For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts,[b] yet one body. — 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 (ESV)
On Tuesday I wrote about how academics can support the church. Today I’d like to spend a little time reflecting on how the church can care for believers whose vocation is to study, research, and teach. Academics are part of Christ’s body, with a role to play, even as they celebrate the roles of others with very different vocations. In God’s grace, the churches I’ve attended have cared well for believers whose vocation is study, and I thought I’d reflect with gratitude on some ways that churches can do that.
1. Explore questions deeply
When a pastor wrestles with tough exegetical questions, addresses hard societal challenges, or engages with a congregation’s questions, that courage to explore supports the scholars in the church. When an adult Sunday school class engages faith and science, history, biblical languages, or other in depth content, it’s one way of caring for scholars.
2. Invite academics to participate
Many academics would love to share their skills and knowledge with the local church, but are afraid that their interests might seem too arcane or unapproachable. Churches can invite academics to participate in so many ways: with short testimonies in a worship service about how their academic work points them to God, opportunities to contribute architectural or musical knowledge to the design of buildings or services, advisory roles in church education, or even a Christian Scholars series. On a small level, praying for students and teachers at the beginning of the academic year (or the end!) can be incredibly encouraging.
3. Remember to support academics as whole people
Scholars do crave answers to tough questions and a chance to serve with their academic gifts. But they’re also whole people needing to engage “head, heart, and hands,” as Tom Grosh helpfully reminds us. I remember a really busy point of grad school where a patient small group in a local church listened to my distresses and prayed for encouragement; at that moment I needed general support more than I needed a new theory of faith and learning (though I would have been interested in the theory too). Recognizing the insight a Christian scholar finds in housework or her desire to build things with her hands is a valuable form of care, too.
4. Help academics stay engaged with the rest of the body
We all need each other in the body of Christ, and the church is one of the best settings for Christian scholars to learn from believers whose day to day vocation is very different. Literature scholars can learn from dairy farmers, philosophy majors can grow in the company of chefs, chemists can learn from maintenance staff, and vice versa. What unites us all is Christ’s calling to share in His body, and our health as believers grows when we engage with others.
Whatever our church experience, the knowledge of Christ’s care for all the members of His body encourages us. Praise be to Him, in whom the whole body finds its strength and joy!
- In what ways have you been supported and cared for by your local church, or other churches you have visited?
- In what ways has the church disappointed you? What might be a path forward in healing from those disappointments and growing in your relationship to the church?
- What would you love to see your church do to support Christian scholars? Is there any first step you can take in that direction, even if it’s as simple as chatting with a church leader about a way the church could care for academics?
Oh Lord, who made Your church one body of many individual members, let Your people care well for each other. Let our churches be places where all Your followers feel welcome, where those of all vocations learn from each other and glorify You through the gifts You have appointed to them. Thank You. In Christ, Amen.