The year was 1993. Be-decked in my Sunday best I walked with a group of fellow graduates. After just turning 30, I had earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from what was considered at the time the “flagship seminary” in our denomination. Most consider the endeavor a professional matter. The DMin for most is a professional degree. My preference is to view this period in my education as a foray into intentional “practical theology.” I care not to argue the merits of the PhD as compared with the DMin. If I live long enough and have the opportunity, I may well pursue a PhD. But that is for another series of posts.
From my earliest memories I had developed an interest in learning, in education. To this day I am something of an eclectic learner. You may prefer to describe it as a nuance of ADD – acquired diploma disorder. Even as something of a vocational “teacher,” some pastors are viewed in this way, I still find it a thrill to learn. So interested to maintain a connection with the academic environment I contacted my alma mater to encourage them to send reading lists from DMin and PhD seminars each semester. I would have been willing to pay for this list. No takers.
So, with that I would look around for a conference to attend. I was not interested in a “preaching conference.” It was not that I could not learn from great preachers. Over the years some make it their cause celeb to let you know someone else they heard preaches “better than you.” It is as if the message is not what is compelling. So many of us are compelled to go see if we can learn to emulate the new flavor making the conference circuits. Me, not so much.
In our particular tribe those conferences are merely revivals for preachers. Worked up into a lather, the current celeb preacher would remind us what we should be doing. I have this awful sense that is what we do when we hold “revivals.” Yes, someone will be calling me to repent soon. And, in my search for conferences to attend, that is precisely what I did. I repented of not engaging. I repented of merely having my a priori assumptions reinforced. I had become too old for indoctrination. I repented of what the Apostle Paul referred to as “my childish ways.”
After the end of the Scholars In Residence conferences held at my alma mater, I agreed to go with a friend to the National Pastor’s Convention in San Diego. I think it was the very first one put on by Zondervan and Youth Specialties. And, yes, there was preaching. But, different preaching. Will Willimon, Phillip Yancey, the late Mike Yaconelli, among others. Breakout sessions led by people I did not know and from other tribes – Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Non-Denominatinoal folks to name a few. I had very few conversations with those from these tribes and anti-tribes except to point out their errors and attempt to persuade them to the light. Little did I know brewing sensibilities would be tapped and I would venture down a road that I am still on today.
This was the beginning of my own “intentional conversations.” Some of these conversations have been in person, others by phone or email. I have engaged their thoughts in books and other publications. On a number of occasions I have participated in learning communities, even leading some of these exciting journeys along the way.
And, as a notable side note. I do love my tribe. I still “am one.” I pastor a church glad to identify with that same tribe. It is not a love/hate relationship. It is a refiner’s relationship. The crucible of the long journey means we will be made better by these relationships. In fact, the people I pastor with love me and I them. We look for the Spirit of God to illuminate the Scriptures in a way that we become something of the “to come” community that demonstrates the present realities of the Kingdom of God. They have been patient with me for 16 years and barring any moral miscue on my part I hope to remain with them for at least double that time.
We have given up the idea of perfect – pastor and church. We have instead embraced complete. And, for now we cannot imagine being complete without the other. And in our parlance, I am blessed.
Just what has characterized these intentional conversations? That is for part the fifth.
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