Written by: Jason Browning
Jason Browning is married to Jennifer Browning and they have 3 daughters. Jason and Jennifer serve as Associate Pastors at Westmore Church in Cleveland, TN. Holding a BA from Lee University and a MTS from the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Jason enjoys all things athletic and outdoors.
An interesting thing happens to girls about age 12 or 13. No, not that interesting thing (which is another topic for another blog). I suppose this happens to boys too, but since I only have daughters, I’ll speak a bout them. Around age 12 or 13, as young women are developing gifts and talents, one of the abilities they begin to exhibit is what I call “facial communication ability.” This is the ability by which a person can look at you and say nothing yet communicate a thousand different thoughts in less than 5 seconds. This talent is in full bloom by age 14 and is usually accompanied by other non-verbal communications like heavy breathing, rolled eyes, stomping feet and, as was the case in our home recently, a slammed door.
We don’t normally slam doors in our house. But our 14-year-old daughter did and when she did, the force of the door against the frame shook the wall causing a nice hanging clock to fall off the wall smashing to pieces. I know this doesn’t happen in any other home in America, but it did in ours. We usually talk about this kind of stuff and then determine an appropriate course correction. But this day was different. I took matters into my own hands. I grabbed a hammer and screwdriver and went to her room and took the doors off the frames. No bedroom door. No closet door. Which for a 14-year-old girl is the equivalent of water boarding.
You’d be amazed at what no doors can do. Doors have come to give us a sense of privacy and seclusion. They serve as a warning because they force people to announce their entrance into a room. Doors aren’t just entrances, but they provide separation and boundary and when you slam them, you can do a lot of damage.
For years, the church has slammed the door on the academic world and specifically in my Pentecostal faith tradition. As a result, there is often an unspoken tension between academia and the pastorate. The viewpoint many pastors take is that academia is lifeless and many times not practical. It is informational only and lacks heartfelt attachment. (As I type those very words, my heart hurts and my mind fills with exceptions to that statement.) There is this tension that is constantly involved in the pastorate/academic relationship that requires balancing the heartfelt work of the Spirit with the important scholarship of the Word and while it is subtle at times and overt at times, the tension is always present. I hate that. I don’t want tension in any of my relationships. So the temptation is to slam the door on emotion or slam the door on scholarship and you hear those doors slamming with statements like “All that information is dry and boring. It chokes out the move of the Spirit.” or “That service was all hype and emotion. There’s no content or substance there.” And the doors keep slamming and the damage keeps piling up along with the tension.
My faith and my profession and my academic involvements and all the other areas of my life don’t need balanced tension but prayerful integration. I want my preaching to have substance and content as it evokes deep emotion and reflection. I want the information of the Word to be infused with the inspiration of the Word so my head and my heart are engaged in being changed into the image of Jesus.
Interestingly, we position academics and pastoring as if they were in conflict with each other. We see the classroom and the pulpit in competition. The professor and the pastor can’t coexist. I’ve seen this in churches where scholarship is ignored, where no outside commentary is engaged. Pastors close the door to insightful teachers because “they’ve never been in the field.” I’ve seen this in the classroom where deep truths are communicated but connecting the dots doesn’t happen, where teachable moments are almost tangible, but the outline and covering the information is the priority. Professors close the door to heartfelt emotion because “this isn’t the time or place”.
Into this tense door slamming relationship the Scripture and specifically Jesus speaks. Over 60 times in the New Testament, Jesus is called teacher. In some form or another his information and the role of teacher was valued. Yet in His teaching, He always cut straight to the heart finding ways to challenge the mind while speaking to the issues of sin in the heart. Jesus taught “as one with authority” and I don’t believe you can do that without both scholarship and also emotion. He opened doors for religious teachers to be engaged all the while continuing to be moved with great compassion for everyone.
Jesus selected 12 disciples to carry his message and told them to “go into the world…” and “teach them to observe what I have commanded you.” The value and emphasis on teaching can’t be ignored and neither can His selection of disciples. Educated men who worked for Rome alongside uneducated Jewish fishermen were all invited to participate as Jesus opened the door to the world with His message of life. And as that group moved into what became the early church, this movement of Christianity spread among the uneducated and the educated alike.
One more thing about doors—doors have been important in churches for a long time. Doors have been the subjects of artwork. Some churches have red doors to symbolize the blood of Christ and keep demons out. Some churches have Holy Doors. In the book of John, Jesus makes these “I Am” statements. One of them is “I am the door” which I think speaks tremendously to pastors and professors. I want all of my life, my academic ambitions, my pastoral pursuits, my parenting style, my interaction with my spouse, everything to be centered on the teachings of Jesus. Jesus models for all of us the heartfelt emotion and commitment to biblical scholarship and teaching that integrates knowledge and faith instead of the either or position we give them. Jesus who is at the same time full of grace and truth, who is both teacher and prophet, who is the Good Shepherd and the Door calls us to open doors of dialogue and understanding with the pursuit of His agenda not ours.
It is my sincere prayer, that the doors of academia and the doors of the pastorate be wide open for all of us.