By Amy Kosari, Pastor of First and Laurel Presbyterian churches
The man chuckled and said, "But isn't studying the Bible your job?"
We were in the check-out line and after a bit of small talk I had launched into an overly enthusiastic theological mini-lecture concluding with some cheerleading: "Keep on reading your Bible!"
But he was having none of it, genially explaining that the congregations were paying me to read the Bible so they wouldn't have to, and with that, the swipe of his debit card, and the receipt safely deposited in his wallet, he took his groceries and bid me a friendly farewell.
I have realized in the days and years after this encounter that he had given me a gift: he was willing to engage (and I might add at a rather early hour of the morning!) and push back. And I say, keep on keeping on. If there is one thing ministers really need it is criticism and challenge. Right or wrong it always does us good.
But it is a real temptation to lay down the work of Bible study and hand it over to the professionals. We do this not only with ministers but with doctors, coaches, priests and legislators. We leave them to do the job so that we can be free to pursue other things. It makes sense and yet, this is not what the new covenant means. Jeremiah 31 tells us that in the time of the new covenant, each one of us will know the Lord. This does not mean we withdraw into an hermetically sealed room; on the contrary, as Paul says to the house churches at Rome, "you will help me and I will help you." We mutually encourage one another in the faith.
There is a famous medical clinic in Kansas and they tell their visitors that patients and caregivers are co-learners with the doctors. I like that. I have found when visiting my doctors at Mayo that the more research I can do ahead of time the better. I try to follow Patton's advice, "never to ask a question you don't know the answer to." I certainly do learn new things from the doctors and nurses. They are professionals but I have found that they also learn from me and my family. In the fight for health doctors need us to give them challenge, feedback and help.
This is as it should be but this is also what needs to happen in our churches. Indeed, we are told "judgment begins in the house of the Lord." May it be so! Putting ministers, doctors, preachers, coaches up on pedestals has led to nothing but trouble: think of the scandals and horror that we have learned of in football, gymnastics, the Southern Baptist Conference, to say nothing of the Roman Catholic denomination as well many others. It seems easier to leave it to the professionals but this is not the way of Jesus.
He said to his disciples at the feeding of the 5,000, "you do it," you feed this congregation. He enables us in wider and wider circles to minister to one another. He empowers us to be co-ministers, co-legislators, co-doctors. He puts the power in the hands of the people. God is drawing us to himself with the cords of love and giving us all that he has, empowering us to do "even greater things" than what was done before Jesus' death and resurrection. "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" But he is mindful of us and his thoughts are as high as the heavens above the earth because they are so filled with goodness towards us.