If you look closely you can see a seminary professor in the window!

The other day Daniel Kirk wrote a post titled “A Time to Speak” wherein he called Christians who are “settled” on the egalitarian position to move to action. That is the context. In the post he dedicates these few, short lines to pastors:

Dear pastor, it is not enough to huddle with your buddies over beer or in your internet discussion room and talk about what a bunch of sexist bastards your fellow pastors are in your denomination.

If you are not working to change what women can do, you are promoting and sustaining the sexism that you deride in private.

If you are not opening up space in your church for women to preach and teach, you are promoting and sustaining the sexism that denies the truth of your women’s identity in Christ.

Apparently this was enough to upset at least two pastors–men I respect, but who come across as unnecessarily defensive in their responses. Daniel Thompson accused Daniel Kirk of using “the bully pulpit of his professorship” before questioning whether or not Kirk does anything about this matter himself (see “And the Action, Dr. Kirk?”). He states that maybe “all a seminary professor can do” is speak, insinuating that professors are talking heads who don’t engage the real world.

Mark Stevens followed with a post titled “Professor, how about you walk a mile in my shoes?” describing pastors as being “…among the most bullied people of any vocation.” What he says about the pressure put on pastors is true and I sympathize (lest one forgets I was an associate pastor in San Francisco and I have served as an interim youth pastor as well), but then his call for seminary professors to “walk a mile in my shoes” presumes too much. It presumes that Daniel Kirk and others do not do things like attend eldership meetings, visit the sick, or struggle to help people with various addictions.

I don’t know how Kirk engages his local church and community, but he is a professor who teaches in Menlo Park, CA, yet chose to live in San Francisco where it is much more expensive and where people are much less receptive to the Gospel (in general). As I mentioned above, I did ministry in San Francisco and it provides some very unique challenges–challenges many pastors are happy to avoid.

A couple months ago I had a student in the Doctor of Ministry program make a snide remark to me in front of several people that he chose the D.MIN because he likes people unlike me. Apparently, I like books which is why I was in the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program preparing for Ph.D. studies. Usually I let remarks like this one slide, but I was tired of it. Why? Well, this man committed what I would like to call “The Ivory Tower Fallacy.” The Ivory Tower Fallacy is when one assumes that because someone serves the church through higher education they must not do “on the ground” ministry. I unleashed my “resume” of ministry experience which includes serving in two inner city churches, associate pastoral work, youth pastor work, and several years in non-profit work with very troubled and violent teenagers. I have never taught in a seminary classroom, not once! I have taught classes to people who are homeless, addicted, suffering from various illness, illiterate, and so forth and so on. I don’t tell you this because it makes me a great person, it is basic ministry. I tell you this because you have no idea how many times my enjoyment of academia has been confused for a fascination with the abstract that means nothing to people and their every day lives. This is false.

I can’t speak for every seminary but I know at Western Seminary where I have worked and studied it is required of faculty that they be involved in their local church. Some are elders! Some are pastors! All are ministers and servants of the church.

What is odd about these two posts is they reinforce the very clergy-laity divide that I assume Thompson and Stevens disdain. These posts assume that pastors do the heavy lifting and someone who teaches in a seminary classroom has no idea what it is like to do ministry. I know pastoral work is hard. It is damn hard. I don’t envy people called to full time pastoral work and I have little desire to return to such work. Yet over and over again we hear pastors say that they aren’t the only ones who minister. The church as a whole ministers while pastors equip. Then I read posts like these that assume that someone like Daniel Kirk must not do ministry because he is not a pastor. While I am sure this is not what Thompson or Stevens intended it does bleed through.

It should be pointed out that Kirk never outlines “how” a pastor should go about fighting for equality. All he asks is that pastors do. He didn’t set a time table, but he did challenge pastors to begin working in a direction that elevates women and recognizes their calling. Everyone knows this is relative to various environments.

Also, as soon as Kirk stops addressing pastors he moves to seminary professors and prior to addressing pastors he addressed men in general. The post was not pastor bashing. It was far from it.

Do we want to deny the calling of seminary professors to train and challenge pastors? I think not. If anything, as denominationalism dwindles we need more voices to encourage and challenge pastors as once was the case when Bishops, Presbyters, and Superintendents had a great voice (this is still so in some cases).

So dear “practitioner” be careful not to fall victim to The Ivory Tower Fallacy. You may find that the talking head you rebuke does serve the poor, does care for the needy, does pray for the sick, does counsel the widow, and still finds time to be a prophetic voice calling others to do the same.