the mistake of maturity

There are times when mature people really frustrate me.

Seasoned pastors and leaders (and lecturers themselves, it must be said) can peer into a training programme like ours at Carey and be a little too hasty to contribute into it out of their current and exciting 'growing edge', rather than rewinding to what was useful for them when they were at a similar age and stage as the students.

Sometimes this ends up as being as dumb as trying to build the fifth storey of a building without taking time to lay the foundation properly. I am surprised by how often people of maturity are unwilling to extend to students the grace of time to grow - the very grace on which their own growth has been so dependent. How often do I come across a pastor/leader in their 50s expecting a graduate in their 20s to be far more advanced than they themselves were in their 20s?! That seems so unfair to me. We are in such a hurry today. But fruit takes time to ripen.

Afterall the student years are not the end of a training experience, they are merely the beginning of a lifetime of training. Not everything has to be crammed into those student years. Some things can wait for the trajectory which living life creates...

And if you don't mind me changing the image from 'foundation' to 'core', then consider these two comments that ring continually in my ears (emphasis added by me):

"If we avoid rehearsing the core of biblical faith then it will be lost in one generation. If it goes without saying, then it needs to be said." (Peter Adam, Hearing God's Words 17)

"During the past twenty years there has been a quite frightening tendency to assume the center without really being able to articulate much about it and then to gravitate to the periphery ... (and) sooner or later the periphery is in danger of displacing the core - at least in our affections and energy, and perhaps in our theology (or that of our children)." (DA Carson, The Gagging of God 566-567).

Yes, "that of our children" ... and that includes our 'spiritual' children as pastors and leaders and lecturers. We need to keep building the core and we need to keep giving students the time to get that core in place.

I keep warning myself that 'an emphasis in a teacher easily becomes an extreme in a student'. I need to keep that warning alive.

I keep apologising to students for prefacing my instruction with 'when I was at your stage this is what I found helpful...' Maybe I need to put that apology to bed.

nice chatting



Alex said…
Excellent post, Paul. "If it goes without saying it needs to be said." I like that.
Stu said…

i really appreciate the honesty of this post. thanks.

possibly being one of those voices from time to time, i wonder if the drive for more advanced, or edgey stuff comes from the following motives:

1) when we were at college it was quite painful. our eyes were glued shut and college ripped them open, and the bright light that we hadn't seen really hurt us and confused us and disoriented us. we just want to save some of the students some of that pain by shading their eyes a bit to adjust and mellow into the new visions around them.

2) there's a growing movement of a much more conservative approach to church, scripture and relationship with God. in this resurgence, i'm sensing as others are, there is a drive to the defence of the gospel rather than the expression of it. we don't want more dogmatists in the church, there's plenty around to contribute well to our discussions (and favourably too i might add). but we need more fluidity, embrace and grace. we want to hurry our students into that space for fear of them isolating others. it's a shortcut mentality for us, which obviously raises questions, but it is because we care!

3) we are inspired by the edges and we've left that other stuff behind, no matter how formational, we wish that others wouldn't have to go through that stuff. how i wish i didn't have to learn the 'discipline' of three point expositional preaching! it feels like it was quite a waste of a paper for me, though i'm sure it was helpful for others. we just don't want them stifled and bogged down. we want them to be unleashed on this world!

4) probably the most significant reason for our drive is that we can't remember what we were going through at that time. i can't remember what was useful : except being trained and empowered to think. but i'm here now, with burning questions about this time and place. but that's where i need to be gentler i suppose.

i hear and heed what you are saying though. it's good to be reminded that i am probably in too much of a rush. i sincerely value the stuff that you are acheiving at carey. it's good stuff. really good stuff. and i think it's wise that you are cautious and protect the students from a burden they haven't the foundation to bear.
Paul said…
Hey, thanks Stu [although I'm not sure which Stu this is :)] Thanks for taking the time to engage at this level in this way.

Under 1...
I hope and pray that the experience of theological training is very different for students today. I want no part of the view that sees such training to be intentional about creating a faith crisis in students and then leaving them to pick up the pieces. Not sure if that is what you are hinting at - but I sure have heard it often enough over the years. The training years must be a time when passion is borne, not lost; when faith is deepened, not dismantled. With this remarkable staff team of ours at Carey to the fore I would be very disappointed if there were weigthy numbers of students experiencing this struggle with passion and faith. Oh yes, it can still happen (and be helpful for a season) - but it is neither the intention nor the norm.

