An expert: a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field.
We live in a world of experts, for finance, education, medicine and just about every profession imaginable. Except one. Christian leadership, or more specifically, the role of the priest in the wider community.
It dawned on me this week while I was on a brilliant training course. In passing our tutor said, “you are not the experts”. She was speaking to a room full of priests. She did not mean that we were experts in nothing, but simply that we were experts in nothing that mattered in relation to our current topic of study. But the lights came on. As far as our culture is concerned priests are now experts in nothing.
It used to be that priests led the way. We were at the forefront of education, scientific research, welfare, art and even politics. The broad structures and influences of our culture were shaped by christian leaders, even priests. We were integral in developing a more reasoned and just society.
Somewhere we stumbled and now find ourselves on the back foot. No longer are we supposed to have a voice in politics, we are to be quiet on the ethical developments in science and medicine. We have to speak carefully in education and our schools treat us with suspicion. Instead of being at the cutting edge of care we are often cut out because our motives are questioned. Yet the volunteer network of everyday christians fill that gap left by governments on the front line.
The training for a priest can take up to seven years. We are trained in public speaking, care for the dying, building maintenance, team dynamics, exegesis, policies, history and even recruitment. Most of us will have continued to develop professionally. For me this has included experience in safeguarding, addictions, visual thinking and organisational change. We are not suppose to know everything but we are a resource to our communities whether they come to church or not.
We are experts, but experts in nothing that matters. Our specialist skills no longer valued by culture. Yet we unknowingly ponder if it is time to hand over the final set of keys. We are potentially on the cusp of surrendering our understanding and expertise in scripture to the mute god’s of this world.
This though is a culture with a sick heart. Already it is short of breath and stumbling. Unable to think clearly, unable to care beyond itself. A culture that has stopped looking out for those who can’t care for themselves. It has begun the retreat back to the safety of the castle in the vain hope that we will have stored enough for the coming winter.
Doing things our own way brings short term stimulation but in the longer term our newly defined identities will be found to be as fragile and shallow as party politics. The foundations of our culture have been sacrificed on the altar of self satisfaction. Yet this torn out core is the very field that we priests can, if we have courage, rightly claim our expertise.
It turns out that we are not experts in nothing as our culture would have us believe. But instead in everything that matters. We hold on to meaning, identity, quality of life, care for others and even our world. We do these things because we have a narrative that defines us beyond our age. That roots us in our creative loving God who is for us. He teaches us to be selfless rather than selfish. That our identity is not something that we can self define but is defined in relationship with him. That life has meaning beyond matter and that meaning matters.
For today our expertise may not be recognised.
As our culture crumbles this is definitely not the day to hand over our remaining expertise. We have a message to bring, long abandoned and misunderstood but one that stands the test of time. We may be experts in nothing but we are experts in all that matters.