The Pastor As Scholar

Another emphasis that attracted me to the people and mission of B. H. Carroll Theological Institute was their desire to restore the value of Pastor-as-Scholar to the local church. I was called, like many seminary graduates with a doctorate, to local church ministry. Throughout my ministry I taught as an adjunct professor at a nearby college or university—sometimes more than my church members thought I should, as they wanted their pastor in the hospital rather than the classroom. The dichotomy of choosing the career path of a professor or remaining in the pastorate loomed before me season after season—until I discovered Carroll Institute.

As a Resident Fellow with Carroll I found I could exercise my spiritual gift of teaching and infuse my academic training to equip men and women called to serve Christ and his church as part of my role as pastor. I did not have to leave local church ministry to teach at an accredited seminary. Like the Institute’s namesake, B. H. Carroll, who was pastor of First Baptist Church, Waco, TX for 28 years and who trained pastors in his office and home, I found that offering theological education by a Pastor-as-Scholar in a local church was beneficial for not only church members and leaders but for churches and their staffs in the area. I jumped in with both feet in 2005 when Legacy Church, Plano, TX became a Teaching Church and I became a Resident Fellow. Since then, I have embraced the value of Pastor-as-Scholar and now serve to equip these leaders in the church.

The role of Pastor has morphed over the last several decades. (Noted understatement) I was trained in seminary under the rubric of Pastor-as-Manager of a denominational department store with similar departments in First Church Wherever. The similarity of churches in my denomination of origin required such training. However, churches and denominations changed, and in the early ‘90’s the Pastor-as-Leader emerged under the influence of Bill Hybels (one of my Pastor-as-Leader heroes), John Maxwell and others. (By the way, leadership was not in a seminary curriculum prior to this emphasis from megachurch pastors.) It was during this decade or two of the Church Growth movement I learned the difference between leading rather than managing, and I am grateful for the lessons that helped me become a student of servant leadership like Jesus.

Pastor-as-CEO emerged in those days, too, and pastors with the spiritual gift of teaching and a personality profile that began with an “I” were encouraged to place someone who had the “Romans 12:8 leadership gift” around them to truly lead the church to grow. Pastor-as-Scholar, Pastor-as-Shepherd and Pastor-as-Servant were nowhere to be found on stage. Next generation church leaders embraced Pastor-as-Missional Leader, and Pastor-as-Entrepreneur, that pastor who can grow the church through multi-site multiplication, has taken center stage these days.

I’ll admit all of these are broad-brush observations and come from my personal experience and observation of pastoral leadership, but my primary point is that while Pastor-as-Scholar is seldom held up as a value in conferences, seminars and podcasts, I am convinced it is time for the church to value their Shepherds as teachers and scholars and for Pastors to do the hard work of biblical scholarship. 

My primary reasons for the need to restore this value?

  • A changing culture that has marginalized the church and no longer values biblical lifestyles and beliefs,
  • a growing number biblically-illiterate church members and leaders,
  • an emphasis on pragmatic results verses biblical application, and
  • a prevailing sentiment seminary education is irrelevant to be an effective leader in the church today.

I must state my belief that there is a place for full-time, fully engaged scholars who equip pastors and church leaders. Carroll Institute has some of the best scholar-teachers serving the church today. My concern is with local church leaders and members who believe “that’s what professors do. I don’t need any of that for what I do.” When local church ministry is separated from scholarly, theological training the church is sentenced to follow the latest trends and whims of those who lead them.

The debate of whether or not one can or should be Pastor-as-Scholar has heated up, and I am pleased about that. At minimum, the topic is on the table, and we can dialogue about it.

Much of the debate separates the role of professors who teach in a seminary and pastors who serve in a local church and asks how one can be like the other while maintaining their places of service. Jeff Robinson of Southern Seminary provides “5 Lessons” to see “the similarities between the offices of pastor and scholar,” but the dichotomy remains as to where and to whom you serve and teach. John Piper and D. A. Carson have reflected on their lives and ministries as a Pastor as Scholar and Scholar as Pastor. Piper’s reflections on his role in the local church are closest to what I am proposing.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan have raised the flag for “pastor as public theologian” for which I am grateful. Vanhoozer gives 55 reasons why the church needs “pastor-theologians. While “theologian” and “scholar” are not synonymous, rigorous, scholarly training necessary to be a “public theologian” is required.

Not everyone agrees with the concept of Pastor-as-Scholar. Andrew Wilson bemuses the reality that such a dual capacity role may not be possible. Mark Jones makes the point that the two roles of pastor and scholar should remain separate because he doesn’t believe “both can be done well.”

Some questions for you:

  • Can the Pastor be valued as a scholar and carry the various duties necessary to carry out the mission of the church?
  • Does one person fill the singular role of Pastor-as-Scholar, or are there multiple roles that build up the church?
  • What is your experience as a pastor? How would you describe how your people value you?

In the next blog, I will share interviews with three local church pastors who I consider Pastor-as-Scholars. They will tell their stories, and I hope you will dialogue with them.

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