I recently spent an hour with a Talbot guy who is really ‘getting it.’ Not only is Peter a bright, disciplined student of the New Testament. He is also up-to-his-ears in local church ministry.
And here’s the best part. Peter is funneling what he is learning in seminary directly into the life of his youth group. Peter could hardly contain his excitement, for example, as he shared with me how his high school students are responding to what he is teaching them about the nature of the church. ‘They are really becoming a family!’ Peter exclaimed.
Peter is approaching his studies at Talbot like a living lake. A living lake is a body of water with an inlet (snow melt coming in) and an outlet (lake water going out). This ongoing exchange of water—flowing in and out—nurtures a healthy lake environment that supports all kinds of life. Below is picture of a living lake that my daughter Rachel and I came across, just after we hiked across a 11,000-foot pass in the Eastern Sierras last summer. Look carefully and you’ll see that the water is crystal clear. This lake is just full of life.
Now compare the above photo with another picture, this time of a stagnant pond:
The only creatures that can breed and survive in a place like this are mosquitoes and other undesirables. And not only do stagnant ponds look repulsive. They tend to stink, as well.
Ponds become stagnant for one simple reason. They lack that constant exchange of living water that keeps a pond environment alive and healthy. Water comes in and fills a stagnant pond during a rain or a snow melt. But there is no outlet to keep the pond water fresh. The only way a stagnant pond loses water is through evaporation. And evaporation only concentrates the pond’s ‘bio-filth.’
The parallel to our spiritual lives should be transparent. If you are fortunate enough to have a healthy influx of spiritual water (maybe you are in seminary or enjoy good weekly teaching at your church), but have no outlet in church ministry to pass on what you are learning to others, you will inevitably stagnate. And eventually, you’ll probably even start to stink up those around you. No one wants to sit around a stagnant pond!
Stagnant ponds lurk in the halls of every theological institution. You’ll find ‘em in our churches, as well. Lacking a real-life ministry with real live people, these folks often (a) form small groups of people just like themselves, (b) major on theological minutiae or a favorite biblical hobby horse, (c) delight in debating issues that are irrelevant to the average Christian, (d) tend to be critical of the ideas and ministries of others, and (e) have little appreciation for what they might learn from people in their churches who know next-to-nothing about the latest philosophical or theological trends that they themselves deem so very important.
Living lakes are another story entirely. Peter (above) is a living lake. He is intentionally channeling what he is learning about God and His Word to other people who lack the theological resources he is acquiring, and he is experiencing in return the vital spiritual life and relational health that God intends for him to enjoy during his theological training. Peter simply doesn’t have time to nitpick and be overly critical of the ministries and ideas of others. He is too busy pouring his Talbot training into the lives of the young people in his church. And I would be willing to bet that Peter is learning as much about God and the Christian life from those teenagers in his church as he is from his professors at Talbot School of Theology. Peter is a living lake.
Some professors counsel students to avoid extensive ministry involvement during seminary, in order to devote the bulk of their time to their studies. I must confess that I am somewhat sympathetic to such advice, since I do want our students to leave Talbot well-trained for a lifetime of future ministry. In the final analysis, however, I simply cannot sign on to such a program. Theological training apart from real-life ministry is the classic recipe for a stagnant pond.
We are meant to be channels of blessing for everything God gives us, including our knowledge of the Scriptures. Become a living lake! Today—not tomorrow! Become like Peter and a host of other Talbot students who are passionate about their studies and their church ministries!