The Pastor-Scholar?

There’s been a lot of discussion on Facebook about an online article by Gerald Hiestand over at the First Things website.  Pastor Dan just put up a post and I am simply going to pass along his thoughts and add a few of my own.  Here is it cut an pasted from his blog:


A great article from First Things provokes some thoughts for me. I want to be faithful as a leader, a pastor, and expositor of the Word.

These thoughts are good:

The drain of our wider theologians from the pastorate to the academy has resulted in a two-fold problem. First, the theological water-level of our local parishes has dropped considerably. Inasmuch as the pastoral vocation is no longer seen as a theological vocation, pastors no longer bring a strong theological presence to their local parishes. The net effect (particularly in the evangelical tradition in which I reside) is a truncated understanding of theology and its import among the laity. Theology has largely left the local church.

The second part of this problem is perhaps more even troubling. Not only has theology left the church, but the church has left theology. To be sure, many academic theologians view themselves as self-consciously serving the theological needs of the church. But on the whole, academic discourse has lost its way, becoming preoccupied with questions—especially questions regarding its right to exist—that minimize its ecclesial relevance.

While I deeply appreciate theologians who pursue theological studies, gain a PhD and then teach, my heart is for those who would strengthen their theological studies and then gift that to the church. The earliest centuries found some of the Church’s greatest theologians… and they were all pastors. The dichotomy has hurt the Church and we need to regain our strengths as ministers and churches.


I am in complete agreement with Dan on this one – not every one can or should teach in a college setting but they can teach in a local church setting and they should!

The main disagreement that I have is the voice of the church shouldn’t have to be limited to pastors or practitioners.  The academician can also speak to the church and the church should be willing to listen – but the academician will have to speak in a way that the church can understand and receive (not going off “waxing elephant” (like Dave black likes to say)).  Pastors and Scholars need each other and the church needs them as well – so definitely they should always seek to be in conversation with each other.

The problem is, however, with the current church leadership trends focusing primarily on pragmatics – and a focus on the pastor as leader or influencer – many have lost interest in theology as being too impractical (which is tragic because there are always practical application/implications of theological truths and realities) – or too divisive, uninteresting, etc.

To me this just proves all the more the need for more pastors to pursue PhD work in the midst of their vocations (not all, just more) – but also the need for more pastors to be intentionally involved in such groups as ETS (SBL might be too academic of a setting and many aren’t even Christian let alone interested in speaking to or with the church – so ETS might be the better venue for this kind of conversation) – or for Pentecostal pastors to be part of SPS and so on – as I understand it, many in academia want to engage the church but the church in many ways hasn’t been interested in engaging academia – but being intentionally involved in ETS and such societies sure would help.

10 responses to “The Pastor-Scholar?

  1. Sadly, as you note, most churches want pastors who can preach, teach, write, council, do funerals, do weddings, balance the budget, manage assets, plan church events, and so forth and so on. This leads most young men and women, who would like to be dedicated to the theological task, praying God gives them a college job over the pastorate. This needs to change.

  2. Take the pastorate. Just stay passionate for the theological task. There was a prof at the college I attended for my B.A. I never had him for a teacher but heard he was incredible. He left teaching to enter into the pastorate. Small church in northern MN. He LOVED being a pastor/scholar. It fit him well.

    • Dan, I think you are taking the right approach, pastoring and teaching at the college – I would say that is an ideal situation! 🙂

      I am pretty sure I am to pursue higher levels of theological studies, I am just still needing much direction from the Lord about it all (what, when, where, how, all that).

  3. I’ve had numerous conversations with Gerald Heistand about the Pastor-Scholar (among other things). I appreciate what he’s trying to do for the Church and the academy. I consider it my own calling to be among those who would (hopefully) be a Pastor-Scholar. This is part of the reason why I participate in SBL, SPS, and the International Bonhoeffer Society (a society all about a Pastor-Theologian) as well as part of the reason I am blogging between three blogs (one for, one for my own pastoral/personal and one for a cooperative intensive theological effort) and I manage to have some time for pastoring :-). Actually I can’t imagine working in academia and not pastoring as well, but that is me. Or should I say…I pastor…and I can’t imagine not being academically involved as well ;-).

  4. Brian, this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. That was one of my motivations for going back to school to finish my BTh. One of my goals would be to teach theology at a bible college during the day and pastor as well. As it is now I work a full time job that is very demanding, and I still manage to fulfill my pastoral responsibilities. Now keep in mind that I am one of three pastors so we share many of the responsibilities and that is working for us very well. I have no ambitions to someday be a scholar that contributes to the academic community (I don’t think I have the chops anyhow), but I do have great ambitions to take what I learn for those that do contribute to the scholarly and be able to effectively communicate that to the church without dumbing it down.

    I also agree with LePort, that the pastor is asked to do to many things, and is pulled in many directions. This leads to placing ones priorities in other areas that seem just as important as preparing. I recently spoke to the senior pastor and requests not to give me any more counseling assignments, and no weddings. These are distractions for me right now, especially counseling that is time consuming and draining as well. One has to be aware that this is a problem, and have the passion and strength to change it. For example I started a Bible Institute at our church about 4 years ago, we charge a nominal fee of $10 per person and teach theology, biblical survey, and teach through various books of the bible verse by verse. I also started preaching through the bible, I started and recently completed Philippians (I only preach once a month), and now planning to start on Colossians.

    This is something we need to continue praying about. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. In my experience as a college kid taking classes on Christianity from a liberal university, I’ve known full well the tension between the church and the academic, which is mostly produced from the church’s side. One pastor advised me to drop all the religious studies classes that I was taking because they were “too liberal,” which highlights the problem exactly. As an average church-goer, I wish to see a bridging of the gap between the academia and church and I hope it would start from the church’s end.

    It’s as the title suggests, we need more pastor-scholars; people who can communicate to two vastly different groups of people at the same time.

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