How to Become a Pastor-Theologian

September 1, 2016

21st century pastors confront a severe identity crisis. The competing visions of the nature of the pastorate drive many men into ministerial schizophrenia. Some argue the pastor should be a visionary CEO, a man with a plan driving innovation on par with the late Steve Jobs. Others argue that the pastor should be a spiritual buddy who comes to visit you in the hospital and stroke your ego with empty spiritual platitudes. Still others see the pastor as a sort of manager who compiles budgets, oversees staff, and organizes volunteers. As a pastor myself, I am overwhelmed trying to keep the many plates of expectations spinning. What’s the solution to our pastoral identity crisis? I’m convinced that we need a recovery of an old vision of the pastoral ministry that has largely been lost in our pragmatic and therapeutic age. We need to recover the vision of the pastor as a theologian.

Guarding and Proclaiming the Good Deposit of the Gospel

A quick read through the pastoral epistles reveals a very different vision for the pastorate than commonly articulated today. For example, we read Paul’s charge to Timothy to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim 1:14). God has given the glories of his Gospel to the church, and pastors then are the custodians of the truth for their people. They bring the hope of Christ and the riches of Scripture to bear on their people in every sphere of their lives. Pastors labor to protect the integrity of the Gospel from false teaching, while heralding the good news to the congregation. The pastoral ministry is inherently theological, because pastors are called to handle the good deposit of Christ.

Pastors teach and equip their people with sound theology through their preaching, teaching, counseling, and discipleship ministry. As theologians, pastors bring the truth of Christ to bear on every aspect of the life of their church. Yes, pastors will have other responsibilities. We do lead meetings, make visits, and draft budgets, but we must recover the primary responsibility of the pastor, which is to guard and proclaim the good deposit of the Gospel.

As Pastors rediscover this vision for the pastor-theologian we stand in great company of men like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon. Yet, pastors who would pursue this theological vision for the pastorate will encounter the trouble of contradictory expectations. Many have abandoned the theological aspect of pastoral ministry for lesser pursuits. Yet, we’ve witnessed over the last century how the lack of pastor-theologians contributed to the spiritual anemia that cripples the American church. Pastors must recover this lost vision, and begin taking steps to recover the theological emphasis of their ministry. How can already busy ministers with a plethora of expectations begin to grow as pastor-theologians? Let me suggest four ways.

  1. Read Some Recent Books on the idea of Pastor-theologian

Recent books have promoted this old vision of the Pastor as theologian. If your interested in learning more about what that means, I direct you to two recent books: The Pastor as Public Theologian by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan and The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson.

I’d even encourage you to pick up and read about some pastor-theologians from church history. You could read George Marsden’s excellent biography of Jonathan Edwards or Roland Bainton’s biogrpahy of Martin Luther.

  1. Prioritize and Calendar Sermon Preparation

If you are going to commit yourself to bring the entire counsel of God upon your people, you must diligently study the Scriptures. For pastors, it’s all too easy for to let sermon preparation take the back-burner on an already packed schedule. Yet, pastor-theologians recognize that the preparation of the sermon takes priority above every other responsibility. Find the time to brush off your language skills and translate the text you’re preaching. Do the hard work of exegesis. Take the time to read a couple of commentaries. Create solid application and illustration around the text. Do not neglect the preaching ministry. It is by far the most central and public task of the pastor-theologian.

  1. Take Time to Read Theology

Pick up a good systematic theology and begin reading through it. Pick up the writings of one of your heroes in church history and begin reading. Sure, you can engage in this study at home, but schedule time for theology as part of your work week. As pastors, we must be constantly growing in our knowledge of the truth, and that means we don’t stop reading once we have a degree hanging on our wall.

  1. Consider Furthering Your Education

Pastor-theologians are life long learners, continually growing in their knowledge of Christ. We do this for the good of our people, so we can rightly shepherd them to the glories of Christ. In many ways, pastors can grow on their own, but often times  it’s helpful to further your education at an academic institution, as it provides accountability and direction to our studies. For example, you could consider Charleston Southern’s Master of Arts in Christian Studies.

A Vision to Reclaim

Pastors, God has entrusted you with a glorious Gospel. We proclaim the wonders of Christ: the humility of his incarnation, the righteousness of his life, the wisdom of his teaching, the substitutionary nature of his death, the world altering reality of his resurrection, and the hope of his return. Pastor, your church needs to be equipped with the sound doctrine of the Scriptures so that they can be sent as ambassadors for Christ into this lost and dying world. Though they might not realize it, your church needs you to be their resident theologian. God has given us the glory and honor to handle these precious truths. May we custodian the Gospel well, faithfully guarding the good deposit and proclaiming it to our community as pastor-theologians.

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