By Jennifer Johnson
You may be attending a Bible college, a Christian college, or a Christian university. That school may be affiliated with the Restoration Movement, with a mainline denomination, or with no particular group at all. And you may dream of someday serving as a preacher, a youth pastor, or a worship leader.
No matter where you are in school, no matter what your background, and no matter what your dream, consider this letter my virtual attempt to shove all five feet and two inches of myself in your face (or your shoulder) and demand you stop saying things like this:
• “I don’t know why I have to take an English class. I’m never going to use this.”
• “I just want to PREACH. We should only be studying the BIBLE.”
• “What is the point of writing all these essays? What a waste of time.”
You’re 20, so I get it. You know almost everything. But listen—I can think of at least five reasons why that English class may be one of the most useful classes you take.
1. You’re going to be a preacher. You’re going to be COMMUNICATING.
It’s called “writing a sermon” because before you get to stand up and preach, you must first do the hard work of sitting in a quiet room and thinking and then organizing those thoughts. That may be a manuscript or it may be an outline, but if you are going to instruct others on the Word of God, you had better get really good at working with words yourself. Studying how others have handled language well will help you handle the sword of truth more skillfully.
2. You’re not going to be a preacher. You’re still going to be communicating.
Even if you do not make your living by writing and speaking, you will do lots of both in your ministry career. From composing e-mails to designing fliers (because I know it’s unbelievable, but some of you will end up at smaller churches without a communications team), you will need to share your ideas on a daily basis. Why not improve those skills now before you look stupid in front of adults who’ve already mastered them?
3. Ministry is about people. So is literature.
We read great books, plays, and poetry because they give us new insights into the human condition, about what it means to be a person created in the image of God and broken by a fallen world. It doesn’t really matter whether the author is a Christian (unless you’re talking about Christian fiction—stay away from that stuff), what matters is choosing good books and reading them thoughtfully. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene—these and many more will give you new insights into human nature and faith—and raise some challenging questions, as well.
4. You’re going to be leading people who read.
I know, it’s crazy, but some of the people in your church (and some of those outside your church you want to win for Christ!) will have interests beyond Netflix. They will be reading magazines, long-form online essays, old classics in leather, and new best sellers on a Kindle—and they’ll expect you to be engaging with the same types of material.
5. You’re going to need sermon illustrations.
I understand English may not be your favorite class, and that you won’t “like” every assignment. Get over it, and learn to appreciate every piece—if not for its own merit, then for the way reading it can develop your work ethic and spiritual formation. Stop questioning whether these classes are useful for ministry when you’ve barely done ministry, and consider that your professors—most of whom have been in the trenches for decades—might know a bit more than you about what you need.