The Church and the University

Alaine Buchanan 2In my religious tradition of choice, it is rare to have an ordained female who is also working towards becoming a scholar. Several people have asked about my thoughts and struggles with being both, so here is my honest (and somewhat vulnerable) opinion:

God called me to do a Ph.D. It’s a long (and awesome) story, but it’s true. My Ph.D. is in a faith-based area of study, so it matters to me both intellectually and spiritually. At this level of study, many of us literally put our heart and soul on the line, we study a variety of different topics from a variety of different perspectives, we’re expected to know what other scholars think and why (regardless of their religious persuasion), and we’re expected to be able to converse with them in a respectful manner (even when they publicly rip everything we’ve worked on/for to shreds). No one truly understands the spiritual and emotional cost of doing this unless they’ve been there (I never would have believed it…and then I started my Ph.D. and understood).

God also called me to be a minister…That is also a long (and awesome) story. I have seen the ups and downs of being on a pastoral staff, I have been a confidant to a few senior pastors, I am aware of the high cost of loving people to the point where it hurts, I know what it’s like to be both praised and abused by the people one ministers with/to, I have seen God do amazing things, I have seen people grow in their relationships with God, and I have painfully watched as some have walked away from what they once held dear.

When some (not all) ministers discover that I’m working on a Ph.D., I am chastised (more often than not) for doing so. What they don’t understand, though, is that the Holy Spirit is always with me when I study, when I write, and when I speak. Some ministers think that I have somehow become selfish, prideful, and un-spiritual, and they are concerned that my salvation is in jeopardy…They make a lot of assumptions about me that are not accurate. A few ministers understand and are cheerleaders, but we need more.

When some scholars discover that I’m an ordained minister, they oftentimes ask me why I would want to remain in a fellowship that seems to be “for” higher education and pro women-in-ministry on paper but also seems to be anti-education and anti women-in-ministry in practice. They ask me if I realize that I am so much “better” than what my fellowship has to offer and tell me that I’d have a lot more opportunities in a different denomination. A few scholars understand and are cheerleaders, but we need more.

So…my biggest “challenge” is that I’m called to be both a minister and an academic in a culture that traditionally separates one from the other. I’ve always thought that having one foot in the church and the other foot in the academy would be ideal….yet I find myself continually having to explain, having to justify, and having to “prove” why it’s important for me to be both. Even if people never understand, I HAVE to continue on this route…because that’s what God has asked me to do.

Please know that I’m not asking for you to completely agree with everything that I’ve just written, and I’m not expecting anyone to fully understand my perspective…but I DO think we all need to comprehend this:

Minister, you are loved and greatly appreciated. Your words (spoken and written) bring death and life. They cut deeper than you may ever know and also have the power to heal and to build up. Scholar, you are loved and greatly appreciated. Your words (spoken and written) bring death and life. They cut deeper than you may ever know and also have the power to heal and to build up.

Now, more than ever before, it is imperative that we focus on working together to be agents of healing and hope to a world that desperately needs Jesus.

1 Comment

  1. Again, I thanked God for your calling. I recall, the late Dallas Willard was called by God in like manner to be at USC where he remained for over 30 years. This point personally stated in testimonial fashion.
    And, I am also encouraged moreso that you are a pastorally called woman of God.

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