19 October 2011

Communicatio idiomatum

So I spent a good chunk of last week at the Southwestern Minnesota Synod's Fall Theological Conference, which is a fancy way of saying that the pastors and leaders in our area got together for a few days to hear some presentations, learn some things, share some ideas, and generally experience what we like to call "collegiality" (that's a fancy way of saying we work together, support one another, and try to get along).  Anyway, the theme of this year's conference was "Ecclesia," which is a fancy way of saying "Christian church."  We heard a couple of speakers who, in a lot of fancy ways, talked about how we might re-imagine what it means to be the Christian church in a post-modern, 21st century, post-Christendom, emergenty kind of way (that's a fancy way of saying we don't know who we are, the church as we know it is fading out of existence, so we probably need to do things differently).  There were plenty of great ideas thrown around and there was lively conversation and it was generally a good thing, in a Lutheran, theological, conferency kind of way.

On the other hand, I can't tell you how weird this sort of thing is.  I found myself wondering what people looking in from the outside would think of our Fall Theological Conference on the subject of "Ecclesia."  The theological language we use must be bizarre in and of itself, if not indecipherable (that's a fancy way of saying you can't understand it).  At some point, I wanted to walk out of the room, find one of the staff members of the conference center we were at and ask them, "What do you think about all this?  What do you think the church is?  Can you understand any of what we're talking about?  Do you think any of it matters?"  I really think I would have learned more from that conversation than I did from parts of the conference itself (as great as it was).

I guess these things are especially strange to me as a young pastor because I'm on the inside now, but I also remember what it's like to be on the outside of leadership in the church.  I remember looking at pastors sitting around tables talking and thinking, "Wow!  They're so much smarter than me!  They must be having great conversations!"  The truth is, we're not, and we're not.  (Ok, that's too harsh, but you get my point about putting pastors on a pedestal, right?)  Pastors are people who happen to have (presumably) learned a lot about the Bible and theology so that we can preach, lead worship, preside at Holy Communion, etc.  That doesn't make us better than anyone else or smarter than anyone else.  Some of the best theologians I've ever met are people who spend a lot of time behind the wheel of a tractor or truck, in front of a classroom, in a nursing home room, at home with young children, or behind a desk.  They're some of the best theologians because they take the Christian faith and interpret it in everyday language that's meaningful to them.  That's something pastors struggle to do because we're encumbered by all kinds of theological language and ideas that are generally confusing (even to us at times, which is why we have to think and talk about them a LOT).  We also are hindered by the fact that we generally spend our time sitting in church offices, in meetings, visiting church members, and doing other churchy things.  In other words, we, because it's our job, tend to focus on the church.  Unfortunately, that makes it somewhat difficult to focus know...the world.  That is, unless we make a conscious effort to get out of our churches and engage the world as pastors, not as our mild-mannered alter egos that go grocery shopping and other normal, everyday things, but as honest to goodness pastors.

Like the pastor that I am, I'm starting to ramble on too long, so I should wrap this up.  I basically wanted to say that I've sensed for a long time a disconnect between pastors and lay people in our church, and I don't think it's helpful.  I love theological conferences and learning new things, but it doesn't do a bit of good if it can't be communicated in ways that actually matter to people.  I get the sense that some pastors love these conferences because it gives them a chance to be among their peers and have the kinds of deep and thoughtful conversations that they long for.  (Or, as a pastor once told me, "If I had enough money, I never would have left seminary.")  I understand that, to a point, but then I just want to say, "Enough already! Let's get out of here and try having these conversations with other people!"  Let's get back into the world to keep trying to convey the message of Christianity in a way that's engaging, experiential, and meaningful.  I'm pretty sure that's what this whole "communicatio idiomatum" thing is about (that's a fancy way of saying the human and divine interact in the person of Jesus Christ so that we can be drawn closer to God in him).  However, I worry sometimes that our theological language, as wonderful as it is, obscures Christ more than it serves him.  This isn't meant to be critical of our pastors and theologians.  It's more like a warning against intellectualism, or worse, gnosticism (a fancy way of saying you're saved by your special knowledge of Christ instead of Christ himself)....myself included.  Having said that, I think I'll go up to the bakery and see what a few of my favorite theologians are talking about...

Required running content: this was all a fancy way of saying I think we as pastors and theologians do a great job of talking about running but often fail to lace up our shoes (or just run without them :-)


pastormag said...

Well, I stand convicted. Time to lace up my running shoes . . . or . . . maybe meeting some theologians at the bakery is more in my line. Thanks for reflecting, Bryant!

T said...

Thanks for this post Bryant! Its been something I think about too...maybe just in a slightly different way. As a Diaconal Minister, I find myself trying to find my way into the conversations etc...some pastors just don't see my gifts as valued etc. But then I think I'm just as guilty as the next person...about using too fancy of words etc.

And on another note, we got a grant from VFM and had a big conference here this weekend. Ive been trying to process through our event and feel like this is a safe place for me to express some stuff. We really were hoping for more members from church to be at the event especially since we have been doing stuff here for over 14 years. We had about 25 people from here and Pastor and I were shooting for a 100 people. I must admit we are disappointed. I think part of it is they think we the staff etc will get it done which I think addresses some of what you are saying....lay people have gifts etc too. Just my two cents!

Sorry to get on my soapbox. Just your blog post really hit home for me today!