The Practitioner Lobby

In recent blogs I’ve read, and in some e-mails I’ve received, I’m hearing a theme, a subtle one but one that appears to have plenty of punch and power with plenty. It is this: “this is an issue for the practitioners.” Perhaps it is related to what I have been calling the performance of the gospel vs. simple articulation of the gospel.

Here’s a question for us to ponder: Who exactly is the practitioner?

Evidently, some want to exclude the professional theologian (among whom I would count myself) because they are professionals or theoreticians. I hear this at times from the pastors. Why I think this is unfair will be evident in what follows.

But, should we include pastors among the practitioners? Some are so lay-emphatic in theology that they would exclude them, too. Why I think this is unfair will also be clear in what follows.

Who then is the real practitioner? Well, this depends on what we mean by “practice.” I think it ought to refer to anyone and everyone who is following Jesus, whether that person is a non-professional theologian or a non-pastor.

Is not the central vocation of each theologian or pastor or anyone else who wants to be called Christian to be a “follower of Jesus”? Is not practice the ground-level vocation of each of us?

The real practitioner is not someone who does not do theology or who does not do pastoral work, but the one who day in and day out seeks to follow Jesus in this world of ours, who seeks to love God and others for the good of the world, who works with might and main for the sake of the kingdom, and who finds herself or himself telling her or his own story in the story of the gospel about Jesus Christ. That person may seek to articulate some theology out of that practice or may seek to do pastoral work out of that practice. The door of entry for the practitioner is anyone who is following Jesus, and it does not exclude anyone who seeks to enter that door on the basis of that person’s vocation.

So, whether theologian or pastor or neither, the practitioner calls each of us to a model of Christian behavior that we find in the simple call to follow Jesus wherever he might lead us today and tomorrow.

Practitioners ought to describe each of us.

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  • Seems to me that if a pastor is not a practitioner, there is little reason for he/she to be a pastor.

  • I think you hit the nail on the head! In my opinion the “emerging” church has not gone far enough in disposing of the pastor/laity, professional/common dichotomy. Dividing people into practitioners and non-practitioners is just another way of dividing the people of God into us and them.

  • Scot – Thanks for your post and its invitation to all to be practicioners if they choose to follow Christ. I have no theological training (and I’m not a pastor) and see myself as a practicioner while my wife is working toward her PhD in NT, and I see her as a practicioner. I don’t think either end of the spectrum should be excluded from the conversation.

  • I think you’ve made a good general point Scott. I think it is that though – general. It doesn’t speak to the specific nature of most of the statements about practioners vs. whomever. Usually this is talking about those who talk vs. those who do. I’d be the first one to defend talking, it is a part of doing, but specific in the sense of the “emerging” context – or deep ecclesiastical change context. The question in that context would be, are you talking about it and still doing the old stuff or have you stepped out of the comfort zone and put your neck on the line to practice what you’re talking about. You don’t have to be a pastor to do that. You don’t have to not be a theologian to do that (I consider myself one, albeit not professional). Hope that adds to the conversation. Peace.

  • Alan,Good observations. The issue seems to be the cutting out of the professionals from the term “practitioner.” It should apply to all of us, but it describes not our professionalism but “performing the gospel.”