I mentioned, albeit briefly, in my review of BW3’s new book, “Is there a Doctor in the House?” my concern about seminary students who begin their studies planning to be pastors and end up wanting to be scholars. It seems to me after the first year of pastoral formation the glamour and glitter begins to wane and the student begins looking for another calling. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are many fine scholars who began their studies expecting to be pastors and “heard the call” so to speak – but does God really require 90% of those in seminary to become scholars? Surely pastoral ministry is in far greater need of workers than universities and seminaries! I wonder of the rise of the celebrity scholar has provided us with another false god to worship. The lure of book deals, travel and SBL meetings appears far better a life than sermons, marriage counselling and board meetings!

I wonder the academic world of writing and teaching has an allure reminiscent of celebrity pastors and mega-churches; but for the scholarly wannabes.  Most churches in Australia and America average 100 people and yet most of the best seeling authors on such matters pastor churches of thousands! Likewise, most PhDs don’t get book deals which bring in the dough or the notoriety. They work faithfully in Bible colleges and seminaries without ever being noticed. I am told that most never end up with a tenured teaching position (ouch).

I am concerned that the vocation of Biblical Scholar has become for many seminary students a form of vocational idolatry.  In the same way I am tempted to pursue the idols inherent in my vocation as pastor, I can relate to the student who is tired, battered and lacking a zeal for God’s people (usually after the first placement). I understand the emotions and struggles which confront any seminary student nevertheless; can I encourage you to persist with your path towards ministry? The allure of academic work might be great but it is a hard road, one that may be far harder than the one you are currently on!

Can I offer some advice from my own experience? When you feel like giving up and switching course:

  • Don’t circumvent the call. Don’t head to Tarshish when you are called to Nineveh. Just because you have had a bad experience in your first student ministry doesn’t mean you’re not called! My first church plant failed dismally. Why? I am not a church planter! But I learnt lessons there that make me a good pastor today (almost 15 years later).
  • Ministry education is as much about education as it is spiritual formation. Meaning? It is meant to hurt. No matter how much your sending church loved you and confirmed your call, you need to change and God is not going to sit idly by if you have signed up for this most holy of vocations. As much as in any other time in history we need pastors who have been formed as well as educated.
  • You can be a pastor theologian or an academic pastor. If you enjoy the scholarly side of biblical study  it doesn’t mean you can’t be a pastor (It may well mean you’ll never pastor a large church as they seem to be pastored by celebrities). In fact, I can’t help but think we need more teaching pastors and more pastoral theologians. You know, like Calvin and Barth!
  • It is about the Call. Sometimes these seasons of doubt expose the real reason we went to seminary. They expose our egos more so than our calling. As Pastors we are in training to be shepherds of God’s flock. If God chooses a path for us that include some sort of fame, so be it. But for most of us it is about faithfully shepherding the flock of God. In all honesty, the books, the teaching positions, the fame; they are all hay and stubble.

When I think of the pastors who have had the greatest impact on me I call to mind the scholarly (Eugene Peterson, Karl Barth, David Hansen & Jim West to name a few). When I call to mind the scholars I like to read they are all pastoral (I think of BW3, David A Black, Douglas Moo and even most recently, Joel Green of Fuller). We need both in our churches and both the vocation of scholar and the vocation of pastor are important callings. The church needs its scholars to remain faithful teachers of scripture so we pastors can rightly divide the word of truth! May we all listen carefully to our calling and our egos!