The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor

Of the last five years, I spent four in theological college and latest one in pastoral ministry.  Whilst at college I enjoyed the engagement with scholarly material.  Translating and grappling over textual issues and interpretations, reading commentary upon commentary, and using my findings to shed light on doctrine, pastoral conversations, and perhaps most prominently in preaching.  Since beginning pastoral ministry, I have done less in depth study, partly because there are no essay deadlines looming, and partly because church management has a canny habit of taking over time used for study and reading.  However I still feel that there is to be a balance between scholar and pastor in each Christian ministry.  Why? Because we’re helping people to grow in faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the pastor and scholar extra-ordinaire.  At the moment of Peter’s great revelation of that fact in John 6, “You have the words of eternal life.”, he quickly follows by “We have come to BELIEVE and KNOW that you are the Holy One of God.”  Believing is to some extent encouraged by the role of a pastor sharing their heart, and knowing, encouraged by the role of scholar sharing wisdom.

Given the fact I see my calling to Christian ministry in this way, I was delighted to discover The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor.  This short book began life as a conversation between John Piper and Don Carson back in 2009, and such was the usefulness of that conversation, they worked together to publish this book.  It is a very methodical read with each author taking up roughly half of the 110 pages.  First Piper, the Pastor as Scholar,  examines his route to being one of America’s leading pastors, and like my confession at the start of his post he starts by saying, ‘….don’t hold your breath waiting for me to say something about making room for academic scholarship in the busy life of a pastor.’  What he does do is explain what makes him ‘tick’ in Christian ministry – a pastor’s heart through which he has tried ‘to preach the whole counsel of God from his written Word, with a passion for Jesus and a love for {his} people.  {He has} tried to structure things so that the people are cared for in their needs and so that they learn to care for each other and reach out to the lost.’  What being a scholarly pastor for him is ‘that the greatest object of knowledge is God and that he has revealed himself authoritatively in a book; and that I should work with all my might and all my heart and all my soul and all my mind to know and enjoy him and to make him known for the joy of others. Surely this is the goal of every pastor.’

To actually reflect the thesis of the book, while Piper writes from the heart, Carson, the Scholar and Pastor, writes a rigorous introduction that covers questioning the terms of the title, and, amongst other things, sharing a little of his journey to scholarship.  The second part of his section, deals with frank observations and pitfalls for those in pastoral ministry whose heart, perhaps like mine, is driven by scholarly working.  He talks of the warnings of becoming a mere knowledge supplier to the troops on the front line, the dangers of working for plaudits, and the danger of forgetting the people.  He talks of how scholars need to recognise different gifts and above all remaining focussed on the gospel in the world.

Strangely I found both sections of the book insightful, challenging, and something of a reflection of what I hope and pray this ministry I’m called to may offer for God’s Kingdom.  Perhaps that response reflects the conclusion of the book, that ministry involves both a pastor’s heart and a scholar’s mind – it’s just important to recognise which way round your ministry ticks.  The book concludes with this paragraph:

So in charging pastors to be more serious about the life of the mind, and in challenging scholars to be more engaged with the life of the church, we conclude with this prayer, that all our thoughtful shepherding and all our pastoral scholarship may be to the great end of having the gospel message about Jesus dwell richly (Col. 3.16) both in us and in our people; that knowing Jesus would be the great end of all our pastoring and our scholarship; that we ourselves, in all our preaching, writing, and counselling, would continue to see ourselves as the great beneficiaries of his great grace; that into eternity we would be followers of Jesus more and more shaped, saturated, and transformed by his person and work.  To Jesus, the great pastor-scholar, be the glory. Amen


About Paul Robinson

Hi! I am URC minister at the United Church in Rhyl in North Wales. I love the Bible, preaching and using and leading music in worship; and I'm blessed by a God who has and wants to reach me in grace. I'm 30, have been married to Jo for nearly 7 years, and we have a baby girl called Rachel who is 8 months old.

Posted on October 24, 2012, in Wednesday Books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think I agree with your basic thesis Paul, indeed I’ve written myself about the pastor as theologian ( but I can’t help wondering about your claim that Jesus was a “scholar extraordinare”. I wonder what conception of the role of scholar you’re working with and what evidence you have of Jesus occupying this role.

    The reason I think it’s worth raising this is that I get very uneasy whenever I hear someone invoking Jesus’ example to support their view of what pastors (or Christians) should be or do. We are called to follow him, not to be him. None of us is or should aspire to be what he is, the unique Word made flesh, and nor should we strive to convince others that the tasks we are called to are the best, the highest, or the only Christian life.

    We do need pastor-scholars and scholar-pastors, but we also need scholars who are not pastors and pastors who are not scholars and other disciples who are neither.

  2. Hi Nick thanks for the comment.
    I have for a long time been in complete agreement with your second paragraph here. Jesus is unique Word made flesh, unique Lord of Lords, unique in truth, and in one sense to look to be like him is verging on the blasphemous. Yet I have recently been challenged by Jesus words in Matt 5:48 at the end of a passage about loving your enemies when Christians are called to ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We need to strive for this, but recognise that it is only possible through the grace of Christ. That said, I have struggled with the WWJD bracelet to remind ourselves of ‘What would Jesus do?’ because the answer is often something completely different from what I am able, capable or called to do.

    I think you read that I was suggesting Jesus as ‘scholar extra-ordinaire’ when I was trying to suggest that Jesus was ‘pastor and scholar extra-ordinaire’. Actually picking up not on his nature as scholar, but on his nature as the perfect combined pastor/scholar. Something, in retrospect is quite apparent from the title, WORD made FLESH. Peter uses the title Great Shepherd for Jesus, whilst its quite apparent from Revelation and Old Testament passages that Jesus can also be referred to as Wisdom. I think Jesus was both Pastor and Scholar extra-ordinaire – perhaps you can think of some way in which he was lacking in either of these ‘roles’?

    I think I would also contend that actually all Christians should be pastor-scholars or scholar-pastors to some extent. I’m struggling to see why we need scholars who are not pastors, for they will be so concerned of winning an argument that the whole purpose of scripture being the revelation of FOR THE PEOPLE will be lost, and likewise, pastors who have no scholarly knowledge would struggle to validate the compassion and love that they show with knowledge of the truth. And I think it is apparent from my quote in John 6 that Jesus calls us to BELIEVE and KNOW thus we should each have the desire to grapple with our knowledge and understanding, and to show the outward emotion of heart. I know this is taking the idea of scholar and pastor to the extreme, but I think its important to recognise in all Christians. I guess the place where I would agree with you, is in considering what aspect of ministering makes individuals tick, the essence of their ministry, and there you’re right, it might not be scholarly work or as pastor but in some other capacity, yet I imagine their calling will be fulfilled by believing and knowing Christ as Lord.

    Hope that helps, but like you, I’m thinking we’re pretty much in agreement. You could always read the book to find out what the great Don and John think!

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