Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Lesson From the Young Physician

Considering the title, you probably think this is going to be a post about Jesus. Well, it's not.

Last time James was in the hospital the Lord taught me a great lesson about ministry. Let me explain. Most of James' medical work has been done at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH. As many know, Dartmouth has a medical college attached to it. As a result, there are just as many Resident Doctors--those in the final steps of their education--as there are full blown doctors. Being a Resident Doctor is equivalent to being a Student Teacher. After completing their residency they then become full fledged doctors.

Kristal and I were impressed with almost every single Resident Doctor we had (and we have had a bunch of them). I learned a lot about being a young minister from these Resident Doctors because we are both in much the same position--doctors diagnose and help people with physical problems while pastors diagnose and help people with spiritual problems. One of the not so good Resident Doctors reminded me of a great number of seminary students I know (and I hope I am not one of them).

This certain Resident Doctor (about 29 years old or so), unlike any of the other Residents or full blown doctors, came into James' hospital room, asked us how we were doing, and then immediately began telling us that our fears were invalid and silly. He spent no time talking to us about James' symptoms or history--he merely spouted off some medical terms and said, "I see this all the time." and then he left. When he left I said, "Beware Jimmy, I think I might have just saw myself."

There is always great danger in learning when it is not connected with real life. What I saw in this Resident was a wealth of unusable knowledge. This Resident failed to understand that medical issues do not happen in a vacuum. Without a knowledge of a persons circumstances and history it is almost impossible to diagnose the issue. The best doctors let the patient (or in our case, the patient's parents) do more talking than himself/herself. Because the best doctors understand that medical issues do not happen in a vacuum.

This same sort of thing happens with young ministers. In the ministry, a lack of maturity often times rears its head in the same way. Spiritual problems do not happen in a vacuum--there are always causes. Young students learn new things and have the tendency to uncompassionately attack people with what they know as if mere knowledge is sufficient. Mere knowledge is not sufficient. If biblical knowledge is to be useful it must be connected with great compassion and a great understanding of the specific situation being dealt with.

This does not mean that book learning is bad. Doctors need the knowledge or they would have no basis for giving an accurate diagnosis. Knowledge is essential, but it must be coupled with compassion, understanding, and knowledge of the situation.

The Lord is still teaching me these invaluable lessons. I still have a tendency to immediately brand someone a false convert as soon as I hear of gross rebellion.

Listen to the seasoned doctor C.S. Lewis talk about true spirituality,

"Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the same psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man's choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it" (Mere Christianity, pg 86-87).
How quickly do we brand people and jump to conclusions without knowing the person, his disposition, his upbringing, or circumstances. The way many of us young students gauge spirituality is so very immature.


Jessy said...

"If biblical knowledge is to be useful it must be connected with great compassion and a great understanding of the specific situation being dealt with." - what a great reminder. I struggle with this much, when in fact, if I looked outside of myself (imagine that!) I would probably see others looking at me, and that remaining sin, in the same light.
Thank you for relaying this perspective.

JG said...


This is one of your best posts, excellent example....


Luke Snowden said...


As a pastor, who went through and hopefully have some what come out of that immaturity, I have seen a lot of this kind of thing from the spiritual side.

I have generally found that people make statements based upon assumptions, they just think they know all there is to know in order to draw dogmatic hard core conclusions about others.

For example, I know of a situation where a girl is staying with her boyfriend. Her family has literally excommunicated her - refuses to talk to her at all - and the family has failed to even care what the circumstances are. She does not want to be there, she is there out of sheer necessity! In fact, there is a strong possiblity she will be coming here.

But, people who think they have all the answers and such a strong hold of sin in their life generally feel adequate enough to make judgments and conclusions based upon individuals when there is simply no warrant for such conclusions.

Unfortunately, I have seen this too much and, if anything, I have been pushed into the opposite error which is the failure to take judgements soon enough. But, I guess I'd rather be judged for being too lax than to be arrogantly judgmental. I know this, more damage is done to families and churches when the latter is emphasized.

I could write a novel on this subject so I'll digress and stop.

Jimmy Snowden said...

I think it was you who pointed out to me that the in the parable of the sower, the seed which feel on the good soil produced a whole range of fruit--some One hundred fold, some 60, some 30. Do you think should cause us to be extra careful about your judgements about others as well. By the way, that was huge when you pointed that part of the verse out to me (because I had completely overlooked it).


Luke Snowden said...


If I remember right, my point was that different people grow at different rates and different people will evidence different degrees of God's grace in their lives. It seems to me that we tend to think that every christian should experience growth much the same way a light switch functions. Turn it on, and wam its on, and all the way.

Also we have the impending issue of false assurance of salvation which presses upon us hard.

With these two factors there is a great tendency to be over reactive toward people who do not appear to be conforming to the standards we think they should.

When this is coupled with pride/arrogance in the christian heart we have a volatile recipe for relational disaster.

Jimmy Snowden said...

That is exactly what I was referring to. Thanks for fleshing it out in practical terms.


Katie said...


Tom 1st said...

That's one of my favorite quotes from Lewis. Good work here.

Jimmy Snowden said...

Tom 1st,
Good ol' Tom 1st. How is it going? I clicked on your title/name and it said that your blogger account is set to private. Well, you had better give me clearance. So, how are things going for you and Cassie? Get back to me. Email me at