Lately I’ve had a few questions about the SAP. Where has this scarily forthright man of the cloth disappeared to? Why aren’t I recording some SAP adventures? Is he MIA?
Yes and no. With almost two years in a church that has grown by around 40 per cent since he and Mrs SAP relocated to lead it, God has been incredibly busy in the smart-alec corner of a remote Aussie outback town. So you can imagine the SAP has been equally as hectic. Pastoring. Getting to know his new parish inside and out. Nimbly translating God’s word from Hebrew and Greek each week without a guidebook to produce HS-led sermons. Plus the usual hatch, match and dispatching.
And the events. Oh my gosh, the events. The SAP has become the evangelising ninja of runsheet organisation. It warms the cockles of my public relations heart. Easter outreach. A massive dinner with a leading television performer. The other day he sent me an Instagram photo of his Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Gingerbread House, and the upcoming Carols in the Red Dirt look to have the whole town rocking. Did I mention the brave Persecute The Pastor he hosted in the local pub? I’m not sure how many schooners he ducked as he did the equivalent of soapbox preaching standing on a wobbly bar stool, but the numbers in the pews speak for themselves.
At a time when many churches are shrinking, far behind the dusty wake of population growth, it’s a pleasure to see God in action within the SAP’s new church.
I am kidding slightly. Not about the growth. Or the evangelising events. But the SAP is dealing with more city carbon monoxide grey than red dirt. In his region there are 40 churches of his denominational ilk. 20 have under 100 people. Ten of those are under 50. And they are shrinking. So the church where the SAP works is bucking a trend.
Now I know it’s all God. But, as an outside observer, I’d also add that it’s much to do with the energy, personality, and sheer smart-alec-ness the SAP prays into his gigs. After all, the same God is in those ten churches with less than 50 congregants around the corner.
So what’s the difference?
It makes me wonder. Should smart-alec pastoring be a mandated subject in every theology degree?
SAPing isn’t on theology curriculums. Greek and Hebrew take centre stage, along with units like Church History, Sacraments, Jesus and the Gospels, expository (a fancy word for ‘what does this bible verse mean and how can we relate it to everyday, modern life?’) and – depending on where you enrol – training in preaching.
What do we do with personality?
I suspect personality can be a problem in bible colleges. What if a personality gets in the way of God’s word? Could an individual be tempted to think FIGJAM not FIGJAG? The tabloid fall from grace of ‘preachers with personality’ understandably gives people pause. If we stay safe, don’t rock the boat, keep charisma firmly away from everything, and stay well under God’s word, then nothing can go wrong. Don’t shine too much. Don’t challenge. For goodness sake, just keep your head down in the Greek and the Hebrew. Which is likely the equivalent of snorting bromide for someone with a smart-alec personality.
Languages recently got a dusting down on social media between biblical language heavyweight scholars and everyday juggling pastors who really just want to introduce Jesus to people who need him. The latter couldn’t give a flying FIGJAM about passing greek exams and learning to translate the original manuscripts. I asked the SAP’s opinion, given additional Greek study is a three-line whip he currently has to do as part of the ‘essential skills’ in his new job description (I was kidding earlier about his nimble weekly translations).
“I want to get on with what God has called me to do – preach in a way that people seem to understand easily that relates to their world on a Monday morning. When that happens I’ll use my Greek like I have done for the previous 20 or so years: when I’m really badly stuck on a bit of exegesis I’ll consult Don Carson or one of the many other fine scholarly commentators we’re blessed to share God’s green earth with, or I’ll pick up the phone and ask a mate who is particularly gifted at Greek.”
Otherwise the SAP is content to back the Holy Spirit’s capacity to speak through him and leverage the rudimentary knowledge of Greek he already has.
From what I observe, it’s working so far. He and Mrs SAP are struggling to find the room to put out more chairs in their growing church.
God gives us all different gifts: the SAP’s is a willingness to apply imagination and rigour to exegesis so some of the stereotypes about GJ&HS (and the folk who follow them) are busted.
