Teaching and Learning in Church
That I draw inspiration for this understanding of both ministry and congregations from the Jewish faith is perhaps revealing. The Jews have long known what it is to struggle to sustain a particular faith and way of life amid societies that were not necessarily friendly to them. This, it seems to me, is increasingly the situation of Christians. We live in a society that is officially secular, is religiously pluralistic, and in values and lifestyles offers more a smorgasbord than a set menu. For the most part, I do not regret these realities. I am not among those who believe a Christian way of life can or ought to be legislated and mandated for all citizens. Faith is not a political
ideology or agenda. While it should speak to political and social issues, faith that is captured in a political ideology or agenda has become something other than the faith and way of Jesus Christ, who came not to lord it over others, but to serve (Mark 10:42-43).
But the secularization and pluralism of North American society give a new priority to teaching and formation, to the minister as teacher and practical theologian, and to the congregation as a teaching and learning community. Neither ordained ministers nor congregations can assume, as we once did, that most people who come of age in North America have learned the basics of faith simply by growing up here. By basics, I mean the core convictions, biblical stories, hymns, and practices that constitute the way of life of believers. While counting on the culture to form Christians was probably never a very good idea, there may once have been a time when clergy and congregations could rely more on the culture at large to do so. That is no longer true. These changes in our culture and in the place of the church bring the pastoral role as teacher and theologian and the congregational role as teaching and learning community into higher relief.