically. We explored doctrine together. Be willing to be wrong—you don’t have to win. At the same time, lead and guide those conversations.
There needs to be space for people to come along. We didn’t start to see serious fruit for at least a year. Shepherds shepherd, we don’t fight.
Establish early on that the Bible is the final say. Constantly appeal to the Scriptures. This probably means hours of preparing and teaching a robust biblical theology and hermeneutics before you start getting into systematic theology.
Many people are upset about things in the church because they just don’t know the theological “why.” If you are patient and humble and teach them to love the Scriptures, then lead them to the theological truth. If they are Christians, they will change. Do you know the theological “why” behind what you do?
Theology is the study of God. Therefore, it is beautiful. When we are excited about the beautiful things of the Lord, our people will be. It was not uncommon for people to be tearful, including me, contemplating theology. When you are marveling, you are not fighting.
As a result, we have a group of people in our church that used to be complainers who are now advocates for what we are doing. They love, support, and pray for the pastors of the church.
So, brother, do not shy away from training your people theologically while resisting the urge to show off your prowess. Be humble, have patience, show them the beauty of truth.
JT English will be the guest speaker at this year’s Young Pastors Network Dinner held during the SBTC Annual Meeting. I would encourage you to come and listen to what he has to say.