Last week we considered some of the contributions postgrads can make to their churches. This week, we’re turning the question around: how can churches support the postgraduates in their congregation?
The basic answer to this question, I think, is at first sight rather down-to-earth and simple: churches can support their postgraduates in the same way in which they support other believers with a wide variety of callings. The apostle Paul encourages us: ‘Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ (Col. 3:17; see similar exhortations in 1 Cor. 7:17 and Col. 3:23). One of the main functions of church services is therefore to build the congregation up so that they can serve God faithfully in the callings that He has given them – whether that be as a housewife, administrative officer or university professor (Eph. 4:11-13, Heb. 10:24). In Christ we are a renewed humanity, called to be fruitful, to till and keep the earth (Gen. 1:28, 2:15), and to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mk. 16:15; emphasis mine). This ‘building up’ happens in a variety of ways: through teaching the Bible, through praying for one another, through sharing life. The latter can be particularly valuable to postgraduates, who can feel isolated because they are often far from their families, sometimes even in another country, or because they lose themselves so much in their work that their social needs suffer. All of these aspects of being church should equip us for service to God, which we render in all that we do, including our studies and research.
However, I suspect that the main readership of this blog is postgrads themselves, and not necessarily their church leaders! So what can you yourself do to help your church to support you better? As Thom wrote last week, we need to get stuck in, and allow others to get to know us, so they can pray for the things we are struggling with.
Other believers can help us to gain a biblical perspective on things that we struggle with in our research. Likely the church does not always have the depth of knowledge that is needed to help with specific issues with, e.g. literary criticism. But you may find that another body of believers, such as a local postgraduate group, can help you with this.
Also, by offering our specific expertise, e.g. in an interview, by giving a talk or leading a discussion, not only does the church benefit from the knowledge we have been privileged to gain, but we ourselves also grow in our service to our church. So if you have knowledge, skills or experiences you could offer your church, make them available! And don’t wait for the opportunities to present themselves to you: take the first step, and ask how your gifts can be of service. Do not be discouraged: you will find that over time, situations will emerge in which your specific knowledge and skills can be put to good use in the body of Christ.