Why theology matters.

Recently, I spent some time with a ministry team in a prison. Some of the things that I heard that evening made think about how deeply our theology, our understanding of God, affects us.

There was a woman on the team – I’ll call her Carrie – who was feeling very uneasy and uncomfortable being at the prison. For me, going to the prison is the best thing that happens to me all week. I love how the Spirit moves there in our chapel service and I love the hunger for God that the inmates have. I don’t know if it will always be thus, but that’s how it is now. That said, I’m aware that prison ministry is not for everyone. But Carrie felt bad that this wasn’t her thing.

One of the other women said that we should pray for her, so we did. The whole time, I prayed the freedom of Christ over her. While God can and does call us to difficult ministry, it does not mean that in order to be ministry, it must be difficult. That is not in the Book. We are not required to force ourselves into ministry situations that are deeply uncomfortable in order for it to be authentic. She seemed to have a concept of God that led her to believe that she should be at the prison.

Authentic ministry is you giving of yourself, out of the bounty that Jesus and God have granted you, to someone in need. And people in need are everywhere. Not just prisons and hospitals and funeral homes. Those needs are just more obvious. Everyone is in need. Everyone needs a dose of uncommon grace and love. And really, ministry is just another word for caring, for loving.

So Carrie’s thing isn’t prisoners – so what? There are unlimited places for her to care and love for people, I’m sure of it, because “the world cries out.” I feel worried that she is going to either a) stop coming to prison and feel really bad about it or b) continue coming to prison, where she is hog-tied and barely able to minister because she’s profoundly uncomfortable. I would like to offer her the theological ground to stand on for a third option. c) She could leave the prison ministry with a clear conscience and a light heart, knowing that God has plans to use her wherever she will be. Perhaps one day she will feel pulled or called back to the prison, but for now, it can be someone else’s place of ministry. God is not a guy with a list of crap you’re supposed to do before your allowed to be considered a “real” minister. He just wants us to care for people.

I feel like I should have included about six pages of Scripture references in this post. Maybe tomorrow. Seriously. Maybe tomorrow.


11 Responses to Why theology matters.

  1. Dale says:

    Agreed! Bring on the scriptures.

  2. wholeclothdesigns says:

    This was such a great post to read today as I am struggling with my own volunteer work. Not a lot of extra energy to give right now, but feeling so guilty about it. It would be so much healthier for me to admit my limitations and know that taking a breather would benefit me and spare my patients, too. (Nothing like having an overburdened hospice volunteer by your side—eek!)

  3. shauna says:

    I realize that there are many ways to read the Book and there are as many interpretations as peeps…but you are right. it matters. for me, I think about how, in the past, I told myself that if only my faith was stronger, if I prayed more, was a better Christian…then I could be healed from my depression. without meds. without spending most of my free time hanging out with my therapist. my theology was all torqued. and the thing is, there are always others who will chime in and agree…yes! you should keep ministering at the prison. yes! pray more and you will be delivered from depression. or whatever. little by little, as I spend more time with God, I come to see that my theology will always be shifting as He shows me, leads me, that I am never going to understand everything perfectly. Let this help to keep me humble next time I am tempted to think I know what’s best for someone else:)

  4. Billy Chia says:

    Right on – I’ve yet to see God make hard and fast rules about how he calls everyone – sometimes we are call out of comfort zone and sometimes we are called to a place precisely because it’s the exact center of our comfort zone. God works in many situations and it’s pretty honorable that Carrie gave it a go.

  5. I think the theology you are looking for is called grace.

    Shauna, consider this:

    “I am convinced that the basic cause of some of the most disturbing emotional/spiritual problems which trouble evangelical Christians is the failure to receive and live out God’s unconditional grace, and the corresponding failure to offer that grace to others.”—David Seamands, Healing Grace, 12-14


  6. JohnDemetriou says:

    Why include scripture references to anything? When you can quite happily apply any scripture to almost any world view or outlook? The old and new testaments are so diametrically opposed, it’s ridiculous.

    Christianity is a farcical religion. As is any religion.

    The cause of many a war and many a social repression. What a shame it continues to blight humanity.


  7. Jacob says:

    ::ignoring the previous ignorant comment :: (wait was that truly ignoring it?)

    I have such a hard time with the word theology, because it is incredibly divisive to me. So at first I thought, “no, you’re not saying theology is important, you’re just talking about common sense”.

    However, my baggage with the word aside, maybe theology is simply common, in that it’s Biblical, and sense, in that it’s a practical approach to our faith and life. But you’re right, that’s pretty much the definition of theology.

  8. Howard says:

    I recall Jonah. Not so comfortable for him… but grace supplied the necessities, in spite of his discomfort and rebellion.

    I recall Moses as he returned “home” to Pharoah’s court. Not so comfortable, either.

    “My grace is suffiecient for thee for my strength is made perfect in weakness…” Ii Cor 12:9

  9. Megan says:

    Jacob – I know what you mean – “theology” has ended up in a lot of very uncollegiate, unpleasant and even divisive conversations – but this is all the more reason to take it back, as it were. You’re right, too, that what I’m talking about is “common sense” – which is what makes it even more sad when you see people contorting themselves unneccesarily with unhelpful theologies.

    Also – someone commented here yesterday or the day before, and somehow I deleted your clever & funny comment – I’m really sorry! I don’t know what happened. The gist of what the commenter said was that “it sounds like John hasn’t heard the good news yet.” I thought that was funny and a propos.

  10. Megan says:

    Jerry – Thanks for the reference to that book. I’ve heard it mentioned before, but now I really want to get my hands on it.

  11. Megan says:

    Howard – of course, you are absolutely correct to look at those texts and see that God does call his people to difficult situations. In fact, most Biblical narratives could be seen from that point of view. The nuance that I am trying to shade in here is that while God calls us to some trying situations, I do not think that he calls us to EVERY trying situation. Particularly when the ministry is “voluntary” – that is – God hasn’t spoken to you and told you to go to Ninevah, or landed on you on the road to Damascus or showed up in a burning bush. I think it is dangerous to look at those stories and extrapolate, using a hermeneutic of suffering, that we “ought” to be in difficult circumstances. Using that same hermeneutic, we can end up telling ourselves that if we are doing something difficult, well, we must be serving God, which I think really twists what Jesus was trying to get us to see about how the world cries out for help.
    Good grief, that was a long comment! I think I probably need to write another post on this.
    But thanks for the comment Howard!

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