The significance of 2016
Significance is a slippery concept with varied definitions. For me, in the context of my calling as a theological educator, it refers to the judgment that last year, my life has not been entirely in vain.
For the theological educator, significance includes (although is not exhausted by) usefulness to God and others and so can be looked for and rejoiced in, with a careful eye to its occupational hazard, pride. It must, however, always be distinguished from importance which has a reference to the opinions of others. J.B. Philips’ translation of Galatians 6v4 puts it well.
“Let every man learn to assess properly the value of his own work and he can then be glad when he has done something worth doing without depending on the approval of others”.
It is right therefore to look back on students helped – and sometimes inspired – to understand things well, to live well for God, and the ripples of hopefully good influence which progress outward as those students will influence others when they pass into forms of ministry in the future. This is a comfort and a cause of celebration for us at the end of the year.
It is also a joy to look back on staff relations, how not only have we been helped by the fellowship and inspiration of colleagues but we have hopefully been a bit of a help to them. Getting through their day has been easier because of us, maybe; seeing something new of theology, or the love of God in us has been a warming of their minds and hearts.
There has probably been some progress in our personal writing and studying – never as much as we hoped for or wanted, that is par for the course – but progress none the less. Hopefully there have been times when there has been joy in life and pleasure in the presence of God related to our work.
It has not been a good year for all who read this post and there have been disappointments for us all. I hope very few theological educators reading this post would use the title of Osborne’s notorious play to describe 2016 – “look back in anger”. Yet many may well have a tendency to look back in disappointment, driven by the constant words in our ear “must do better” planted there by decades of negative ministry received.
That is for another time, but on this first day of 2017, raise a glass to 2016, a significant year in our lives as theological educators, and let us be thankful.