November 29, 2007

Study or Office?

Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

My friend from seminary, Michael Shipma, on the name of the room the pastor works in:

My parents served as custodians in the church of my youth on and off for a handful of years. This meant that I spent a lot of time playing with my Hot Wheels car collection under the church pews, interspersed with emptying classroom waste baskets, dusting windowsills, and the occasional running of the vacuum, banging into as many chairs and floorboards as possible.

A fond memory often comes to mind when I recall those days. The pastor of the church, Rev. Bob Vander Schaaf, asked me to help him in his study one late afternoon. The job, to me, seemed monumental. He wanted to remove his books from his shelves that lined the wall (it looked like the Great Wall of China to this young lad), have those shelves dusted and the books returned to their proper place. Apparently, he didn’t think he could accomplish this task without the assistance of an eight-year-old, so into his study I went for a few hours. I recall the time was filled with me climbing up and down a chair, books in hand, standing on tip toes in an effort to get those hard to reach places with a dust rag, and then handing him his books as he returned them to their original location. I remember we talked. A lot. I don’t recall about what, probably about school, how I’m getting along with my sister, am I minding my parents, and so on. In exchange for my services (or, more likely, in exchange for my getting in the way), I received ten cents. That ten cents was as good as gold. It’s indescribable what a couple of hours of the pastor’s time and a dime will do for an eight-year-old.

I’ve invited you into this memory because I have used a word you might not be familiar with, or at least you don’t hear used very often. Study. I used it, not as a verb, but as a noun – used to refer to the room reserved in the church where the pastor does his sermon preparation and from which all his ministerial labors emanate.

It is a word that at one time was in the common vocabulary of church members. That important room was always called the “study.” And we all had a sense that something wonderful and important and mysterious went on in there. In my mind’s eye as a child, that room was where the pastor met with God during the week so that he knew what to say on Sunday.

But somewhere along the way, something changed. The “study” gave way to the “office.” Looking back, I can’t really recall when that change took place. Certainly, it changed in different places at different times in different ways for different reasons. But one thing is certain – with the change in word came a change in our perception of that room.

Words mean something. Words reflect our ideas of things. With the change from “study” to “office” came the idea that the pastor’s task is not study in God’s Word, prayer, and giving counsel to God’s people. The task became perceived as administrative. The pastor is no longer engaged in the daily task of giving God’s people spiritual guidance; he’s running an organization, one that has goals and flow charts and staff evaluations and vision statements, one that refers to members as “tithing units” and evaluates the faithfulness of pastors based on the number of “tithing units” assimilated that year and how much the budget has increased.

I have an office, because my vocation is primarily administrative. Pastors Mark and Shawn, however, have studies, because the tasks we have called them to are different. They are not running an organization; they are leading a people. Something wonderful and important and mysterious is to go on in those rooms. In those rooms they are to be in the Word, to be engaged in prayer, to be engaged in giving us counsel. It is where, in a very real sense, they meet God so that they know what to say on Sunday.

I encourage you to recover the significance of words. To recover the use of the word “study” in referring to the place in the church set aside for the pastors will be a corporate confession of what we believe about the work of the pastor and that work’s significance in the life of God’s people.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:43 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Study or Office?”

  1. Vic Martens Says:

    But conversely, “study” could over-emphasize the purely mental exertion of an academic pursuit void of God’s anointing. And “office” could emphasize the God-given mantle of the officer. Perhaps we should call the room a den; where you “bear” office.

  2. John Says:

    You make a good point, Vic.

    Perhaps “study” isn’t the best word either. On the other hand, study and prayer is primarily what I do in the room full of books behind my house.

    Study is an exercise of my office, I guess, but it’s primarily preparation for the exercise of my office in the congregation and in the community.

    I could call it a “den,” but only if I’m hibernating in here during the winter.

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