Rev. Chip Hammond
“Do you think the condition is serious, Doctor?”
“I don’t know. I’ll look it up on WebMD and let you know.”
“But don’t you know?”
“Oh, no, we don’t learn things like that in medical school any more. We learn how to have a good bedside manner and make people feel happy, we learn principles of marketing our clinic, and how to engage in good, profit-making business practices to ensure that we are here for a long time for our valued patients.”
“But what about being able to competently diagnose patients?”
“We don’t really need to spend time with that. There are a lot of great resources on the web and in books – people who are real experts in those things, people who can really be trusted. We can read them, allow them to make the diagnosis, and then treat you as is indicated. It keeps us from being bogged down, and allows us to attend to the more important aspects of practicing medicine.”
Horrified? You should be. Thankfully the story is made up. I do not know of any doctors who have this attitude, approach, or practice. But I can tell you that there are dozens of pastors right here in Loudoun County that have precisely this attitude when it comes to their ministry. And I suspect that there are, not hundreds, but literally thousands of pastors nation-wide with the same attitude.
What exactly is the role of the pastor, anyway? Psychiatrist? Family mediator? Cultural activist? Political operative? Comedian? Entertainer? Business manager? Marketing expert? Spokesmodel? Motivational or self-help speaker? Program director? Judging by what passes for carrying out the ministry today, you might guess any of these things.
The Bible, however, tells a different story. “Let men regard us a stewards of the mysteries of God,” (mysteries in the New Testament refers to revelation, i.e. the Word of God). “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” “I taught you publicly and from house to house. I did not shirk back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” The minister’s task, first and foremost, no matter what else he may take up or be pressed into service doing, is to read, study, understand, and declare the Word of God. If he does not do this, he has turned back from his calling, and is an unfaithful servant.
“What are you majoring in?”
“Wow. So you know French pretty well then?”
“No, I don’t know French at all.”
“I don’t understand. How can you major in French literature if you don’t know French?”
“I read translations of French literature.”
“But aren’t there subtle nuances and plays on words that don’t come through in translation?”
“Yes, of course. That’s why I read commentaries by people who do read French.”
“But if you’re majoring in French literature, aren’t you supposed to have some level of expertise in that?”
Thankfully, I don’t know of any college campus where this is happening. I do know of several seminaries where it is happening, though. And it has left an effect.
When I offered a class in Koiné Greek this past winter for those in or preparing for the ministry I didn’t get too many takers (though the people I did get were great, and made it well worth it). My assumption regarding this would have been that most of the pastors at churches already had Greek, and didn’t need to take it again.
That’s until I was inadvertently copied in an e-mail from “Ralph,” encouraging “the brothers” not to “waste their time studying Greek.” Ralph pontificated that studying Greek was an interesting “hobby” for ministers, but it wouldn’t help them in the real work of the ministry – you know, marketing, fund-raising, entertainment, and pop-psychology advice.
I wish I could say that I thought I was being harsh, but I’ve seen the “professional articles” telling pastors this new “real work of the ministry” is what constitutes their job now. The old “job description” of knowing and teaching the Word is passé. Someone even opined that, ministerially speaking, studying Greek was not the past-time of real men, but of geeks, wimps, and wussies.
At best, there are those who really want to teach the Word, but since they are told that “studying Greek is a waste of time,” they are like the doctor who gets all of his medical information from WebMD, or the French literature major who only reads French literature in English translation.
In an odd providence, I went into the ministry and my brother did not. I say an odd providence because my brother went off to college with the plan and goal of entering the ministry. I did not.
Why did my brother’s plans change? Not because he was unspiritual. He is one of the most ardent Christians I know, active in and committed to the church where he a member, a man who reads the Word regularly, prays and seeks to implement the principles of the Word of God in his family and in his own life.
What changed his mind was a year of Greek in college. My brother is a smart guy, but he just didn’t have an aptitude for Greek. And (silly him) he thought knowing Greek was a necessary prerequisite for standing up in front of people and telling them with authority, certainty, and conviction what he knew God’s Word said. Had he just persisted, he would have finally arrived at this enlightened age when we’ve at last figured out that the ministry has nothing at all to do with knowing the Word.
You can call me a geek, a wimp, or a wussie if you want to. You can tell me that I’m wasting my time studying the Word using the languages God gave them to us in; that I should instead be studying the Wall Street Journal, Modern Marketing, and Psychology Today; that it’s the packaging that matters, not what’s in it.
But I’m going to die soon. It may be another sixty years, but that’s not long – that’s how long ago World War II was. When I do, what you said about me really won’t matter that much. But “Well done good and faithful servant,” will matter.
I’m a poor Christian, and an even poorer pastor. But I am convinced that my best hope of hearing those words will come from being concerned first and foremost with the study of and intimate knowledge of the Word. I want to know all there is to know about every aspect of that Word, because I believe that it is there that my salvation, the salvation of the church, and the salvation of cultures, reside.
That’s why I’m kind of a geek. (Did I say “kind of?”)