My blogging buddy Sam has posted his thoughts on the value of pastors and PhD work – he himself recently completed a PhD in Historical Theology and is a staff pastor in a local United Methodist church – you should read his post because he has some really great comments and insights. At the end of his post he wirtes:
Pastors don’t need a Ph.D. to minister effectively. Some of the most impressive ministers I know have little more than a two year Bible college degree. Some of the worst ministers I know have high levels of education. Is a research doctorate benficial to those who have entered pastoral ministry? I think so. Would it help every minister? I don’t know – I can only speak for myself. It helps me. But the question is not whether a Ph.D. is an appropriate degree for ministers. The real question is whether someone with a Ph.D. is called to pastoral ministry.
On the last question here were my thoughts: obviously not all PhD’s are called to pastoral ministry but I want to assert that more are called to the pastorate than may be willing to admit. As one friend I have mused, “who gets a PhD only to “go back” into ministry?” He knows this is a highly inappropriate question but one many wannabe scholars ask.
The plain and simple fact of the matter is, vocational ministry (i.e., pastoring) is hard work, as it should be, but I have the feeling many may think teaching in a college or university is not as hard of work (perhaps wrongly?) so those not specifially called to teach in that environment may be looking at teaching as a way to keep “working for the Lord” without having to deal with all the day to day ministry issues (i.e., people). But that is purely my own opinion, and I realize those cases are most likely far and few between.
Here is my other deal – it is obvious not everyone can teach at that level and it is also obvious there just isn’t that much room for everyone to be teaching (and it is very competitive) – so what to do? Flip burgers until a teaching spot opens up? Why?
Why not consider vocational ministry? Or even cross-cultural ministry on the mission field? I have a friend who is at the doctoral level and ministers among the urban poor in the slums of Bangkok, Thailand (he teaches and presents too but the vast majority of his time is spent reaching the urban poor). Maybe too think about planting a church state side (there are still thousands of communities without churches) or overseas (still thousands of people groups with insufficient or no living Christian witness to Jesus), or seeking U.S. Missions appointment so you can take a rural church and not worry too much about the low pay or no pay (sadly too many pastors are fleeing rural churches for supposed better salaries leaving the rural churches pastorless (like sheep without a shepherd)).
So, I think while not all are called to that level of study while also preparing for ministry – many are and should be when they are not. Not to make a big deal out of the PhD over and against other doctoral programs, as each and every one has it’s place and purpose, I still think and agree with Sam that the pastor (and the congregation he or she serves) can and should benefit from PhD level work.
Just a couple of famous examples of pastors with PhD, ThD, or similar level study might be John Stott. To me he is the epitome of the pastor-scholar who is involved in the academy while also pastoring a local congregation. Well, at least he did for the significant majority of his career. He is in many ways the pastor/scholar extrordinaire.
Another example might be the recently late Ray S. Anderson, who Mark Stevens just informed us about regarding his passing on Father’s day. Anderson is another example of the theologian/pastor extrordinare. I have not read anything by Anderson, but I have seen some pretty great quotes and thought from his pen, as quoted on Mark’s blog. And if his vocational eulogy is of any significance, it says alot about the value of pastors with PhD or equivelent level study under their belt as Pastors.
Feel free to share your thoughts on the matter.