1 Timothy 3:1 says something like, if anyone wants to be a pastor, they desire a noble task.
I aspire to be a pastor. Let me give you a few reasons why.
An introductory comment
As far as many of you are aware, I was currently preparing and planning on entering academia. For some time now, I have wanted to be a professor. However, that has recently changed. I want to be a pastor. Now, in one sense, not a whole lot has changed. Originally I wanted to be a professor and a lay elder (pastor). That is, I wanted to make my living teaching in the university but serve (unpaid) as an assistant pastor of sorts in the church. However, now I desire to be a pastor full-time so to say. This is a change in direction. Maybe not a terribly drastic change. It’s certainly not a abrupt change; this has been developing over a long period of time, even prior to my noticing it. But it’s a change nonetheless.
The influence of my current ministry involvement
For over the past four years (since my sophomore year of college) I have served in my church in various capacities, specifically as the youth leader. This constant involvement in local church ministry has had an incredibly significant impact on the way I view life, theology, and, of particular relevance for this discussion, my education. Since beginning my MDiv last fall (2012), I have constantly found myself asking things like, “How does this [given topic I’m studying] relate to local church ministry?” This hasn’t been intentional or deliberate either, in the sense that I force myself to ask these questions. It has been naturally born out of my constant involvement in and awareness of local church ministry.
(As a side note, this is why I can’t overemphasize the importance of being involved in a local church as you go through seminary. It has had the incredible impact of helping me stay grounded to realm of real life ministry and keep things in a proper perspective.)
A desire to minister among “regular people” and teach “regular stuff”
I love technical “deep” theological stuff just as much as the next guy. Get me talking about theological and hermeneutical issues related to continuity and discontinuity in redemptive history such as the relationship between Israel and the Church– Umph! My blood pressure rises. Technical, scholarly, academic discussion and debates are important. And I’ll be the first to affirm this. But there comes a point where academic discussion for the sake of academic discussion bugs me, namely when academic material is written merely for other academics and doesn’t even have the regular Christian anywhere near the radar.
I have a strong desire to teach “regular people” and “regular stuff.” By “regular people,” I mean lay people, non-academics. People who have degrees in something other than Bible and theology, or no degrees at all. By “regular stuff,” I mean helping people to understand the Bible simply. I don’t mean superficially or in a way that’s only surface deep. I’m talking about rich, Biblical, robustly theological content, but presented in a way that’s relevant and suits them, that doesn’t engage all of the academic discussion that doesn’t concern them and doesn’t necessarily need to concern them (although it certain wouldn’t hurt!) –Just simply, what is the Bible saying? (Among other things of course) I really just want to help people know their Bible and its truth (theology) better.
This isn’t anything terribly new for me I guess; even when I wanted to be a professor I preferred the idea of teaching at an undergraduate (as opposed to seminary) level for this very reason. But my involvement in ministry (above), in addition to greater exposure to academia, has provided me with great clarity as to where this desire best directs me–the church.
I believe I can have the greatest amount of influence in the local church
I know there are some great doctors of theology who have had an incredible influence on God’s Church. I think of my professor, D.A. Carson, for example. However, as I evaluate how I can best use my gifts to serve God (cf. Mt 25:14-30), I believe I can have the greatest influence for God’s kingdom and in the lives of his people within the local church. First, chances are I won’t be the next D.A. Carson (surprising, I know). Second, I could venture to be a professor and influence through academic writing and teaching students, maybe even students who would be the next generation of pastors. But I’d rather be one of those pastors influencing the lives of congregants on a direct, immediate level. I’d rather be on the front lines. Third, as I think about the postgraduate degrees necessary to enter academia (PhD), I’m not sure I want to spend six or so more years in the seminary. I’d rather utilize those years ministering full-time in the Church… and maybe continuing education on the side. 🙂
I love the Church and I value her immensely
My advisor here at TEDS (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), informed about some of my past negative experiences in local churches, made the comment once that he was surprised how much I seemed to value and love the church. He asked me, in light of my experiences, why I was so committed to the church. He found it surprisingly, interesting, and contrary to the reactions of others. I simply responded that my theology outweighs my experience.
I don’t say this to brag on myself. But it illustrates my point. I really value and love the Church, not because the church hasn’t hurt me or church ministry isn’t frustration or exhausting, but because the Bible tells me that the Church is God’s eternal purpose (Eph 3:10-11). It’s pretty hard to beat that on the value-scale! The church is where God has primarily chosen to do His work in this age. And I want to be a part of that. I always have. So nothings changed… but as I’ve said, they kinda have.
I see a need for excellence in the pastorate
TEDS has a lot of bright, intelligent students, many of whom are training for academia. And we need disciplined bright, intelligent individuals who are committed to put in the work to enter the various fields of Biblical scholarship. But sometimes at TEDS, where there are a lot of people training for academia, and less of a percentage training for the pastorate than maybe in some other seminaries, I think we might sometimes fall into the idea that academia is for the really, really gifted… and if your not cut out for that, then you can be a pastor. –Like the pastorate is a default option, like the pastorate is second grade.
On the contrary, I’ve become convinced that if anything is more taxing, if anything is more rigorous, if anything (can I say this?) requires more competence, it’d be the pastorate. Sure, the scholar has to be an expert in his or her field. And I’m not downplaying how much effort, time, study, and discipline that requires. But at the same time, he has the benefit of specializing. On the other hand, the pastor is like a professional… person. He needs to be an expert–maybe not to the degree of the scholar, but an expert nonetheless–in countless areas. He needs to know about the Bible, homiletics, hermeneutics, systematic theology, Biblical theology, historical theology, missions, Church history, church finance, counseling, technology (now days), church government, the original languages (preferably at least), exegesis, text criticism, philosophy, ethics, bioethics, politics, culture, etc. etc. etc. Oh, and he also has to have people skills. He’s a “renaissance man.” I can only really describe him properly as a “professional person.” Oh, and the pastor doesn’t have the luxury of withdrawing into “armchair theologian” mode if things get difficult. He has to engage these disciplines with the lives and concerns of real people.
I never decided to pursue becoming a Bible/theology professors because I thought the educational preparation would be easy or because I thought the job would be pretty chill. No, I entered because I knew it would be rigorous; but I knew it would be worth it. (What could be more valuable a task then promoting God’s truth? Nothing.) And that mindset hasn’t changed. Therefore, I’m not aspiring to become a pastor because I see it as an easier route. To the contrary! I want to be a pastor because I’ve always wanted to take the difficult path in terms of dedicating my life to God’s service; I want to enter where there is a need for excellence. And more than ever, I see that place as the pastorate.