Should a Pastor be an Academic?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the tile of a pastor in the church, particularly regarding his teach role. This affects me personally because I want to be a pastor but I also love academics and research. The question that I struggle with is how do I combine the two?

Often, academics is set as the antithesis of faith. Generally speaking, both the academy and the church resist the combination of faith and academics/ reason. From the academy, faith cannot be combined with reason because faith is belief in something despite evidence to the contrary. Faith holds on to antiquated views of the past which has been debunked by modern science. From the church, reason cannot be combined with the church because it kills your passion for God and leads to questioning the Bible’s authority.

But what does God call the pastor to do? Is he called to reject academics and support faith? Or is he called to only moderate academics, but they should not be his passion? Or should he avoid academics in the pulpit but pursue it in the lectern?

The answer, I believe, is simple and it comes from two observations. God says that he “gave some apostles…. and some pastors and teachers.” This means that gave these individuals to the church. In other words, every Christian is God’s gift to the church. And as individuals, whatever talents and passions we have are God’s gift to the church. Therefore, if we are passionate about academics and pastoring then we should pursue both for “the maturing of the saints and the building up of the body of Christ.”

The second observation comes from Hebrew 6:1 “Therefore leaving the elementary principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto maturity; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.” This verse demands that we pursue a deeper understanding of theology and not just the pastors, but the laity as well. Someone must lead the way in the pursuit. And no doctrine is too obscure, because the author of Hebrew goes on to discuss Melkizadek of which we only have a few verses on him. Thus the pursuit of understanding is not just permitted by God but demanded by Him.

What does this mean for the church? First, the office of elder does not just include pastoral care but also didactic duties. These duties include going beyond the simple Gospel and teaching in-depth theology.

Second, from the example about Melkizadek, we can observe that not every portion of this teaching has direct applications for Christian living. Some theology builds into other theology which then builds into applications. In the example above, the doctrine of Melkizadek builds into the priesthood of Christ which builds into our access with God which is then applied to us coming to Him in prayer. Other doctrines also have this process. For example, the study of genealogies leads to the doctrine of inspiration and perspicacity which then is applied to how we interpret God’s word.

Third, truth is at the core of Christian doctrine. We don’t believe it because it makes us feel good or makes our lives better (these may happen, but they are not the cause). We believe because it is fundamentally truth. As such, we need to defend it against the attacks of unbelieving scholarship for the sake of the flock that God gives into our care. Thus, God gives to the church those who are interested in academics to be able to shepherd the church through the attacks of unbelief.

And let’s face it, the pressure out on all of us by the unbelief is strong. Science is done to its favor. History is changed to its favor. Policies at universities are changed to its favor. This does not mean that unbelieving scholars cannot present truth, but it does mean that their interpretations will tend toward unbelief.

Our people are not exempt for there attacks. University education is expected in modern countries and unless you are blessed to go to a Christian school, you will have unbelief shoved down your throat in any class on religion in a secular university. This means, then, that we as the church must be ready to defend against this assault and to answer–with real answers–the doubts that arise. To do this we must know what unbelieving scholarship says and how they argue it. Then, we can equip our flock with the knowledge necessary to answer the doubts arising in ourselves. This is why God gives teachers to the church–so that we can build up the body of Christ while the world seeks to tear it down.

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