Pastors, theologians, and seminaries — consider Spanish!

The Hispanic population in the US is growing rapidly. A good reason to consider Spanish.

The Hispanic population in the US is growing rapidly. A good reason to consider Spanish.

If you’re an aspiring pastor or theologian, I think you should consider learning Spanish. If you’re a seminary, I think you should consider offering it.

For pastors — with the increase of Spanish-speakers in the U. S., and the small number of Spanish-language worship services by comparison, I expect one of the church’s greatest new “frontiers” in America to come in the form of churches and worship services that use the Spanish language. Whether aspiring pastors are preparing to lead these churches, or simply preparing to more effectively communicate with those who do, I believe they can benefit greatly from facility with the language.

I’ve heard the United Methodist Church has had trouble figuring out what to do with non-English-speaking Hispanics who are pursuing ordination. Ordination guarantees an appointment, and they don’t know what to do if there’s not a Spanish-speaking appointment to give them. That’s something the UMC will need to figure out and get over soon, or they’re going to miss a significant, growing portion of the American population.

For theologians — I expect Spanish to be an important language for upcoming theologians. It’s pretty common to see German offered in seminary, and sometimes even French, so you can interact with the bulk of non-English scholarly work of the past few centuries. With the rise of Christianity in Spanish-speaking countries, I could easily see Spanish becoming the most important non-English language for interacting with 21st century theologians.

(Aspring) pastors and theologians, think about it. Might it be worthwhile to study some Spanish?

Seminaries and divinity schools, might you consider offering Spanish courses? You’ll be preparing your students well for ministry and theological work in the 21st century.

For a good laugh, here’s a look at some of my early stumbles trying to learn Spanish while living in Spain: “The most humbling experience of my life…”

Buzz vs. substance

fraudIn a totally different segment of my life, I’m a partner in a new coffee and donut shop in Lexington. We’ve been open just over six months. In the past couple months, sales have started taking off.

We had one particular Saturday when sales crushed all previous highs. I texted a partner who manages the store, “What in the world happened today?” There must have been a $500 order, I figured. Or some big news story about us had run, and I didn’t know about it. Or they ran a promotion that I wasn’t aware of.

His response: “We make really good coffee and donuts.” (It’s true. They’re really good. You should come try if you’re anywhere near Lexington.)

His was the perfect response. Our total advertising budget so far has been $200 — the cost of two banners to hang outside the store. From the beginning, making good donuts and coffee and providing a friendly face at the counter has been the primary focus. And thanks to social media, perhaps now more than ever, if you give people good substance, they’ll create the buzz for you. I’ve come to love searching for the shop on Twitter to see what people are telling their friends about us.

Now for what it’s worth, at least in my opinion, it does have a pretty good atmosphere. And we have done a lot to invite people. It’s not like we just made good donuts in a decrepit building and hoped people would show up. A nice atmosphere is important. Inviting people is crucially important. But a quick look at the reviews shows what’s of most importance — “Are they selling something good?”

Yes, some self-promotion there, but nearly all of our early success is my partners’ doing, so I don’t feel too bad giving us a public pat on the back.


A friend told me this weekend about an opposite experience. A new brewery opened where he lives about a year ago. He explained that the owners had started with a ton of money and not much brewery knowledge. They invested the majority of their time, energy and money into creating an exciting atmosphere and a lot of buzz.

For the first three months,” he said, “it was the hottest place in town. Everyone had heard about it. They were waiting for it. And the whole place just looked impressive. You had to go. But there was a problem…

The beer was terrible. Really. Terrible. They spent all their time and money creating a cool place, but you can only live on that for so long.”

He went on to explain that they sought help (fortunately for them, they had a lot of money — a rich uncle or something), got better with the beer, and survived, but not after going dead and nearly having to close.

Buzz vs. Substance

Most of us only have enough energy and money to do one well. You can create a big buzz, or you can work on having great substance. Would it be good to have a little of both? Of course! But only a very few can invest big-time in both.