Under 2)
Do you really want to equate 'defence' with 'dogmatism'? I would have thought there was acres of space between those two?! To do away with 'defence' is to open the door to the 'assuming without articulating' error in my original post. I would have thought that the New Testament drives us to both 'express' and 'defend' the gospel...

Under 3)
I too can be inspired by the periphery (I won't use your word 'edges' as that means something else to me) - but surely not to the extent of "leaving the other stuff behind." Isn't the 'other stuff' that upon which we build as foundation?
I'll hold my ground on this one :) and say that the last thing we need is people who are core-less and foundation-less being "unleashed on this world." Frankly, that is just what NZ has had too much of over the years.

Under 4)
this one has me pausing to reflect a little more before commenting. I find it to be a new thought for me...

Thanks again
Stu said…
thanks paul, i appreciate your responses.

i'll push back if i may:

1) i think that this eye opening experience is fundamental to the christian journey. i also think that theological training should create crises (though that's a word that overstates what i mean), how about tremors of faith. i agree college should be a very safe place for this shake to happen, and i would suggest that if a student can go through theological education without having been shaken in some way, then there is a question mark about how useful the experience was.

going to college is all about these risks and growing through them. it's the athletic bootcamp, where you are pushed to find your breaking points, your non-negotiables, your limits. and then fitness comes with that. and experience and depth. and pain.

like you, i don't want to see faith lost, but i do want to see it deepened. and that's what i think i mean by defence and dogmatism. these things are often borne out of a lack of depth, and i'd hate for a college to allow people to leave the foundations unchallenged. because in the challenge, we discover the depth. and then, while still holding to those foundations, we are able to articulate from the depth something more coherent, and something we can be more passionate about.

i don't mind people who are dogmatic if it's got the depth—heck, i'm that i hope ;). but my issue is when there is just a blind dogmatism without the testing by fire.

finally, some of our foundations are a problem though don't you think? i agree that i wouldn't want people to be unleashed without foundation, and that this is a historic problem. but my question would be what foundations are we talking about?

we've got to unlearn our christian cultural foundations to disover christian foundations. and that is no easy quest. and again, if we still end up looking the same, then fine, but at least there'll be the depth to support it.

my issue therefore is that the foundation must be truer than the importation of 'what has always been' or 'what was great way back when'. no the foundation has to be freshly laid . . . no sacred cows. just inspired depth. and that is what i want to see unleased on this world.

BIG questions, enjoying the banter.

stu mcgregor
Paul said…

Maybe there is another image to throw in here? I quite like using 'theological shock' - with its kinship to culture-shock - to describe the process at work in students' lives. There is a period of alien-ness but with the right support the time comes when it is possible to function confidently within the language and culture of a new world. Theological training that has some kinship to tourism is definitely not what we need ...
So yes, I would expect that part of the journey will be discomforting and unsettling - but I'll stop short of saying that this is the main objective and I'll keep going until we do all we can to get beyond that space with a student.

In terms of foundations I guess my mind does go to something like a curriculum of a good degree. For example, I envision our BAppTheol at Carey to be like an airplane. The central fuselage is about Biblical and Theological and Historical studies. The wings that give it flight are Fieldwork & Formation (implying that basic character and skill development are part of the basic foundation) and Ministry & Mission (affirming the importance of the context of a gathering and scattering people of God as part of the foundation). In the cockpit is situated the 'thematic integrative seminar' - which I mentioned in my previous post. The integration of learning is as important as its application.

Now if push came to shove - I do wonder if this approach is not focused on foundations enough ... in that it is trying to build too much too soon.

Good stuff Stu
Mark Maffey said…
The Apostle Paul, puts it this way, in Philippians 3:12ff

12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

One of the challenges is to ENGAGE with and grapple with the question What is truth? To allow ourselves to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, yes there are some undisputable things on which we must stand, or else our faith has no substance, like the bodily resurrection of Christ in 1 Cor 15, but there is room to explore areas of spirituality and how we gorw in our understanfding of who God is. Theological training gives us an entree into critical thought but we are on a lifelong journey of discovery, I haven't got close to the main course yet, but I press on toward the goal.

For those of us who are interacting with fellow church members via home groups I heartedly recommend the Christian Basics Bible Studies series as a resource which will help this interaction

Mark Maffey
Good word! I agree and am glad to haer that outher feel this way.

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