(“Learn to…” Series, part four)
Seminary cannot teach you to love people. If you are going to lead God’s people, however, you must learn to love them.
Seminary by its nature is primarily devoted to the formation of the mind, to think right thoughts about God, to master theology. This is an important pursuit which I do not at all wish to minimize. Rightly approached, it will fuel our love and zeal for God.
But the connection between truth and life is not automatic. Having a well-formed mind is no guarantee of a well-formed heart. Many in the seminary community dislike what they see as a false disconnect between intellectual growth and spiritual formation… but experience in the trenches shows that this disconnect is real.
Dr. Al Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, commented on this to his trustees in a recent meeting.
“I want to remind you that there is … a great deal which we can and must do, but we cannot make a minister. Only Christ can do that,” he said.
“I don’t think in a classroom you can learn what it means to love people the way the Apostle Paul talks about it here. I think you have to learn that in the local church. You have to learn that at the bedside of a saint who is going home to be with the Lord, you have to learn that in talking to a couple that thinks divorce is an option and you’ve got to tell them it isn’t. You have to learn this the hard way.”
Complete story on Dr. Mohler’s address to the trustees.
In short, seminary will not hand you a heart of compassion. It’s not in the curriculum. You must get one yourself, elsewhere.
I suspect that most people, if asked to choose between a pastor of uncommon intellect and one of uncommon love, will choose the latter. (We’ll see if our poll bears that out.) Jesus was the most brilliant man who ever walked the earth… but it was his evident compassion that drew people to him. If we would lead well in ministry, we must emulate Him.
Here are a few suggestions:
Get involved in a local church. Dr. Mohler is right. In the academy, it’s easy to have noble ideas about loving people until it’s time to actually do it. Then you run into the scandal of particularity: “Sure I love people. But him? Her?” It’s one thing to be prepared to love God’s church, until you meet them. Loving that pushy, troublemaking woman is a challenge. Loving that cranky deacon who never has anything good to say is a challenge. Loving the 3rd grader from the abusive home who is too afraid to respond to you is hard.
If you don’t know this yet, learn it now: church people are frequently demanding, hard-headed, unreasonable, and unforgiving.
Who loves people like that anyway? Oh yeah. God does.
So start now. Get to know real people in a local church
Pray for a heart of love. Let’s be honest. We need supernatural transformation to be capable of this calling. Ask for it.
Worship as you study. Take time to step back from the up-close scrutiny of God and His Word, and marvel at all He is and all He’s done. Abide in His love. Be sure you aren’t just parsing verbs during your quiet times.
Love the ones you’re with. Are you loving your wife and kids well? If you’re single, what about your roommates or friends in the dorm? Begin there.
Find loving people and spend time with them. Find a compassionate pastor or deacon and go on hospital visits with them, to learn how to do it.
Take up the responsibility. Who is in your life who you could be loving? Who’s going to love that solitary guy at work? Who’s going to love your kid’s first grade teacher? Your elderly neighbor? Answer: you are. Find ways.
Learn the five love languages, and practice them. Gary Chapman’s book has helped me to expand my vocabulary of love, and gives me a range of options to think about when it’s time to express love. Here they are: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, quality time, and gifts.
Practice gratitude. Make thanksgiving a regular part of your time with God. So many times our difficulty loving others springs from our sense of neediness. Gratitude is a way of remembering that in Christ we have all things. Take a moment now: I bet you can fill up a page in a couple of minutes about all you have to be thankful for.
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.
Focus on what you have in common with others. I think often our failure in communication and compassion for other people comes when we think of the things that separate us. You can love people very different from you if you remember a few simple things.
- Like me this person is human, and makes mistakes
- Like me, this person can fall in the trap of thinking about themselves first
- Like me, this person has needs that only God can fill.
- Like me, this person is deeply loved by Jesus Christ.
See Timmy Brister’s reflection on Mohler’s remarks.