Bible College Declassified: Things They Don’t Teach You in the Classroom
The sun set wonderfully smooth over the flat Arizona landscape; it was like I could see for miles and the light still uncovered the base of South Mountain, but just barely. My stomach felt sick and I felt uneasy, almost nervous as I painfully grabbed my phone out of my right pocket to check the time. I quickly grabbed my bag and started briskly walking through the humid weather across the church parking lot. The air conditioning was like a rude slap in my face when I walked in the foyer of the church building. Moving quickly I made my way to the classroom, and for the next three hours I stayed there scribbling notes and transcribing the lessons from our theology professor.
Fast forward several months. Sitting on a desk were a stack of final exams… Finally I thought to myself, now I know about the church angels and demons and the end times.
In reality, I knew nothing. I equated Bible college facts with how the world actually operates which at times seems like they contradict each other. There are things that I learned from the trenches of a fledgling church plant that I wish I was taught in class, but nothing can prepare you adequately for what you will encounter in people’s lives. Hopefully this brief exposé sheds some light on things they don’t teach you in Bible college.
People aren’t textbooks, not every sin issue has an easy Sunday school type of answer.
This one I learned the hard way with how people dealt with issues I was going through. It is super easy to diagnose the symptoms from a list of “Counseling Verses” and not actually listen to the person talking and deal with the heart. Everyone is different so sin is different. While there might be patterns that are similar between a group of people, just giving them a quick seventh grade answer won’t suffice. When I was deep in sin the last thing I wanted to hear was phrases like “read your Bible and pray” as profoundly simple as that is, it doesn’t give me anywhere to start. So what am I supposed to read in my Bible? What am I supposed to be praying for? So what exactly do I do practically to stop easily accessing my sin? These are questions that are hard and require some praxis (your theology and your life interacting practically). You can’t pawn off hard questions, sometimes you have to tell them things like “I really don’t know man, but here is what I know about God and how He feels on this…” Sometimes the hardest things is admitting you actually don’t know everything and coming back and setting up an appointment over coffee and discussing what you found after researching.
People have much messier lives than you think; don’t be surprised by who sins and to the level to which they sin.
Just because you grew up in a Christian home doesn’t mean that you are perfect, pretty obvious right? Not so much when it comes to how we view the church; we tend to view the church as this affluent country club comprised of the best of the best, the white collared religious elite made up of people that the worst thing they did was miss a choir practice. Don’t be surprised at the level that some people are in, when it comes to their sin. Sometimes the people that look to have everything together could be hiding a broken, weak relationship with God and His people; a facade of a stable life can be easy to imitate around the church at times; but open transparent talks with people breaks down an individualistic mindset and opens doors for change. So a practical point here, I used to verbally say “wow” after someone told me all of the struggles they went through; which can make it look like I am on this mountain of perfection and they are in the valley of the shadow of their sin; when getting down in the trenches with them and allowing them to see your human and sin as well and your imperfect and the only perfect man is the God-Man Jesus then you can actually connect with people on their level without being a condescending jerk (of which I am the chief of condescending jerks). Saying things like “I have gone through something similar to that” or “I’m no saint in that regard as well, brother” really does help when you’re talking with people where they are.
An awkward but true example of this in my life:
When I was younger I went to a pastor to try to get help with my lustful addiction. I literally walked in the office and said that this is what I was watching and can you help me. Instead of practical advice and a helpful friend, I got a referral to someone else. It was awkward and from then on out, it seemed like I was viewed differently and I felt like I needed to get my life cleaned up before I went to the pastor again.
Now the example of the man who was the non-awkward and helpful example of Jesus in my life:
Words cannot contrast the difference of this man’s approach with my sin; compared to the last guy I spoke with. This man actually wasn’t surprised and didn’t verbalize the “wow” but got down in the trenches and helped me where I was, dirt and all; because that’s what Jesus did with all of us, He was a friend of sinners who were sick and in desperate need of a Physician.
Don’t be a stuck up jerk just because things didn’t go exactly the way you planned it would go.
I know what is like to have plans of grandeur and glory. I know what is like to have masterfully detailed games and ideas for youth and my game lasts all of 5 minutes and then the youth goes back to playing soccer. Many times when you are fresh off the Bible college boat, it becomes easy to want to bring a lot of the things that worked in college to the church you're helping out at. As much as that’s a noble thing, sometimes it’s not always what the church wants. Sometimes it ok to let your plan fall to the ground while another completely different one is put in place by the youth. I was a stuck up jerk coming out of Bible college, not because that’s the Bible college’s fault but my own doing. I took myself way too seriously and my methods as the only way to operate a ministry.
Finally, I believe it is fitting to note that no matter what your education and experience is in the classroom; leave it in the classroom. Rather, we should depend on the Holy Spirit to be our strength, help, comforter and wisdom. Only when I realized that I really didn’t arrive when it came to my knowledge and ministry experience; then God started to re-teach me that this is much more than a career, it’s a calling for Kingdom work for a lifetime.
Pastor Tylor has been serving at Phoenix Arabic Bible Church for close to 5 years. He graduated from International Baptist College in 2013 with a BA in Bible and Christian Service with a Pastoral Studies Emphasis. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona where he serves his Church and works on the side as a Loan Consultant with Wells Fargo Bank. You can read his blog at http://www.tylorm.org/ .