There is a gap between young pastors and parishioners. A gap of communication, a discontinuity between what each of them deems most important to talk about. For a young student like myself, recently finishing my undergrad with a religion major, I would love to engage people on a level of academia. However, it is quite apparent that the large majority of people do not really care all that much. I guess the struggle is that the academic institution instructs us how to converse in the likes of Barth and Calvin, Nouwen and Peterson, church history and theology, and yet, very few people in the church converse using these people and topics as resources. This is not a slight of the institution. I am very happy that I was grounded extremely well in my studies. But students must be prepared when they enter the ministry that not everybody will think along the same lines as they do or will have any idea what postmodernism or the missional church are. They just don’t. And it’s only when we begin to understand the parishioners point of view, when we see things as they see, do we have a starting point where we can begin to insert the knowledge as footholds for the parishioners to climb on. One example that may not exactly align with what I have said thus far but I think will get my point across is this: A Jewish family lives across the street from the church and I have become friends with them. They are practicing Jews, not overly-legalistic, nor are they lax and nonchalant about their practice of Judaism. However, in college, we were only taught how to engage with them on an academic level, of interacting with their beliefs while at the same time formulating a response in our minds. But what happens when the people we are interacting with are not deeply rooted within their tradition. All of a sudden, we may know more about their religion than they do, although we only understand from an abstract vantage point, while they experience it. They may not be able to articulate all the tenets of the faith or the history of the faith; nevertheless, they participate in it. I realized upon meeting the family that I had never met a Jewish person before let alone became friends with them. I shared with the father/husband much of what I am sharing with you here and he holds similar sentiments about how Christians typically interact with him only on an intellectual level. This upsets him. He knows he won’t be able to out-argue you and he recognizes he doesn’t have the theological training.
There is a time and a place for using what we have learned in the classroom in ministry. I think sometimes we may be over-anxious and very idealistic after leaving a seminary or Christian college only to soon realize that not everybody else follows the same train of thought. It is a slow transformation to be willing to engage in a setting foreign to us for the last few years. But it is also the foundation on which we begin to bridge the gap between the communication of academia and lay people. It may be one of the greatest challenges facing the church in America today.