What can postgrads contribute to the church?

Recently upon chatting with an older and wiser Christian we got onto the topic of discerning the idols of our culture. He, a pastor from Cambridge, quickly came out with the following: “healthcare and education”. Now, agree with him or not, his answer was telling. He continued by saying that the two people groups among his congregation that most often shrank back from service in the church and felt justified in doing so were doctors and academics. Why? Well, the answer seemed obvious; our culture thinks that education and healthcare will solve the world’s biggest problems and so what they’re doing is really making a difference.

Being a wannabe “education professional,” i.e. a postgrad, I wondered (1) if this were true and (2) if it were, what I could do to change that? Whether or not these are the two idols of our culture (I don’t know), I think his observation should be considered and might shape an answer to the question “what can postgrads contribute to the church?”

Getting stuck in with the everyday

The first answer is: they can get stuck in with the everyday activities of the church.

This is probably not the answer you might expect coming from a Christian postgrad. But, first and foremost, we should let the body of believers direct our activities. If there is a need for coffee servers, children’s leaders, treasurers, readers, or cleaners, then we should be prepared to sacrifice our preconceived ideas about how we might contribute to the church and get stuck in. The church needs its members to be sacrificial; that includes those who are in the academy. I say this because it’s a temptation of mine (as I’m sure it’s true of many academics) to read all week, attend church, and then hit the books again, falsely thinking that my doing my PhD is the only real way I can serve God.

Use our gifts for God’s mission

But this warning aside, the role of the Christian postgrad can be far richer than one might have previously thought. The church needs people who understand the prevailing ideologies of our culture. People who can critique, enrich and engage the ideas that surround us. In a previous post I quoted Don Carson:

we ought to be encouraging our best and brightest to demonstrate love for God with their minds and hearts, taking on the strongholds of intellectual lostness with exactly the same kind of missionary zeal that we want to take on the strongholds of, say, Islam and Buddhism. Moreover, the need is not just evangelistic and apologetic. Much of this work should be motivated by a passionate desire to offer God our best in every domain of life, whether we are grinding valves on a motorcycle engine or wrestling with the magisterial voices of the Western philosophical tradition. The Kuyperian vision of not one square inch where Jesus does not say, “This is mine!” is not a restrictively geographical sweep.

– i.e. Jesus’ lordship extends through all of culture as well as all the earth.

What can Christian postgrads contribute to the church? A 500 word blog post will not even begin to answer this question, but I hope this post has been a catalyst for your own thinking.


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Reading this post (I declare an interest as a health worker) I wonder how Don Carson’s hopes can be met. So I ask how pastors relate their calling(s) to those of the congregation? Whose callings are validated in church? Archbishop Don Robinson wrote in the ‘New Bible Dictionary’, “church is not a synonym for the people of God; it’s an activity of the people of God”. If most activity of the body of Christ only indirectly relates to the institutional church, how are those callings to be invigorated and how might they in turn challenge and enliven the congregation’s life?
Arthur Jones suggests that callings be displayed to the congregation. Lawyer, motor mechanic and research student come forward for interview and the congregation’s intercessions. What is your work? What are you struggling with? What pleases the Lord in it? How far have you got?
Such a move would remind us all that the church is a servant, sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God – creation restored. Is it possible to make an idol of the church?

Great comment David. This reply isn’t supposed to be deflationary – I just don’t know how to answer your questions. But these are exactly the questions I was trying to tease out!

I think your right that ‘callings’ can be displayed to the congregation and examined in the way you suggest. I think this is a healthy thing for the church to do. From my experience it doesn’t happen often enough.

Thanks, Thom. I’m happy to do some teasing-out.

I’m saddened by the lip-service paid in church services to “being salt and light” for the world. Can that really be expected to happen just by being found in church on Sundays – and then, more and more in church-related activities on other days?
We hear that the “big questions” will be answered there – but I’m still waiting for a persuasive sermon on why we’re here at all! You don’t have to turn many pages from the start of the Bible for content!
Other readers of this blog must have similar frustrations.

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