Did you ever know anyone who was “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good?” I am not sure who coined this phrase, but I am sure they had someone in mind who had simply lost touch with the physical, earthly world around them. They could not relate what they knew, or thought they knew, to be true to the context in which they lived.
“Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?” So often we think that we have the answers – the knowledge … “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20)
Johnny Cash expressed the distinction of knowing and doing in the words of his song, “No Earthly Good:
“The gospel ain’t gospel until it is spread,
But how can you share it where you’ve got your head?
There are hands that reach out for a hand if you would,
So heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good.”
So, if our knowledge is imperfect and our wisdom is tainted and flawed as being “foolishness,” what are we to do? We might think about practice as the principle means by which be both learn and teach. Paul gives us a possible answer. He tells the Corinthian church he did not come to them with wisdom, with eloquence, or knowledge. In fact, he came in weakness, fear and trembling while speaking with an unpersuasive speech. He only had one thing going for him … “demonstration” (vs 2:4) “of the Spirit’s power.” Paul’s head was not in the clouds; he practiced what he believed.
I have an adult Sunday school teacher in my congregation that has a phenomenal knowledge of scripture. Typically, a pastoral leader is hesitant when an adult class decides not to use any curriculum materials, rather, they simply read scripture. The learning opportunity can deteriorate rapidly when people are pooling their own interpretative wisdom on a verse of scripture. Marie, however, arrives to class with pages of scripture texts ready to answer all controversies. We also have Brother “K” attending one of the adult classes; he was ordained in the Pentecostal church in Nigeria and has worshipped with us for almost a year. He had to take his family and flee the country over twenty years ago; it was somehow related to his Christian faith. We really have no idea how he wound up in Youngstown, OH, except God sent him. “K” has memorized more scripture than anyone I know and once given the floor, he has no problem using the balance of time left in the class session.
Is it possible that in our pursuit of knowledge that we miss the application? I expect that this is an obvious diversion in engaging in a DMin course of learning. Tim Sensing in Qualitative Research: A Multi-Methods Approach to Projects for the Doctor of Ministry Theses makes the observation, “At the heart of DMin programs is the intent that projects serve the church, develop ministerial practice, and be applicable to other practitioners in the field.” I have always thought the key to acquiring a DMin degree is that the required project must address a “ministry practice.” The ministry project guidelines for a GFES DMin degree are clear:
The Dissertation should be of sufficient quality that it contributes to the practice of ministry as judged by professional standards and has the potential for application in other contexts of ministry. The goal … is not to offer a unique contribution to ministry in general, but to apply theological research skills to a significant real-world ministry problem …
The value of knowledge acquisition and the management of knowledge, according to Caroline Ramsey, has three distinct applications: 1) Develop appropriate practices, 2) Provide a process of reflection that leads to action, and 3) A process where application results in changing practices thereby promoting learning. From these concepts, it seems that the management of learning is best understood by reflection on the context in which learning leads to action or, what I understand as application. Sensing supports the concept of context related action; he notes “what education theorists have long advocated about praxis and contextual education; namely, personal and professional development is enhanced through an action-reflection model.”
Ramsey contends for a “scholarship of practice” that is, practice as a means to learning and knowledge development or enhancement rather than typically seeing practice as the application of knowledge. This concept has revolutionary implications. How better can we contextualize what we learn than to learn from our context? Practice might not make perfect, but it does enhance learning. Ramsey notes that D. Beckett “has argued that an epistemology of practice would highlight not just know how but also ‘know why’ and pointed out that it would attach importance to questions of intentionality and purposefulness.” Being attentive, according to Ramsey, provides for apprehending the context properly thus allowing one to center their reflections (mindfulness) on the immediate learning opportunity. “Best practices are not simply a set of effective actions, but a comprehensive and coherent set of practices that are steeped in context specific theory. Best practices in practical theology are the result of intentional reflective actions accomplished by excellent performers.”
Local congregations are confronted with the significant challenge to apply the “practice” of being Christ’s ambassadors; models of reconciliation. According to Branson and Martínez in Churches, Culture & Leadership, “If a church is to live in responsiveness to and dependence on God, reflective discernment is a continuous practice, rooted in the current environment and experiences of the church.” They go on to define praxis as a full “cycle of reflection and study on one hand and engagement and action on the other.”
Unfortunately, Marie and Brother “K” have not practiced their knowledge beyond the contextual setting of their classroom. They are safe in the confined context where everyone knows Marie is prepared and “K” can quote any scripture needed for the moment. Their knowledge and learning is a great example of studious application; in praxis, their learning has made them so heavenly that, well, they are not doing much in their neighborhood.
 Tim Sensing, Qualitative Research: A Multi-Methods Approach to Projects for Doctor of Ministry These, (Eugene, OH: Wipf and Stock, 2011), xv.
 Caroline Ramsey, “Provocative Theory and a Scholarship of Practice” Management Learning, 42 no.5 (2011), 470.
 Sensing, xii.
 Caroline Ramsey, “Management Learning: A Scholarship of Practice Centered on Attention?” Management Learning 45 no. 1 (2014), 2.
 B. Becket, “Making workplace learning explicit: an epistemology of practice for
the whole person,” Westminster Studies in Education, 23, 41-53, quoted in Ramsey, “Management Learning,” 3.
 Ramsey, Management Learning, 6.
 Sensing, xviii, emphasis mine.
 Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez, Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities Kindle ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 369-370.
 Ibid., 380.