20 Oct 2017

Want to be Great Minister? Become a Theologian

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Christian hope, Discipleship, Faith, Holding On, Journey, Ministry, Prayer, Preaching

I have been in full time ministry since the early 1990s. Over the years my idea of what a minister actually needs and what a congregation should look for in a minister has changed drastically.  I look back now and I am so incredibly grateful for the patience and even mercy of God’s people demonstrated towards me as I tried to be a minister.

I am convinced that first, and foremost, every preacher should be a theologian. Immediately some will balk at the very word theologian. But after encountering nearly every scenario possible in ministry, I will “stick to my guns.” But if a theologian is a person who, some how, brings a message of God, and mediates the presence of God to people, then I know of no better word. The minister is either a good theologian or a very bad one but he will be one.

There are three qualifications at the core of a ministerial theologian in my view. Martin Luther first articulated these. When I first began ministry I had no idea what these were.

Prayer

Meditation

Testing

There are other skills that a minister will need.  But my contention is that these are the bedrock and all other skills and tasks are performed out of these three identity traits of the theologian.

Prayer

Prayer is the first qualification of a theologian. When I began ministry I was terrible at prayer. To be honest I still am. Don’t misunderstand, I “said” a prayer here and there. But I did not have a life of prayer.

You see prayer begins with an assumption that I was not prepared to admit back in the day. That assumption is that I am not enough. I was raised to think I was! I was raised to be self-sufficient. But prayer begins by saying I am not sufficient. I said prayers at meals, to begin classes, etc. But prayer was simply a matter of “precision obedience” back in the day. God commanded it. So I did it.

But prayer begins with the assumption that Bobby Valentine is not enough, Bobby Valentine is not self-sufficient. Bobby needs power beyond my intellect and cognitive ability. This was (and is) unbelievably hard to admit. So theology, ministry, preaching, begins by being in the “presence of God.” It is communion. That is what prayer is. It is not merely asking God mere favors, but beholding God’s majesty and glory.

Prayer demonstrates that I, like Isaiah, am a man of unclean lips yet has been enabled to come to God’s people precisely because I am one of them, warts and all (see Isaiah 6).

Meditation

Meditation is the second qualification of a theologian. Luther pointed to Psalm 119. Meditation is, as Eugene Peterson pointed out in Eat this Book, is (in Hebrew) the same word that is used for a dog gnawing on a bone. Have you ever tried to take a bone away from a dog? Not likely right. The dog is “meditating” on that bone.

A person moves from prayer into gnawing on God’s word. There is a hunger and a thirst for that Word that cannot be rationally described. Meditation is not memorizing sermon books or hundred year old debates. Mediation is plunging head first into the Marianas Trench and attempting to head to the bottom. It is not only DEEP but the the water changes. The deeper you go the pressure of the water will turn a submarine into a pancake. Gnawing on God’s word changes the “meditator” before it does anything else.

As the prayer warrior of Psalm 119 is constantly asking God to “reveal treasures” that are hidden in God’s word. There is no satisfaction with where we are. When we reach 10,000 ft there is still a bottomless trench to go with entire worlds beyond the imagination of the swimmer on the surface. Meditation reveals to us that God is the teacher and we never master the word.

Testing

The third qualification brings the first two together, testing. Luther declared that without “testing” no person could be a genuine theologian. There was a time I did not believe this. The first 17 years of my ministry were a walk in noonday park. And to be honest many churches do not like theologians that have been tested. Testing leaves scars.

But the common denominator of all God’s theologians in Hebrews 11 is they were “tested.”

Their world crashed.
Their families fell apart.
They went through periods of rejection.
They sometimes were angry, immoral, made horrific choices only to demonstrate amazing courage under fire.

Here, in Hebrews, we see the greatest of all theologians, Jesus of Nazareth. The High Priest is chosen from among humans not gods or angels because they do not know testing. They do not understand struggle. They do not know.  So the Preacher says “He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since HE HIMSELF is subject to weakness,” (Heb 5.2).  Jesus was tried by fire, he “learned obedience through the things he suffered” (Heb 5.7-8, there are no more radical words in the Bible than here). Jesus is a great Savior because he was tested and because he has weakness. That is what the text says.

Testing puts us in the company of Jesus. Testing changes how we see prayer. Testing changes meditation. Testing, put another way, reveals the content of our prayer and our meditation. Luther believed a person was simply “unfit” to be a theologian if he or she had not been “tested.”

Be a Good Theologian … A Good Minister

Every minister needs to be a theologian. In fact the minister is one. The only question will be, a good one or a bad one. How do you find a qualified theologian: prayer, mediation and testing. Everything else is secondary.

Shalom.

One Response to “Want to be Great Minister? Become a Theologian”

  1. Profile photo of Dwight Haas Dwight Says:

    I would perhaps place testing at the top and place after it: having known mercy first hand. This goes along with everything in Testing, but makes it clear that grace and mercy are at the heart.
    Many preachers go into preaching as a theologian without being tempered in humbleness. They apply the word to condemn all those around them, but forget themselves as being needful and the same as everyone around them. This is why I believe Jesus says, “Call no man teacher”, because once a person takes on the position of teacher, they lose subjectivity of God through themselves, thus they strive to preach to others and do not learn from others. Not always, but many times.

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