This will be the final part of my series on “Educating the local church” (parts 1-6 can be accessed at the bottom of this post). I hope you’ve benefitted from what you’ve read. Also, if you haven’t read my interview with Douglas Estes (see “The Pastor-Scholar: An Interview with Douglas Estes”, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2) or the one with Robert Jimenez (see “Being a teacher in the local church: An interview with Robert Jimenez” here) please take the time to hear from two people who are active in educating their congregations. I will end things by returning to the question that inspired the whole series: Should you hire the academically minded? Or as I put it in part 1: “Wouldn’t the local church benefit from having highly qualified resident scholars directing their education departments or functioning as teaching pastors or associate pastors?”
In the above interviews Estes is a pastor with a Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham (UK), so he is an example of someone who did an academic doctoral degree with an openness to pastoring and using his education in a local church context. Jimenez is a bi-vocational pastor who works at IBM to earn a paycheck, then volunteers as the pastor who oversees education.
These two were cautious in their interview response when I asked about whether their churches should hire an academic. For Estes it was unlikely since he was on staff already. There were likely other needs. But his own hiring should bring hope to those who did doctoral work, but who might want to teach as a pastor. Jimenez indicated that it was unlikely because his church paid one person: the senior pastor. If someone spends three to six years earning a doctoral degree it is not likely that volunteer work as a pastor will be acceptable if there was no job openings in academia.
Personally, I have had three pastors who have completed doctoral degrees or who were in the process of doing so: Jeff Garner of the San Francisco Lighthouse, Rick McKinley of Imago Dei, and Ken Garrett of Grace Bible Church. All three enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) program, which is understood to lean toward vocational skills more than traditional academics. I don’t know what it would be like to have had N.T. Wright or John Piper as a pastor and I don’t think I’ve been part of a church where the assistant/associate pastor had a Ph.D. Therefore, I can’t point to an example of a successful scenario first hand.
But I am hopeful. I think that the local church can benefit from having someone on staff who is prepared to wrestle with the tough questions. It has been my experience that the people who tend to ask these questions the most–youth and young adults–are often provided with pastors who are ill equipped to answer questions about theodicy, or “What happens to those who never hear the Gospel?” or “Why is the Book of Revelation in the Bible?” In fact, many youth and young adult pastors I’ve known try to deflect even more personal questions like “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” and “Why won’t my father believe in Jesus when I’ve done my best to live as a good example in front of him?” I’m not going to say that Dr. Know-It-All can answer these questions. Personally, I think the Book of Job provides the best answer to theodicy and everything else fills in the gaps. But the rigor of academia does force students to entertain questions that go unnoticed and this experience might benefit someone in ministry when they are asked the hard questions.
Of course, this is all very subjective. Dr. So-and-So might make a terrible assistant pastor and s/he may provide answers so lofty and full of academic rhetoric that no one understands what is being said. Meanwhile the volunteer youth pastor with a huge heart may make a life long impact by not only providing an answer, but doing it with a love that cannot be taught in the classroom. I get that.
But I am trying to think aloud and I have been trying to do so during this series. I’m wondering if the church can redeem to gifts of her sons and daughters who poured endless hours into study in hopes of someday occupying a classroom only to find that there are no jobs or really horrible ones that don’t pay (e.g., see “Working for Change in Higher Education: The Abysmal State of Adjunct Teacher Pay”).
One final word on adjuncts before I finish: I was talking with a dean of a seminary who told me that the seminary knows that it relies heavily on adjuncts, as do most seminaries, but that it has done little to educate their adjuncts. This dean aims to change that. This may sound odd: Aren’t adjuncts educators? That is not the point though. The point is that many seminaries and graduate schools have not even begun to consider ways to help their adjuncts: whether that means networking for them with churches and other local schools, providing them free training when it comes to engaging the job market, or even having the senior, full-time, paid faculty spend time with them as mentors helping them become better teachers and candidates for a future full time gig of their own. I think the schools that decide to invest heavily in training and empowering their adjuncts may find that more entry level teachers want to work with/for them and that their pool of potential hires will grow larger when it comes time to replace their full time professors.
If you take nothing away from this series other than this one point I will be pleased: What I am advocating here is not the admiration of the educated, but the acknowledgment that many of the church’s sons and daughters have prepared themselves over many years to do work for the Kingdom of God by using the mind God has given them. There may not be a job at the local college or seminary. Will the church respond? Will the church reach to those who have shown that they are willing to pour time and energy into preparing for service, even if the service they had in mind was not the local perish? I hope so.
Also: read Mark Stevens’ response, “Does the Church Need, or Want Academics?”