When I was a freshman student in Bible college I had a conversation with a senior who was excited to graduate and plug into pastoral ministry. One day he said to me, "I don't need this theology crap. I just need my degree so I can get to work." I was shocked when I heard that then, but am concerned because I have repeatedly heard similar sentiments over the years from people entering into (or who are already in) the pastorate. For them, theology is at best an unnecessary garnish on the plate of ministry. By way of contrast, I have loved theology since my conversion; the longer I work in pastoral ministry the more I see the need for applied theology as the centerpiece of pastoral work. It is at the heart of shepherding God's people both from the pulpit and over coffee. Simply put, there is no hope of making disciples--and presenting men and women mature in Christ--without robust, experiential theology.
But even among those of us who agree that theology is essential, it can feel a bit overwhelming as we seek to counsel others. Systematic theology, as one necessary theological discipline, is broken down into dozens of categories and subcategories. Where do we start? Over the years I have found that there are four basic questions that I have to answer when serving others; the bulk of theology falls into these categories: Who is God? What does he want from me? What is he doing/has he done? What is the point of all this? These theological questions form the primary grid through which I speak to others about their life and circumstances.