Recently upon chatting with an older and wiser Christian we got onto the topic of discerning the idols of our culture. He, a pastor from Cambridge, quickly came out with the following: “healthcare and education”. Now, agree with him or not, his answer was telling. He continued by saying that the two people groups among his congregation that most often shrank back from service in the church and felt justified in doing so were doctors and academics. Why? Well, the answer seemed obvious; our culture thinks that education and healthcare will solve the world’s biggest problems and so what they’re doing is really making a difference.

Being a wannabe “education professional,” i.e. a postgrad, I wondered (1) if this were true and (2) if it were, what I could do to change that? Whether or not these are the two idols of our culture (I don’t know), I think his observation should be considered and might shape an answer to the question “what can postgrads contribute to the church?”

Getting stuck in with the everyday

The first answer is: they can get stuck in with the everyday activities of the church.

This is probably not the answer you might expect coming from a Christian postgrad. But, first and foremost, we should let the body of believers direct our activities. If there is a need for coffee servers, children’s leaders, treasurers, readers, or cleaners, then we should be prepared to sacrifice our preconceived ideas about how we might contribute to the church and get stuck in. The church needs its members to be sacrificial; that includes those who are in the academy. I say this because it’s a temptation of mine (as I’m sure it’s true of many academics) to read all week, attend church, and then hit the books again, falsely thinking that my doing my PhD is the only real way I can serve God.

Use our gifts for God’s mission

But this warning aside, the role of the Christian postgrad can be far richer than one might have previously thought. The church needs people who understand the prevailing ideologies of our culture. People who can critique, enrich and engage the ideas that surround us. In a previous post I quoted Don Carson:

we ought to be encouraging our best and brightest to demonstrate love for God with their minds and hearts, taking on the strongholds of intellectual lostness with exactly the same kind of missionary zeal that we want to take on the strongholds of, say, Islam and Buddhism. Moreover, the need is not just evangelistic and apologetic. Much of this work should be motivated by a passionate desire to offer God our best in every domain of life, whether we are grinding valves on a motorcycle engine or wrestling with the magisterial voices of the Western philosophical tradition. The Kuyperian vision of not one square inch where Jesus does not say, “This is mine!” is not a restrictively geographical sweep.

– i.e. Jesus’ lordship extends through all of culture as well as all the earth.

What can Christian postgrads contribute to the church? A 500 word blog post will not even begin to answer this question, but I hope this post has been a catalyst for your own thinking.