As Christians, if we’re passionate about reaching the unreached and spreading the Good News of the Jesus fella, then we need to meet people where they are at – in their current context – and stop berating and hobbling those pastors who do great jobs despite not having the ‘correct’ unit of study.
Where would the SAP’s time be better served? Studying all hours and commuting to bible college in order to achieve a certain percentage on a Greek exam? Or getting out and about with more of the people in his parish, diving deep into bible study groups, and solidly introducing the Jesus fella to as many as possible?
I can put my hand on my heart and say I’d still be in the ‘unsaved’ camp if the SAP had spent more time in Greek and Hebrew and less in smart-alec pastoring when I first picked up the phone.
Hopefully that is a sobering notion for any church bureaucrats more concerned about pastors passing Greek biblical study units than the souls of the people those same pastors in their diocese are passionate about evangelising.
It’s all God To Me
I did not care then, and care even less now, how the SAP could correctly translate the greek word in the bible for agape as the passionate, radical, hungering love that God has for me compared to the ‘quick, fancy a shag’ love of eros, the more contained, virtuous love of philia.
Whether from decades of Greek language study or an hour with a theological book by D.A Carson, I care not a whit
Nor do I think God cares. He and the angels held a party in heaven, Jesus strung up a massive banner with my name on it, and there was much rejoicing, celebrating and helium balloons when I got with the GJ&HS program. “Finally!” they high-fived.
Jesus did not stop, pause and say, “Hang on a second, Dad. That SAP fellow who introduced her to me, he only did a year-long study of Greek as part of his undergraduate theology degree 20 years ago. That won’t do, will it? No grace for her!”
Instead, let’s imagine the conversation God has with the person who would take a pastor off their focus of growing and leading a church to bury them in achieving another Greek qualification.
God: “Let me get this straight. You were worried about a pastor who was helping grow My church and ensuring people were being introduced solidly to My son – all because of the amount of Greek he previously studied?
“Yet the church was growing whilst they were there involved there? And beforehand it wasn’t?”
I imagine God may remind us something like this: “With whom am I head over heels Agape? My lost sheep or Greek conjugations? Perhaps you missed that when you translating My word from the original language?”
Let’s play to strengths
Please don’t misunderstand me. The need to protect and be true to scriptural translations is vital. I give thanks for biblical language scholars. I just don’t believe God and Jesus expects every Rev. to have identical skills. Jesus called fishermen to build his church. If we explore the parable of the talents, it becomes clear that God apportions us different gifts.
If your gift is Greek, awesome! Please keep writing worthy scholarly tomes that help others less gifted in biblical languages. Help us preserve and better understand God’s word. If your gift is taking all of the ancient language, comprehending and unpacking the Bible so your everyday 21st Century person realises just how relevant Jesus remains, please don’t feel beleaguered and belittled by being less than nimble in languages.
For church hierarchies, perhaps this requires a long, hard look in the mirror? Facing up to the awkward question that perhaps one denomination is too focused on intellectual sermonising and Christian study, whilst another is a little too ‘loosey-goosey’ with scripture. Too much intellectualism can disenfranchise those needing to understand Jesus, and flakey ‘off-piste’ theology can lead people away from the cross not to it. There’s obviously a balance.
I also wonder how the horned mother trucker is feeling. For every prideful conversation he hears over the ‘right’ language study, the ‘right’ bible college and the ‘right’ amount of translation skills, he is likely smiling. As the body of Christ bickers over whose theological qualification is best, he gleefully rubs his hands:
“That’s it! Stay worried about the Hebrew and the Greek. Lose yourself in it. Get so buried in its dusty history you forget how to share Jesus so he makes sense today. Argue over your theological Grad Dips, Masters and Bachelor qualifications. Feel clever for attending the ‘right’ college and insecure if you didn’t. Suits me just fine.”
For an excellent couple of blogs on this topic, I highly recommend these two by Stephen McAlpine: My Greek is rubbish but I preach Ok and My Greek is OK but my preaching is rubbish.