Awesome article on the need for pastors to also engage their congregations as theologians, and for theologians to intentionally serve their local congregations.
A Call and Agenda for Pastor-Theologians
by Douglas Sweeney, professor of Church history and the history of Christian thought and director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
There have never been this many Christians around the world, yet few know much about God, the actual contents of the Bible, or the ways in which God’s people have interpreted and applied the Bible historically. Many Americans, at least, still go to church and read the Bible–as their social lives permit. Even more in the Global South do so with fervency and zeal. Still, despite our apparent esteem for the Bible’s status and authority, few believers know as much about its contents as they do about Hollywood movies, popular music, or athletics.
Indeed, as anyone who teaches in our churches can attest, few today know the Ten Commandments (I mean all ten, in proper order), the twelve apostles, the letters of Paul, or even the titles of the books included within the biblical canon. A basic grasp of Bible doctrine is also hard to find today. How many Christians do you know who can articulate what Scripture teaches about our Lord’s two natures, the ministry of the Spirit, or the nature of the church? Even first-year seminarians have trouble with these things.
The church wants education and needs theological leaders. In this day when many pastors lead non-theologically, and academics work in a way that is lost on the people of God, we need pastor-theologians who can minister the Word in ways that edify the saints and offer a winsome public witness to the goodness, truth, and beauty of the Lord and his will for us.
The time is ripe for dialogue, even charitable debate, regarding the best way forward. So I offer the following theses in the hope that they will incite a large number of church leaders–in congregations and divinity schools–to think together with me about how we can serve God’s people more effectively as preachers, teachers, and Christian educators.
1. Our churches and our world desperately need pastors to lead and teach theologically.
We clearly can’t rely on families to raise their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (though a minority of them are doing so). We can’t rely on television or radio preachers to feed us (though, again, some are trying). We shouldn’t assume that people are finding theological nourishment in their local Christian bookstores. Our pastors truly need to give themselves far more fully to a ministry of the Word that is profound and systematic, as well as personally, ecclesially, and socio-culturally relevant.
2. Not all pastors are able to function as big-hitting theologians (serving the church and world at large).
Some don’t have the time. Many are serving churches that won’t allow this kind of stewardship. Some don’t have the intellectual gifts or writing skills. Many pastors in large churches have assignments that include very little preaching and teaching. So let’s be honest about this: the kind of theological leadership that the world so desperately needs is not for everyone engaged in pastoral ministry.
3. All pastors should lead and inform their people theologically.
Not everyone can be a great theological leader. Not everyone can write books or make a splash in the media. But ordained clergy are called to the sacred ministry of the gospel and the eternal Word of God—not to motivational speaking, popular psychology, folk wisdom, life coaching, or marketing the faith (though we often engage these other things in ancillary ways).
4. Some pastor-theologians should recognize that God has called, prepared, and equipped them for the serious, sustained, theological leadership of their own congregations, denominations, and the Christian church at large.
This wider ministry often requires strong encouragement from those who know us well. People who fit this description are often tempted to believe that insofar as they serve the Lord in trans-congregational ministry they are shirking their main duty to their local congregations. Sometimes this is true; but it is not always true. It is possible to serve well in a local congregation and to serve the church at large. And people called to both assignments are actually sinning against the Lord if they neglect the larger church.
5. We will always need schools for the training of ministry leaders.
There are many churches one can serve with little or no advanced training. But it would be difficult today to become a theological leader without the benefit of a solid theological education. Seminaries, especially, offer such a rich and varied menu of specialized studies in fields related to Christian ministry—ancient languages and history, church history, philosophy, psychology, hermeneutics, intercultural studies, and so on–that it is impossible to replicate what they do outside the academy. History teaches that reformation in the church is usually led by intellectuals—people who understand the past and know how to chart a different course for the people of God moving forward. One doesn’t need much education to maintain the status quo. But to reform and improve the church one needs to understand its problems and have access to the tools by which we can solve them.
6. But this does not mean that we will need the very kind of schools we now have.
American Protestants have only had such schools for a couple hundred years. They are relatively new. And, in the main, the theological life of our churches has declined during the years they’ve been around. I suggest we move toward a seminary model in which thoughtful, seasoned pastors play a greater role on campus (not just in preaching and polity classes) and, correlatively, that seminary professors play a greater role in the educational ministries of their region’s congregations.
To continue reading the next 9 points, click here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/04/26/a-call-and-agenda-for-pastor-theologians/