Jonah Sage is Connect Director at Sojourn Community Church, and guest blogger this week at DanielSojourn.com:
Horror stories abound at Sojourn—some sad, some funny, some both. Stories of seminary students in community group typically fall into the “both” category. I’ve talked to Christians all across the spectrum about this: moms, other students, new Christians, pastors, visitors…The perception of the seminary student at Sojourn is now so mixed that people often actively avoid groups if any are present.
This is so sad. Seminary is not the place where men and women go to forget how to interact with “normal” people.
We try to fight against this at Sojourn by giving the now infamous “Seminary Talk” the last night of membership classes. Even so, stories roll into our offices weekly of the silly things seminary students do in community group. As one who was a seminary student in a community group, as a seminary student who led a community group, and as a seminary graduate overseeing multiple groups, I offer my fellow students the following suggestions:
1. Don’t Talk Like a Fool
Consider Proverbs 10:
Wise people treasure knowledge, but the babbling of a fool invites disaster… Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut… The words of the godly encourage many, but fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense. (vv 14, 19, 21)
Talking like a fool consists of talking too much and speaking a different language. If you are the first to respond every time in your group, you are quietly informing everyone that you think you have all the answers, that the Christian life is easy for you, and that you generally believe you are better than the rest of the group. If you are using big seminary words no one understands, you might as well be speaking Hebrew (don’t do that).
Learn to be quiet, to let others talk, to draw out others with good questions. Simplify your language. You don’t have to dumb it down, just put your big brain to work and speak plainly. Ask someone else (who doesn’t go to seminary) if this is you and adjust your speech accordingly. The axiom holds true: If momma don’t understand you, don’t nobody understand you.
2. Community Group is a Class
Don’t come to group with lecture notes ready to preach. They are not your congregation and the couch is not your pulpit. Maybe it will help if you think of group as “Christian Community 101: social interactions.” Go to group looking to serve, looking to make friends, seeking to experience Christian community. Group is where we can learn how to mourn together, to suffer together, to rejoice together. It’s not the time to flex your Bible muscles or talk about all you’re learning from Concise Reformed Dogmatics.
3. Repent of Your Entitlement
Too many people think that being in seminary means they deserve to be in leadership. If you are a first-semester seminary student, about all your pastor knows about you is that you can fill out an application (and that’s not too tough). So know that you don’t deserve to lead anything, you are less experienced and wise than you probably think, and most importantly that God doesn’t love you more if you lead something.
If you are settled with these truths, then you are freed to be a blessing to your group leader. Ask the people leading your group how you can serve them, how you can bless them, how you can take initiative in the group. One of the best indication of how someone will lead is how they have followed. Group is a beautiful opportunity for you to learn how to follow well.
Put yourself aside and strive to be a blessing to your community group through your words and actions. Seminary is a blessing from God, yet when isolated from strong Christian community it can actually de-prepare someone for ministry. If you graduate and no one understands you, no one in your church wants to spend time with you, and you are bitter because you were never asked to preach, then you will leave seminary looking more like an entitled child than someone molded to look like Jesus.
Jesus is your pattern and power for how to be a good member of a community group. Humble yourself, let go of your rights, and be a blessing to the men and women around you.