Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tired of the Messenger, Not the Message

A mutual friend told my friend recently that he was “tired of what he was teaching.” The only reason he continues is because the university where he teaches has benefits, which includes a big discount for his college age children. This brother is no slouch, in fact he’s brilliant, but, like many who have been in the work for a while, he no doubt longs for younger days when he challenged status quo and launched out into the deep without regard of the consequences.

As I board another flight to teach in South Asia I must admit at times I struggle with my subject. I’ve been teaching the same thing now for 18 years and the material has lost its edge. Of course I am forever reading and trying to keep up with our constant changing world, but sometimes I get weary of my hearing my own voice telling stories that I have heard myself repeat countless times. So why do I still do it?

First, because what is old to me is new to 90 percent of those who are in my class. Most seminaries major on theology, few, if any, know anything about cultural anthropology, cross-cultural communication or understand how cultures work. The field of study is still interesting to me, even if the material has become familiar.

Second, because the subject is new to most of my students there is always a “ah ha” moment in every training session. When I teach, for example, epistemology, the study of the science of knowing (how to you come to know what you know, and how do you know what you know is right?) there is never a time when those in attendance don’t walk away with insights they have never thought of before. And, even though the study of lineages, worldview and social control seem to be academic (and even tedious), its when I help students “connect the dots” on how these subjects are relevant in church planting and communicating the Good News of Christ, that the students come alive.

The fact of the matter is, even though I weary at the start of another class, I wouldn’t want to teach anything else. I cannot serve where many of my students will minister. I can’t learn all the languages, customs and cultures they will eventually go. It’s after two or three weeks of teaching that I walk away with a feeling that maybe I have contributed to the equipping of others for the ministry.