October 21, 2013
by Brandon McKoy
Take a moment to think about your role in church. How would you describe your contributions? Are you a foot, a hand, an ear? This may sound strange, but when most of us consider our function within the body of Christ, we refer to ourselves as individual parts; for example, “I am a preacher. She is a counselor,” and so forth. Standing on our own, we dedicate ourselves to strengthening these personal gifts in hopes that it will bring strength to the mind and body of our congregation.
As a preacher, for instance, I often attend conferences to gain insight into how I can craft my sermon and convey the biblical story in the most current and applicable ways. Recently, however, during one such conference, something occurred to me. Knowing the relational dynamics of the church I would return to, I couldn’t help but wonder if we spend too much time and energy separating ourselves from the body in order to enhance our individual parts. Could our vision of the church and our roles be limited by our Western individualistic lenses?
First Corinthians 12:25 tells us that, “there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for one another.” Just as the foot cannot function without the leg, or the hand without the arm, our individual contributions could not sustain the body if left to stand alone. While personal enrichment is indeed valuable, shouldn’t we be more concerned with how the entire church works together, each part strengthened through our relationships with one another? We can all agree that a church doesn’t live or die according to the success of one individual part but according to how well the body functions as a whole. So then, is it possible we’ve focused too much on our individual relationship with God rather than what God is doing in the midst of our entire church?
When we consider Paul’s metaphor regarding the body of Christ, we are reminded that “the body is not made up of one part, but of many” (1 Cor 12:14). So why do we place so much emphasis on our individual contributions when, in fact, the body of Christ exists as a whole. I am not an ear because I bring my “earness” to the body; I am an ear because of the body. Similarly, our uniqueness does not come from our individuality but from the relationships that we engage. While our gift of singing, preaching, teaching or counseling might benefit one body of believers, that same gift may not be needed in the next body we participate in. Our spiritual gifts emerge from and are sustained in our relationships. Why? Because we are all connected.
When we stop trying to identify where the hand ends and the wrist begins, we discover that our roles within the church may not be as separated as we initially assumed. For, as 1 Corinthians 12:26 reveals, “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” By embracing a more relational focus on our roles, we have the potential to stimulate positive change in our ministry and gain what we need most: to know we are connected, to feel that we belong, to see that our lives matter and to love and honor the body as Christ intended.
Brandon is the author of Youth Ministry from the Outside In. He serves as youth pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Gastonia, North Carolina, and as an adjunct instructor at Gardner-Webb University in the department of religious studies and philosophy.
Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 2:58 PM
October 4, 2013
by Malcolm Jeeves
Pastors and church leaders share the delight of parents when their brightest young people go off to college and university. As they embark on their courses they face many challenges, not least, real questions about how their Christian beliefs relate to what they learn from their college professors. And today there are certainly many challenges from the rapid discoveries in psychology and neuroscience. A typical pastor has neither the time nor the specialized knowledge to be up-to-date with what is happening in the range of subjects taught at colleges, including psychology and neuroscience. He or she certainly is aware that there are challenges. The media delight in seizing upon the latest scientific discoveries and explaining how they challenge this or that traditional Christian belief.
As a university teacher and researcher in neuropychology for more than half a century working in Cambridge (UK), Harvard, Adelaide (Australia) and for the past forty years in St. Andrews, Scotland (where we have just celebrated our six-hundredth anniversary, giving Hilary Clinton, among others, an honorary degree) and having had close contact with Christian student groups, I am very aware of the struggles some students face as they seek to be honest in all of their thinking.
Reflecting on recurring questions put to me over the years by Christian students of psychology and neuroscience, I have written a book in which, in a series of email exchanges, I engage in a conversation with an imaginary student as he progresses through the four years of his course, raising one question after another about how this or that discovery in psychology and neuroscience seems to challenge some of his cherished Christian beliefs. And he is a very determined student, repeatedly questioning the answers I give and asking for biblical warrant.
For example, one of his favorite older hymns is “Praise My Soul the King of heaven,” another more recent one is “Tell Out My Soul the Greatness of the Lord.” But today, his lecturers teach him that the converging neuropsychological evidence points unequivocally to the conclusion that we are not made up of parts such as the “mind” and the “soul” but are a unified whole. So despite the widespread belief that we each have a separate immaterial and immortal soul attached somewhere, somehow, to our material and mortal body, the message from neuroscience and psychology underlines the unity of the human person. Strangely this comes as a relief to our imaginary student because it helps him understand how an aged relative, a deeply spiritual Christian lady who has developed Alzheimer’s disease, has begun seemingly to loose her spirituality. Now he understands that it is not because she is “falling away” but it is a result of her progressive brain changes.
This enables me to describe how biblical scholars, recapturing the unity of the person, have urged us to recapture a Hebrew-Christian view of the human person, stressing our psychobiological unity and emphasising an embodied understanding of the soul—that we are “living souls,” not that we have souls.
Some of the other questions posed by my imaginary student include, How free am I? Don’t parapsychology and near-death experiences prove the existence of the soul? What makes me human? Does my brain have a “God spot”? Are religious beliefs the twenty-first-century opium of the people? What makes humans unique? And such questions are not, I believe, confined to students but cause understandable concern among widely read thoughtful church members.
By thinking through these contemporary challenges to faith I try to help avoid knee-jerk reactions that may be less than helpful. Since we believe that the God we worship is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, we can rest assured that the knowledge that our God chooses to give us through Scripture will not ultimately conflict with the knowledge he chooses to give us by using the minds he has given us to understand his universe. And that includes ourselves, leading to a deeper understanding of how, as Scripture teaches, we are, indeed, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Malcolm Jeeves is the author of Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods and is emeritus professor in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at St. Andrews University , Scotland. He is a past president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy. He has been national president of Inter-Varsity Fellowship in Britain and in Australia, and is currently president of Christians in Science in the United Kingdom.
Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:01 AM