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!
“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.”
Excellent advice! This also applies to young mothers, who find motherhood perhaps a less glamourous calling than a dreamed career…
On having been or trying to be both it has come to my attention that being one without some of the other may well render the ‘actor’ neither 😉
Interestingly enough, it is the church context which gets me excited about pursuing PhD studies. I thought about doing the whole church-planting thing while going into seminary. I’m half-way through and want more than anything to continue my study in the postgraduate realm. And this is not because I have lofty scholastic ambitions or think board meetings are tiresome. People truly want to be taught, and I think it can only help the Church to have teachers and elders who know the scriptures inside and out.
Is a Phd really the best for that? I have always thought PHds are too narrow for pastors. Would not the church bet better served by someone who had a wide understanding of scripture? I agree though, people want to be taught! 🙂
This was great and challenging for me to read. I’m almost done with my M.Div and in the process of applying for Ph.D/M.Phil programs for next year. I am also working 30 hours a week as a college pastor in a local church, which I mostly enjoy, but working in a fairly large church has made me wonder if churches are the best place for someone as bookish and introverted as myself. I don’t care about becoming famous or writing books, but I honestly wonder if highly-introverted people can “fit” in most evangelical churches today. The academic world in many ways seems like a better fit for me. Most churches I’ve been at have not felt very friendly or warm to people who prefer to eschew church social events for yet another book and who’d love to do away with the “Turn and greet somebody new!” part of the Sunday service (I’ve started encouraged my college students to sometimes just walk around in our college service and say “Christ be with you”). Sometimes it can feel like you are a “bad” Christian if you are not very excited to hang out with large groups of other Christians.
Ideally, I’d really like to somehow combine pastoral ministry with academic teaching. I really do enjoy preaching and pastoral counseling/discipleship, but I also really enjoy just sitting and reading and thinking and writing. Can I realistically combine academic rigor and study with pastoral shepherding? I don’t get the sense that there are too many evangelical churches in America looking for a bookish, introverted pastor who wants to spend much of his time studying and praying, while focusing on parishioners in smaller settings.
I’ve started asking more introverted Christians and friends about how much they feel like themselves at church. Most of them have said they (like myself) feel like they often have to act like somebody they aren’t.
Yes, very good post! this is the kind of stuff I know I like from Mark Stevens). Tim and I share many similarities…. so I second his comments.
It depends on the program, really. It can be quite narrow if you want it to be but you still have to do seminar courses and make it through comps (again, depending on the program). I don’t see any harm in it.
As someone also finishing an M.Div. (Honours — which is essentially a scholastic, pre-doctoral program) and pastoring full-time, I consider it imperative for the Church to have far more pastor-scholars. I’m in the midst of finishing Ph.D. applications (for programs in OT) and intend to pastor (as I have all along: in a small rural congregation) while pursuing some more intensely academic endeavors (as I have also done all along: researching, writing, publishing, presenting academic papers, etc.). I consider it a joy to have the opportunity to develop skills theologically and pastorally in order to hopefully serve my congregation more effectively and faithfully as well as finding ways to minister in a slightly wider context. I think it is a matter of worship to offer my life to the Lord in this manner.
Comments are closed.