Monday, February 18, 2013

Participatory Knowing

It's not all about books...
I had a mild disagreement with a fellow seminarian a couple weeks ago.  This fellow student stated that it was important for pastors to be able to tell parishioners what to think.  I remarked that while it was important to have the theological preparation to be able to respond knowledgeably to questions, it was the pastors role to determine why someone was the asking the question in the first place.  Because anyone can type a question into a search engine, they are asking their pastor a question because of the relational aspect.  This sort of "knowing in the presence of others" that happens when you are in community is a basic human need.  And this need has only been amplified with the tidal wave of information available with one click.  This need is not merely about gathering information, rather it is a desire for connection and shared meaning making.

I do not believe that participatory knowing in faith communities is anything exceptionally new.  This is what lies behind many generations of Sunday School classes, confirmation, and adult forums.  A different kind of learning takes place when you are surrounding by others.  But I do believe that participatory knowing takes on an increased level of importance when we are surrounded by information instantaneously.  We need to participate in knowing along with others to help make sense of our experience.  And in knowing along with others, we are opened up to things we might never have considered if we were sitting alone with a book or in front of a computer screen.

Part of my sense of call is to actively engage people in becoming theologians in their own right and participatory knowing is a huge part of this.  I hope to never lead an adult forum, because that sort of top-down pastoral authority is no longer something that works.  I would much rather engage people in genuine conversation in an informal setting.  This is why I LOVE theology pubs.  Also, I do not believe that text studies should be limited to those with a seminary education.  Sometimes I wish I could go back to seeing the Bible before I started studying it academically, which is why participatory knowing is important for pastors too.


Mary Hess said...

Amen -- to the reality that participatory knowing is nothing new (if anything, it's something that we need to recover and re-engage), and helping people become deep knowers i the midst of an onslaught of information. Wisdom is much more than plain data!

Kelly said...

Agree wholeheartedly - in an information-driven world, no one expects to ask their pastors all of their questions - we can wiki it on our phone first! Pastors, as teachers, can help to give our opinions, and/or can show people how to think, but we really cannot tell people what to think. If we try, we will fail. Even Jesus used parables and explanations and questions to engage his listeners in a conversation about theology, rather than just listing a bunch of things we should agree with him.