By Paul Koch –
One of the things that I truly love about my vocation is regular participation in the study of Holy Scripture. From Tuesday mornings with a few of my colleagues and friends where we translate the text for the upcoming week to the regular midweek and Sunday morning Bible studies at church, I am fortunate to be able to engage the Word as part of my regular schedule.
Now, it may sound like a stupid thing to assert that a pastor would spend a lot of time with the Word of God and that he would enjoy it,
but I want to share with you an observation I’ve realized over the years. It is not the private study of the Word and the time alone in my study that is of the most benefit, but it is those times when the Word is discussed among the fellowship of believers. In fact, this simple activity is one of the greatest tools I have to continue being a faithful pastor. Discussing the Word among brothers and sisters in Christ is a powerful activity. During it, my own presuppositions are highlighted and checked, nuances that I’ve previously ignored come into focus, and faithful testimony from the saints who have gone before us are given voice again.
Quite simply, we read the Word better when we read it together.
I have lost count of the number of times someone has found out what I do for a living and immediately felt the need to justify why they no longer go to church. Now, I’m not saying they don’t have good reasons for not being gathered alongside God’s children on a Sunday morning. In fact, I can easily imagine reasons for avoiding the fellowship altogether. But then they always follow up with something along the lines of, “You know, I still pray and read the Bible at home.” Now, depending on how long they’ve engaged the practice of praying and reading the Word of God, I will usually respond by saying something along the lines of, “Well I bet you’re not reading it very well.”
When people read the Word of God in isolation from other believers, when the conversation over the text is silenced and one is left only with their own internal monologue, things can easily and rapidly take a turn for the worse. They can begin to read their own desires into the text, ride their individual hobby horse, and twist the natural meaning of things to suit their own goals. When we go it alone, we will most likely not be doing it very well. If we go it alone, we will get it wrong.
The need for another, the need for a brother or sister to speak the Word to and hear the Word from, is crucial. As we are taught in the Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason of strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctified the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” (Meaning to the 3rd Article)
It’s not just me that he has called and gathered to himself. The Spirit has called and gathered us together as his Church.
Last Monday, I was reminded and encouraged regarding the blessing of not doing this on my own. I had to travel down South a bit for a board meeting and was invited to spend some time beforehand talking about preaching for the Thinking Fellows Podcast. So there I sat with a glass of bourbon in my hand and a pipe in my mouth ready to talk about one of my favorite subjects. Sitting next to me was my good friend Scott, and directly across was Dr. Rosenbladt. I was as happy as could be! Rosenbladt was a formative mentor from my undergraduate years whose passionate fight to bring the Good News to our neighbor was a major reason I ended up even thinking about the ministry. Scott was the first trusted voice that encouraged me to actually go to the seminary. Just as we were beginning the podcast, I received a text from Dr. Schuchard saying he was in town a conference and hoped we might be able to get a cocktail that evening. Schuchard was a professor of mine at the seminary whose love for the Word and honesty about the task has continued to inspire and guide me in my vocation.
At that moment, I realized how much I have been impacted and shaped by those around me and how crucial it is to continue to covet and encourage relationships around the Word and gifts of God.
I ended up getting home late last Monday (more like very early Tuesday morning), but on the way home I thought a lot about this little blog and what we are trying to do here. I hope that this is a place where the misplaced and curious might find a home and a place where we can honestly and freely have a conversation that matters—a conversation that flows from the Word itself.
Together, our little dysfunctional family just might begin to understand what the hell is going on!