This post is not about evolutionary biology. Nor is it about a recent citing of Bigfoot. Rather this post is about my recent discovery of the missing link between my post-secondary education and my pastoral ministry: anthropology.
Anthropology is the study of humans. Except for one required course in Spanish Linguistics, I finished college and seminary without taking any other course in anthropology or one of its sub-disciplines. I studied other social sciences like economics, sociology, and educational psychology, but I had relegated anthropology to the realm of museum curators.
So, two years ago, when an acquaintance challenged me to view my new church through the eyes of an anthropologist, I had no idea what she meant. I did not want to betray my ignorance, but what did anthropology have to do with ministry in the local church?
That question haunted me until I recently took Anthropology for Missions and Evangelism with Dr. Robert Priest. Dr. Priest talked about the perils of having “zeal without knowledge” in pastoral ministry (Proverbs 19:2). To be sure, I had a wealth of knowledge about math, Spanish, exegesis, hermeneutics, theology, preaching, and worship planning. But I had no knowledge of anthropology; I had no knowledge of how to observe a culture and learn from it.
It’s a wonder that “zeal without knowledge” was not tattooed on my forehead after my first two years of ministry. How many mistakes could have been avoided if I had the training and the discipline to study my ministry context more thoroughly before starting programs and initiating sweeping changes?
Nontheological disciplines like anthropology can provide us with frameworks, tools, and skills that we can apply as we engage in theological reflection as well as pastoral ministry. In fact, anthropology can serve as a necessary link between the scholarly inquiry of the academy and our ministry contexts so that we do not enter ministry with zeal and insufficient knowledge.