I overheard someone talking the other day about her feelings about stepping up to a traditional pastoral role. She said it made her feel like a dinosaur: too big and awkward for the available space. Her audience laughed and she moved on, but my imagination had been caught. What if pastors really are dinosaurs? What if her feelings actually were symbolic for something greater? What if I’m actually a dinosaur?
It is a sobering thought to contemplate one’s own irrelevance. I don’t feel extinct… or useless… or bloodthirsty. But sometimes I do wonder. If I am any of those things is it my fault? How did I get here? What can I do about it? Will people still like me if I promise I’m NOT a velociraptor? Some people like dinosaurs, right?
I am brought to mind of the dinosaur scene in “Meet the Robinsons”. That dinosaur was nice enough when all was said and done, but he had some real issues to deal with. When sent to capture Lewis he found that he was physically unsuited for the task. He had a big head and little arms and wasn’t quite sure the plan was well thought out. Now that’s my kind of dinosaur!
I spent 3 full years in seminary studying a wide variety of things: Biblical exegesis, eschatology, homiletics, Ancient Greek, history, polity, and various kinds of theology and theologians. If you do not know what half of those things are, you have already seen my point. I have a very big head! It is crammed full of knowledge and learning. I am a very smart person who has received a very impressive education. However, I think I have very little arms.
We did not spend time in service to our community. We did not learn how to sit with people in crisis. We did not learn the power of being silent in a time of trauma. We did not learn that is was okay not to have answers. We did not learn how to embrace people with the love of God. We did not strengthen our arms. And I’m not sure this plan was well thought out.
I think we do our congregations a disservice when we train dinosaurs. We send scholars and theologians into the lives of real people with real issues that cannot be unraveled with solid theological dialogue. In fact, much like Tiny the T-rex our big heads can get in the way of us being able to wrap our arms around someone and accomplish our real task. Our options are very clear. Learn to evolve or become extinct.
We can evolve by strengthening our own arms. Find the places where we can slowly build the skills we need to be in active service to others. We can build up those skills by increasing the difficulty of the tasks we undertake. We can move outside our comfort zone to be in ministry with more and more people with less and less desire for our theological knowledge. We can learn to care first and exegete later. Or we can stay exactly the same and become extinct.
I hope that in the years since seminary I have learned at least some of these things and that my arms have grown stronger. However, most days I’m afraid that my head is still much bigger than my arms, in reality much too big to function effectively. I worry that I will be extinct, that I am in fact a dinosaur.