Invest in buzz, and you can turn out a big crowd initially. But how long will it last before they realize the sizzle was better than the steak? Given the advent of social media and today’s increase in options, frauds can get exposed and abandoned quickly.

Invest in substance, and the growth curve may be slower initially, but I believe you have good reason to expect increasing momentum.

This gets at some of what I was suggesting in “The Christian Bubble.” Beware of focusing more on buzz (i.e. exciting programs, events, and spectacles) than substance (i.e. Offer the Gospel! and make disciples that become apostles and pastors). All the way back in the 1930’s, Deitrich Bonhoeffer was pointing toward this as a major problem in Germany. It looked a bit different, but I think it was the same issue at root.

In some of our situations, the “buzz” may last for more than a few months — perhaps several years or even decades. But eventually, when substance is lacking, the fraud gets exposed.

On the other hand, focus on substance, and the initial build may be slow. But I hope it gives us opportunity to ask, in the middle of a great movement of faith across the land, “What in the world is happening?” and to hear in return, “We make really good disciples (who make disciples, who make disciples…)”

And of course, a real movement of that sort comes only with the movement of the Spirit. We plant seeds. God makes them grow. Are we invested in planting good seeds?

Where does discipleship lead?” or “The disciples became apostles”

sending disciplesDiscipleship is often treated today as an end in itself. And to a certain extent, I’ll agree with that. When we worship, pray, study Scripture, fast, do works of mercy and works of piety, etc., these activities are the point. They’re means of God’s grace and ways we honor God, so we do them.

But it’s also important to note that the disciples became apostles! The primary designation for this bunch throughout the gospels is disciples. Once we get to the book of Acts, though, their primary designation becomes apostles. [There are no hard lines here. We see “apostles” in the gospels and “disciples” in Acts.]

That shouldn’t be surprising. When Jesus calls the disciples, he says, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” At Jesus’ discipleship call, he tells them their roles will change. He will send them. They will end up going out to make disciples.

It’s not just that the disciples will be inwardly transformed — becoming people who know God differently, who pray and read Scripture and do good deeds and avoid evil. They will be sent to reproduce themselves with more disciples!

When we call people to discipleship today, do we tell them we are calling them to send them? My experience is that we too often simply call people to be disciples. We say something to the effect of, “Come, follow Jesus… so that you can keep following… and keep following… and keep following.” And keep following we must! But that isn’t all.

If this is all we call people to, many will imagine themselves going to Bible studies and learning new interesting things, and perhaps applying small bits of those in their lives from now until they die.

But do they understand that they are called to be sent? Do they understand that a call to discipleship inherently includes preparation to become apostles and pastors?

By “apostles and pastors,” I don’t mean to suggest here that all Christians must become career ministers, who draw a paycheck from a church or missions organization. Quite the opposite. Many of the early Christians remained as carpenters, fishermen, and tent-makers, yet spread this radical revolution across the land. Many of the unheralded heroes of the early Methodist movement continued on as plant workers, yet served as the pillars and backbone of local churches as class leaders (see my post “Re-evangelizing America…”)

What I mean to suggest is that Christian engineers and landscapers and business(wo)men must see themselves as people sent to be apostles and pastors. That these people see themselves as the pillars and backbone of the Christian movement today. That these invest themselves as seriously as they can in their own discipleship, because they know it leads to a sending.

Disciples, are you treating your discipleship as if you’re being prepared to be pastors and apostles, leading others to the Christian faith and/or discipling them in that faith? We need you!

Career pastors and preachers, when you call people to discipleship, do you say, “And I will send you out to fish for people.” Is that your expectation of disciples? And are you investing enough in them to make that a reality?

[I want to be careful here not to contradict my post “When ‘missional church’ gets too outwardly focused.” I think there’s a place for what I said there and what I say here. I was addressing one problem in that post, and a problem on the opposite side in this. If you think I’m just contradicting myself, call me on it.]