A Group of People

Listen to me…I’m an expert!

In Christianity, church, community, experience, expert, faith, life, opinions, relationships on January 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm

There’s an epidemic sweeping the nation, people. And no, I’m not talking about Justin Bieber (but as a friend of mine once said “You can make fun of Justin all you want, but dang, that girl can sing.” I’m talking about becoming more and more a culture of “experts”.

You see it all the time on TV, of course. Watching two of the major news stories of the past year (the Oil Spill in the Gulf and the trapped Chilean miners) illustrated this so well. In situations like those, there’s always someone invited to share their perspective as an expert on the matter, so we saw experts on marine wildlife, fishing, disaster cleanup, geology, and anything else that might possibly pertain to the situation. And I learn a great deal by watching things like that…

First of all, that someone can actually qualify as an expert in “subterranean captive extraction.”

But mostly, I learn how much I don’t know. And it’s good to know that there are people all over the place who have spent years studying, debating, and learning about their particular areas of passion, so that when when push comes to shove, someone’s already done a bunch of the mental legwork. I’m not your guy when it comes to disaster cleanup… Turn to me in an oil spill, and all I can think about is the price of shrimp going up. But thank God there are people who have actually applied themselves to disaster management, so that nobody ever needs to rely on people like me. In that sense, experts are great, and necessary.

It’s not the legitimate culture of expertise that I’m addressing here, though. It’s our human tendency to become “instant experts” on things without putting the work in. We see this all the time during election season, for example. People have strong opinions about candidates, topics, and bills, but in a great many cases, don’t have the necessary foundation to conclude the things they do. What usually ends up being the case is this: People start with a gut feeling about what they like or don’t like (usually developed over years of their own personal experience), and end up drawn to candidates and positions that reflect that perspective.

Is it wrong to do this? Not at all! It’s human, and unavoidable. The problem comes when we begin to play the game (and often don’t know we’re playing it) of considering ourselves experts in that topic. We may not verbally claim to be, but we often act as though our decisions are based on objective study and empirical evidence, when in fact that’s not usually the case at all. We think nothing of making sweeping claims that a certain economist or political scientist is flat-out wrong. I’m hugely guilty of this in my own life, though my actual schooling as it pertains to economics and political science is rudimentary at best. What I do have is an opinion and a stubborn streak. So I tend to be dismissive when I hear things that contradict my comfort zone, though the expert I’m dismissing has devoted their adult life to understanding that topic, and may well have some things to say that I would do well to consider.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that a degree in a given field is a golden ticket to being right no matter what you say. I am saying that we live in a culture that’s often far too easily dismissive of actually doing the work of knowledge acquisition, processing that knowledge in a environment that challenges the conclusions drawn, and above all, of learning from others in humility, whether we think they have something to offer us or not (and generally, of course, people have more to offer us than we give them credit for. Disagreeing with someone’s stance on a given topic is not the same thing as not having anything to learn from them.)

Sadly, I see this all too often in the Christian community (disclaimer: I’m talking about the Church as a whole. This isn’t a veiled way of talking about my own church community, although of course, we’re not immune). I’d like to be able to say that I see a dramatically higher percentage of people that interact with each other in humility,  eager to learn from each other. I can’t say that with a straight face, though.

There are people who do reflect that humility, and I’m truly blessed to know a bunch of people that challenge me on this regularly. But I also see a big portion of the population that are  “instant experts” on the nature of the Church, theology, and everything related. Rather than being people who are committed to meeting together, learning from each other, and moving forward together, we often degenerate into people who are committed to pointing out why we shouldn’t be meeting with this group or that, why I can’t learn from this person or that, and breeding disorder instead of unity.

And to be honest, and possibly a little too blunt, those who always know best what should done in the Church, or always “know for sure” on a given doctrinal issue, are usually the ones who don’t display productive behavior in the Christian community. They’d rather lament the way things are, than actually be the change they wish they could see. And usually they talk a great game, and are never short of breath when it comes to defending why and how they think what they do.

The irony is that they’re usually quite dismissive of the person rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to do the gut-level work of God, because they’d rather be a color commentator than get on the field themselves. And by the way, there are many people who will read this and nod sagely, thinking that they’re the ones pitching in and it’s others that need to learn this. If you just thought that, or got offended in any way, chances are pretty good you need to step back and re-evaluate.

I have to confess that I’m not immune. I have observed situations for about a tenth of a second before I knew that I knew that x was wrong, and should be addressed in this particular way. I have held a position, theologically speaking, for years, because my favorite professor came from that background, and I never challenged that assertion like I should have. I have not always been a humble learner. I have been an instant expert. And the great irony for me is, now that I’ve been deeply immersed in the study of Scripture, Christian community, and the Church for the better part of my adult life, having had the incredible privilege of some of the wisest, best teachers on the planet, the biggest thing I’ve learned is how much I have to learn. And that’s no false humility…That’s the facts.

I am convinced of this: That the Church (which is a God-breathed and designed community, not a construct of man) is at its most effective in reaching a broken world with the hope of Jesus when humility and teachability are its foundation.

You don’t know it all. Neither do I. But let’s never forget that God has gifted some with teaching abilities, some with uncommon wisdom, some with greater discernment…And reading a few articles that back up what we already thought or having a strong desire for something to be a certain way will never replace a lifetime of learning humbly from the community that God has placed us in.

Embrace that community…Embrace the opportunities that God gives you to learn from others. There’s absolutely nothing like it. What an amazing thought – That we could become experts in listening, being shaped, and humbly allowing God to mold us. Let’s do this…

By @briandoell

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