Professors, Reimagine the Pastorate; Pastors, Don't Bury Your Gift — An Excerpt from "The Pastor Theologian"
“The renewal of the church depends on a renewal of theology,” which “depends on the resurrection of the ancient vision of the pastor as ecclesial theologian.”
That’s the premise of a new book I wish I had when I was still in pastoral ministry.
The book is The Pastor Theologian, written by pastor theologians Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson.
In championing this oft neglected pastoral role, the two have specific words for two constituencies in the excerpt below: professors and pastors.
For professors: “as an academic theologian, you play a vital role in reimagining the pastoral vocation…Because of this, the cues you send to the next generation carry tremendous weight.” (124)
And for pastors: “If you are a pastor with strong intellectual and theological gifting, then we charge you…that you not bury this talent in the ground.” (126)
Read their insights and consider how you can nurture or be a pastor theologian yourself.
A Word to Professors: Play the Part of John the Baptist
Although many have sought to bridge the gap between the world of theology and the world of the church, they have found limited success. We believe this is because such efforts continue to assume, and then work within, the present division of labor between the academy and the church. Both academic theologians and pastors work with the assumption that those with exceptional intellectual gifting ought to pursue a career in the academy, while those with pastoral gifting ought to pursue a calling in the church. This assumption must be dragged into the street and bludgeoned to death. And we are asking that you, as a professor, help wield the blunt instrument.
We have no grievance with bright Christians pursuing careers in the academy; in fact, may your tribe increase! But the parting of the ways between the academy and the church has so reshaped the pastoral vocation that the latter has lost its rightful theological identity. And as we’ve come to see, theologically passive pastors only perpetuate the perception that theological acumen is largely an “academic” concern. But this only further exacerbates the problem. Now the intellectually gifted gravitate toward the academy as the only option for theological leadership, further draining the theological integrity of the church. And on the cycle goes, to the detriment
of both the church and theology.
If we’re to see a resurgence of theological integrity in our churches, we will need to promote pastoral ministry as a viable context for theological leadership. We will need to envision a future in which those with both intellectual gifting and a pastoral heart can use those gifts to the fullest extent possible in the church. This is not to say that every pastor must be a published theologian. But it is to say that the pastoral community must reimagine its vocation to include taking primary responsibility for the theological leadership of the church.
Now, as an academic theologian, you play a vital role in reimagining the pastoral vocation. You are in a position of significant influence, whether you realize it or not. The fact is, you are perceived by the emerging generation of pastors and theologians as a theological leader of the church. Because of this, the cues you send to the next generation carry tremendous weight. At least some of your students are torn between the life of the mind and the life of the church. They enjoy studying, love writing, and get juiced on scholarship. They resonate deeply with your sense of vocation and have the desire and gifting to serve as thought-leaders to the broader evangelical community. But they also have a heart for the church and for pastoral ministry. They enjoy people, love preaching, and are energized by leadership. And if their experience is like ours, they find themselves at a vocational fork in the road, which can trigger an identity crisis. Will they subdue their intellectual aspirations for a career in the church or lay aside their pastoral desires for a career in the academy?
…hold out the vision of the ecclesial theologian as a viable alternative, some of your students may find their way into a future that utilizes the full range of their gifts and desires.
A Word to Pastors: Embrace the Gap
Pastors often lament the gap between the academy and the church, or the doing of theology and the practice of ministry. Yet these laments belie the fact that we have made peace with the present division of labor. We delegate to the academy the task of providing theological leadership to the church, then complain about what we in turn get from the academy. But could the problem be less with the academy and more with the church, which has outsourced its responsibility to the academy?
There was a day when there was no gap between the academy and the church precisely because there was no academy. And when the academy emerged in the twelfth century, it functioned as a formal extension of the church’s mission. But with the dawn of the Enlightenment, the university context shifted toward an overtly secular posture and at the same time gradually came to replace the church as the established and recognized institution of intellectual learning.
The academy represents its own legitimate realm of discourse, and we should be grateful it exists. It has led to advances in all kinds of learning, and it is vital that we have Christian intellectuals and theologians and Bible scholars interacting directly with the other fields of discourse represented in the academy. The questions of the academy aren’t going away, and we need Christian intellectuals present there to provide cogent Christian responses. But the pastoral community errs insofar as we think that theology done in the academy is going to have the same agenda and ecclesial dialect that it once did when it was being done by pastors in the churches. That’s an unfair burden to place upon academic theologians. …
The pastoral community needs to free up our academic brethren to be academic. It’s what they are best suited to do, and it’s the best way they can make a unique and vital contribution to the church. But they cannot — from the social location of the academy — service all the theological needs of the church. Asking that academic theologians solve both academic problems and pastoral problems with equal acumen only creates inevitable frustration and misplaced expectations.
If you are a pastor with strong intellectual and theological gifting, then we charge you — in the sight of God and the elect angels! — that you not bury this talent in the ground….We need pastors who are able to assess the underlying assumptions of our culture and who are able to offer, on behalf of the larger church, cogent responses to that culture. We need pastors conversant in the biblical languages who are able to mine the Word of God for the health of God’s people…
Do not neglect the gift that has been given you or fall prey to the mistaken assumption that academic theologians are sufficient for meeting all the theological needs of the church. We appeal to you to help create a future in which the pastoral community no longer adopts a largely passive role with respect to theological leadership. (pgs. 123–127)
The Pastor Theologian
By Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson
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