Howdy there, friends!
Sorry I’ve been so sparse on posting lately. It’s summer now (as I’m sure you’ve noticed), and between cookouts, camping, the 4th of July, trying unsuccessfully to fly kites at the park with my wife and kids, and my master’s thesis, this blog has taken a back seat to life. I think I’m prioritizing things appropriately, but I am sorry that this means posts on here will be scant for awhile.
I did want to bring you in on a little bit of where I’m at in life and what I’m processing through. But first, let me take you back to the mid-2000s. I was a recent high school grad, and just entering into my college career to study youth ministry. I was excited and confident. If my career as a rockstar wasn’t going to pan out, then at least I could be a rockstar youth pastor. I would bring so many teenagers to Jesus, they’d want me to start my own church. But I wouldn’t, because I was dedicated to the youth. I envisioned myself standing on stage before multitudes of teens, giving the most insightful, engaging, witty, and life-changing lessons ever. It was gonna be sweet!
Well, after being fired from a couple different churches, it finally occurred to me — I don’t think youth ministry (or church ministry in general) is for me.
So instead I decided to throw myself full force into an academic career. I realized I’m pretty good at research, articulating deep thoughts in accessible language, and just the whole theology and biblical studies thing. I was going to be a theology professor. In fact, maybe I could one day teach at a prestigious institution like Yale or Oxford. By day, I would be that professor that all the students loved (a real Dead Poets Society thing), and by night (or late afternoon) I would be doing cutting-edge research, fusing theology, philosophy, and the sciences into the most compelling and coherent belief-system. Thousands would read my books. I would be one of those guys whose theological contributions were well-regarded centuries after he died, like Augustine or Luther. I could picture myself, PhD hanging nicely in its frame, sitting in a leather-covered chair behind a mahogany desk amidst the ivy-covered walls of higher education. It was gonna be sweet!
And then I had a few conversations with some of my professors, read a few articles by other professors, and started to realize something — I don’t think a traditional tenured professorship is for me.
The real nail in that coffin was when I looked into a part-time Religious Studies lectureship at a near(ish)by university. It was only going to be two classes a semester, at most, so nothing spectacular. But I figured it would be the sort of thing that looks good on my resume, as well as put a little more wiggle room in my bank account. So I reached out to the head of the department to make sure I wasn’t wasting her time by applying if I was under-qualified. She assured my that I probably met the qualifications, but that she had already received roughly 60 applications so far, and most of those applicants were bringing PhDs and years of experience to the table.
I went home feeling a little bit dejected. Poor me. There was no way I was going to get that position. “Yeah,” said my wife, “but poor everyone else — all those people with PhDs and years of experience who are fighting over two classes per semester.” And that is when I realized that maybe I didn’t want to do the professorship thing anymore. I’ve already sacrificed a lot of time with my family for my master’s, and I would have to do more of that for a PhD. The student loan debt that I’m accruing is starting to look like a bad joke. And most colleges and universities find it is much more lucrative to employ mostly adjunct faculty (teachers they don’t have to give tenure, health benefits, or pension). Not to mention that the field of religious higher education is shrinking, not growing, thanks in small part to our present age of information, and in not-so-small part to the retrenchment of Christian higher Ed.
So if I want to make an impact on the world of Christian thinking, I’ll have to find another avenue. Which leads me to another thing I’ve been doing lately — wasting time on Staance. In case you are unfamiliar with this little gem, Staance is an app that allows you to post and vote on people’s opinions on a wide variety of topics — society, pop culture, sports, politics, religion, etc. — all in pithy bite-sized statements. You can see how many people agree or disagree with your perspective, and even comment and discuss your ideas. I understand that may sound like the seventh circle of hell to some of you. But for ENTPs like me, there’s nothing better.
And, believe it or not, I’ve actually won debates on this app. No, seriously! I have won debates about religion over the internet, meaning that I argued a case and the other person conceded. Which got me thinking — maybe that is where the future of theology is going. I hear a lot of people complain that “folks these days don’t do enough research.” Everyone formulates their beliefs based on soundbites, whether that comes from a political candidate’s Twitter feed or some mega-church pastor’s Periscope stream. But maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe that’s just how people learn these days, and the great thinkers and theologians of the future won’t be those that can effectively convince people to read through their dense theological texts, but those that can effectively communicate dense theological ideas in easy-to-consume, bite-sized doses.
Anyhow, I don’t know yet what to do with all that. I doubt my future vocational goals will consist merely of spending all my time on my phone using the Staance app. But I am conscious of an internal paradigm shift happening for how I think of my theological vocation going forward. I may be stepping into some really exciting new territory… or maybe I’m just making this up as I go.
What do you think?