Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Demise of the Didaskalos

Some time ago I was asked to read a paper at the American Bible Society in New York. As I was preparing the paper someone asked me what I was doing and I told them that I was writing a paper on the “Ethnic Identity of Luke” which I was to read at a meeting of scholars in New York. Obviously puzzled, my interlocutor pressed further: “But I thought you were a pastor. Why are you doing that?”

I was disappointed by their response but not surprised. We have witnessed in our lifetime the demise of the didaskalos (Greek for “teacher”), the disappearance of the model of the pastor as the church’s chief teacher. This has happened despite the obvious importance of the role of teacher in the New Testament (the word occurs over 80 times in the noun form alone), and despite the long history of the pastor as scholar (academic regalia was originally clerical garb). When Paul, in Ephesians 4:11, lists the various ministerial callings, he employs a Greek grammatical structure (the definite article tous) to let the reader know when he has moved to a new item in the list. “And he gave some to be (tous) apostles, and (tous) prophets, and (tous) evangelists, and (tous) pastor-teachers.” Paul’s grammar (the distributive use of the article) makes it clear that he is describing one thing, not two.

But in today’s church that signal role and function has largely been lost, the victim of an anti-intellectualism that mistakenly (and arrogantly) regards thinking as an act of unbelief. In today’s church, we don’t go to church to think, we go to church to feel. That’s why the role of pastor as teacher has largely given way to the role of pastor as therapist. The pastoral care movement in the seminaries has to take some responsibility here. Psychology has replaced theology as the core of the seminary’s curriculum, and the pastor as scholar/teacher has been supplanted by the pastor as therapist/systems specialist. And so we get nonsense elevated to dogma like, “They’ll care how much you know when they know how much you care.” Take that out of church and put it in the operating room and see if you still like it! When my surgeon is standing over me with a scalpel, I care how much she knows, even if I don’t know how much she cares! What we do in church is at least as important as what we do in hospital.

Moreover, the damage done to the church by the loss of this pastoral model is cumulative and self-perpetuating. This is because the primary work of the church is disciple-making, and that, first and finally, is a function of disciplines that are didactic in nature: formation, enculturation, and yes, dare I say it?…indoctrination. That’s because becoming a disciple involves embracing, indeed entering, a whole new world Jesus called “the Kingdom of God” whose vision and values are so counterintuitive and countercultural that it’s like living in a different culture. No, it’s not “like” that, it is that. You don’t do that in a day; you don’t do that without help; and you don’t do that with a “Church Lite” minimalist approach to Christian formation that produces a congregation a mile wide and an inch deep. As Will Willimon quips: “There is no way that I can crank the gospel down to the level where any American can walk in off the street and know what it is all about within fifteen minutes. One can't even do that with baseball! You have to learn the vocabulary, the rules, and the culture in order to understand it. Being in church is something at least as different as baseball.”

And that’s why the role, the primary role, of the pastor is to be the church’s teacher: to teach the congregation to own the disciplines, stories, rituals, rules, images, and practices of this new culture called church. According to Matthew whose primary image for Jesus was “Teacher,” virtually the last thing Jesus told the church was: “Go into all the world and make disciples.” Then, he told us how to do it: “…by baptizing them, and teaching them.”

Any questions?


Idell said...

Your post on the primary role of the pastor as teacher reminds me of something I heard a young man say as he was trying to discern a vocational calling to the priesthood. He said something like, “If being a priest is a merely a matter of possessing a set of skills—church administration, delivering sermons, administering the sacraments, pastoral counseling—then I don’t feel particularly compelled in that direction. I’d be good at some of those things, not so good at others.” But then, quoting a theologian whose name I can’t remember, he said, “But if being a priest means that God is calling me to call the Church to act as priests to the world, then I can’t resist.” Ever since I heard him say that, I’ve always liked the idea of the primary roll of clergy being that of teaching the Body of Christ, through word and example, to be priests to the world. Although I’m not sure of the distinction St. Paul would make between a “priest” and the “pastor/teacher” role of which you wrote.

Thanks for another great post!

R. Wayne Stacy said...

Interesting insight. You mention that you're not sure what distinction Paul would have made between "priest" and "pastor/teacher." Interestingly, Paul never uses the word "priest," hiereus in Greek. (There may be a dissertation, or at least an article, here!) As such, Paul develops no theology of ministry around the priesthood. That's not to say that the role and function of "priest" is not a NT idea; it is. John has a theology of Christians as "priests" in the Apocalypse, as does Peter in 1 Peter, but in both cases they are talking about the whole body of Christians as priests, not about a special ministerial calling as Paul does in Ephesians 4. Paul doesn't choose to develop the idea at all. I have my hunches as to why, but I'll save them for another time.

Best to you!