Because life is a series of edits

An Email to Learner’s New Pastor

In Seminary Tychicus on September 4, 2005 at 7:07 am

Last week, Learner emailed his new pastor a copy of his weekly schedule. The pastor responded, remarking at “the many hats you’ll be wearing in the next few years,” and asking how he could “come alongside” this fall (Learner is formally interning with the church). Still trying to dig out from this week’s first classes, Learner asked me to draft an email from my perspective as to what I thought his pastor needed to know. “We spend so much time together,” he said, “we’re practically one and the same.” I agreed, and this is what I wrote:

Dear Pastor,

Thanks again for your email. And thanks, too, for 1) not trying to talk Learner out of his schedule – yes, it’s a lot, but he knows himself well enough by now to discern the difference between a schedule that’s too much and one that’s just hard; and 2) not telling but asking him how you could help and letting him respond. Typically, he invites only a select few to speak into his life, which is why he sent you his schedule in the first place. So, congratulations. And, as Learner himself would say, “Welcome to the freak show.”

Learner and Mrs. Learner were up late last night working on all the online “diagnostics” their professor assigned for Spiritual and Ministry Formation that they have together. In going through the different personality tests and surveys, the thing that struck him is how well they both know themselves and each other and really have come a long way in being intentional and observant in the ten years since they first started thinking about who they are and what any of that might mean.

All your titles for him in your email (“husband, father, father, father, father, employee, intern, student”) were accurate (he liked the “father” thing four times – that was funny). He wouldn’t give any of them up for anything (though sometimes the employee thing wears on him because, as a rule, he hates money and the fact/reality that it takes money to live and having to make enough of a living so his kids can eat when all he really wants to do is study to do things that are never going to be big money providers – write books, teach, etc. – can get frustrating).

In answer to your question, for him, “guy time” is probably going to have to be “night time,” more specifically after his children are in bed, which is usually around 8 p.m. As he’s gone two evenings a week (Monday and Tuesday) already for classes, he says he wants to make sure he can be around to help Mrs. Learner put the kids down for bed as much as he can (bedtime can be a nightmare sometimes, though it’s getting better). Being the good INTJ that he is (ever-increasing on the Introvert-side of things, he found out taking the test again last night), he’ll occasionally need some initiation to do something outside of the norm of his schedule, as he’s not one to frequent too many bars if left to himself.

A word on “to do something”: it doesn’t have to be much, and frankly, he’d prefer that it not be. Coffee/tea somewhere, or a walk around campus or a park to pray, a museum or anything else that’s cheap and low-key are always his bias. You’ll rarely get him to go out with a bunch of guys just for fun as he’s at a point in life in which he needs/wants a few close friends, and not more acquaintances who he doesn’t even know their last names. This doesn’t mean he won’t or shouldn’t do things in a group setting (especially if he needs to for his internship responsibilities with the church in terms of getting to know people), but these are just his preferences. Mrs. Learner says he’s his own best friend, so read into that what you will.

One specific thing that you can help him with is to be periodically thinking about how he’s doing with all the academic hoops he needs to jump through with seminary and higher education in general. When it comes to mandatory processes and paperwork (read: bureaucracy), he doesn’t do all that well trying to keep up with what he needs to file and whose signatures need to be on it. Again, as he learned last night, part of this is preference (he just doesn’t care) and part of it is ignorance (his understanding of higher education as anything more than a goal at this point in time is nil). The time when you drew out the internship process on the board and showed him how to jump through all the hoops once instead of three times was a huge help, not just as an education of the process, but also as a relief that someone else might be able to think about this with him and on his behalf. You know the system(s) so much better than he does. He definitely needs your help there.

The other thing that you can help him with is to keep him from becoming too denominational. That may sound funny considering you’re a denominational pastor and all, but one thing that he said he appreciated about you is that you come from a parachurch background, wrote a book with a non-denominational publisher, and seem to have a bit of discernment as to the need not to confuse this particular denomination with being God’s only chosen church. Don’t get him wrong, he says: he likes the denomination and is growing in his love for and understanding of the church as a whole; at the same time, however, he has no desire to become the world’s greatest denominationalist, and he grows weary of all the lingo and, honestly, arrogance that says the denomination has it all figured out (so far, he says, he’s gotten that attitude more from students than professors, but he’s still a little gunshy). Like you, he has a pretty highly-developed crap-o-meter, and he’d rather not have it going off all the time (it goes off enough here at seminary).

Other things: of course, you’re always welcome to tutor him in Greek exegesis, but you do have a life. One thing that would really be helpful is if you could give him a 20-30 minute review on the research process you use for paper-writing, etc. Learner’s high school did such a poor job on the basics of that (it’s all changed now anyway with the Internet) and he always made it through college on the strength of his writing rather than the quality of his research, but that won’t happen here. He feels like that’s a potentially big blind spot for him right now, and anything you’d be willing to do to help him there (charts, pulling out your notes to something, showing him how you categorize, organize – just pretend it’s sophomore year all over again and he’s the jock in the class who has to write a paper or he can’t play quaterback anymore) would be really helpful.

He supposes that, in general, he needs to feel trusted not only with responsibility but also with relationship. He’s always had more of a mutual friendship with his pastors than just a receiving one – several of them have trusted him with what they “really” think about God, people, the church, etc., and he served them well by being in their corner. He knows there’s no perfect church and he doesn’t think yours is either, and he needs you to not be afraid to process stuff like that with him or “protect” him from it. He was encouraged that you didn’t do that when you first met, and he hopes that can continue. He can be a very loyal friend, a shrewd (in a good way) adviser, and one who doesn’t gossip but who instead knows how to keep a confidence. And, he’s learning again how to pray, slowly but surely.

As a rule, he tends to be fairly low-maintenance (to lead anyway), very much a self-starter (and finisher – closure is a drug to him), hates to be micro-managed and patronized, and usually does well enough with correction and confrontation when it starts with facts and not motives. He usually does better when he has too little time than when he has too much time on his hands, and he, like you, hates when stuff is done poorly, which can be a bit hard to live with (just ask Mrs. Learner for specifics on this).

I hope some of this helps. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you as I’m with Learner quite a bit (sometimes to Mrs. Leaner’s chagrin) and usually have a pretty good idea what he’s thinking about and dealing with. And thanks again for your interest in Learner’s life. It means a lot.



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