I am spending next week on study leave up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The reason for my trip is to take a class at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary on the life and work of Jonathan Edwards. You might wonder, “Why in the world would you want to do that?” It’s a good question, and so let me take a few minutes to let you know why I believe that this will be time well spent both for me as a pastor and for all of us as a congregation.
Who was Jonathan Edwards?
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a Congregationalist minister who spent most of his life in Northampton, Massachusetts during the Colonial era. You may remember his name from your high school English class if you read his best-known sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. What you may not know about Edwards is that, as a local church pastor, he both witnessed and was a key player in an extraordinary time of spiritual renewal in the 1730’s and 40’s that we now call the First Great Awakening. Over the course of just a few years, tens of thousands of people came to saving faith in Jesus Christ and hundreds of churches were started, forever changing the way that we see and do church here in America. Beyond his roles as a preacher, pastor, missionary, and college president, he also wrote extensively on a wide range of philosophical and theological topics. To this day, he is widely considered to be one of the greatest minds America has ever produced.
Why would I want to do this?
So why am I spending an entire week (plus reading and writing time afterward!) to learn from this man? First (and most selfishly), I know that one of the ways that God has wired me is that I get my batteries recharged by learning something new. Hearing the stories of other Christian leaders’ struggles and victories puts spiritual gas in my tank and helps me to keep faithfully running my race. Second, I want to focus on how God uses dependent prayer and passionate preaching to bring men, women, and children into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Though 21st-century Illinois is in many ways very different from 18th-century Massachusetts, our unchanging God is still able to move powerfully in His church for His glory and our good. Finally, it’s a good thing for congregations to send their ministers away for periodic resharpening. Just like a good knife or saw works better when it’s sharp, pastors teach better when they are occasionally put back on the theological grinding wheel. This will be the first time I’ve been “sent back to the shop” since 2007, and my hope is that this week of study will make me a sharper, more useful instrument in God’s hands for the good of Forreston Grove Church.
How you can pray.
I’m asking you to pray for this time of study leave. First, pray that God would work in the hearts and minds of my professor, my classmates, and me as we do some serious heavy lifting in a short period of time. Pray that we would sharpen one another, love one another, and grow as disciples of Jesus together. Second, pray that the Lord would give Janel an extra measure (or three!) of energy and patience as she cares for four kids while I’m away. Third, pray that God would use these studies to be a blessing to Forreston Grove and to the community which we are called to love and reach in Jesus’ name.
I’d like to thank the Session for graciously granting me this week of study leave, and you all for your prayers. And just in case you’re interested in learning more about Edwards’ life, ministry, and why it matters today, check out this great, short book by George Marsden.
For His Glory,