Pastor or scholar?

David Miller | Nov 6, 2009

One of my seminary mentors, the late Don Verseput, observed how many students come to college or seminary wanting to be youth pastors under the influence of their own youth pastors, and leave wanting to be teachers, under the influence of their college or seminary professors. Something is wrong, Verseput suggested, if Christian college and seminary professors groom their best students to be scholars like them. The result may be flattering, but it is also misdirected: The job of a pastor may not be as high status, and it does not require as much education, but from the perspective of the church, it is more important, more valuable, more urgent.

I was reminded of Verseput's comments a few weeks ago when I read Justin Taylor's account of John Piper's transition from college professor to pastor. This excerpt is from a sermon Piper preached as a pastoral candidate:

Right now in my own life, I stand on the brink of a professional change. I really love my job at Bethel College. It is very rewarding. When I see students out there who are in my 1 Corinthians class, it makes me very glad. One of the ways God has said to me "Move Piper," is this: when I read Philippians 1:19-26, there is in me a tremendous longing. Last October it became an irresistible longing to be an instrument in God's hands to fulfill these goals in a local church. At this point in my life I say, and I believe God is saying to me, "The potential, Piper, for magnifying me is greater now in the pastorate than in the professorship."

We don't just need more pastors, we need pastor-scholars. According to Kevin Vanhoozer,

"Seminary faculties need the courage to be evangelically Protestant for the sake of forming theological interpreters of Scripture able to preach and minister the word. The preacher is a "man on a wire," whose sermons must walk the tightrope between Scripture and the contemporary situation. I believe that we should preparing our best students for this gospel ministry. The pastor-theologian, I submit, should be evangelicalism's default public intellectual, with preaching the preferred public mode of theological interpretation of Scripture." (HT: Mike Bird)

The point of my job, I remind myself from time to time, is not to encourage my students to imitate my career choices, but to help prepare them to do something more important with their lives.