The Pastorate is for Theologians

By Owen Strachan (Associate Professor of Christian Theology, Director of the Center for Public Theology)

Originally published in the Midwestern Magazine, Issue 35.

The pastorate is an office that comes with high expectations. This is a biblical model: to train men by challenging them to meet a standard higher than they think they can reach.

The scriptural perspective on pastoral preparation is less like that of a sports league that grants everyone a trophy and more like a Navy SEAL program. Granted, there’s no all-night sitting in water and no push-up requirements that leave your arms like jelly, but the point stands: God fundamentally challenges the future shepherds of his church. Like the young athlete discovering his abilities in the heat of the moment, we want young men to want the ball, to hunger to enter a pulpit and proclaim the mysteries of God. The God who is a consuming fire wants preachers who burn with passion for him.

The young preacher will no doubt feel such passion in his veins. But we are complex creatures, and undoubtedly “fear” (2 Tim. 1:7) and shame will conspire to quiet the young preacher, even as Timothy faced these demons. We certainly find ourselves in a day when many pastors feel fear. They feel defeated. The culture has secularized, and evangelical pastors are not the leading invitee to the cultural dinner party. Pastors represent an older, hierarchical era, when people believed in authority. But confidence in authority—at least religious authority—is at an all-time low in America. When confidence in the authority of God dips, the glory of the pastorate dims.

As a result, ministry is seen as just one of many “helping professions.” This is precisely what happened in the early 20th century. Interest in theology waned, business culture boomed, and pastors were forced to adapt to an urbanizing America to draw a crowd. This shift from theological ministry to “practical ministry” had huge effects among Baptists, including a loss of confidence in the Word of God among some. Thankfully, the centrality of Scripture in the life of the local church was revived in the “Conservative Resurgence” of the 1980s. But we have work to do in our time. We have recovered the doctrine of inerrancy; now we must recover a doctrine of the pastorate. The Conservative Resurgence returned to the formal authority of Scripture; now we must believe once more in the functional authority of Scripture. The solution to the fear and shame we may naturally feel is found in remembering what God has given us.

The solution to the fear and shame we may naturally feel is found in remembering what God has given us.

Thankfully, God has not left us alone. He has given us a system of mentoring such that men like Paul lift the flagging hands of young men like Timothy. Our need to challenge young men to assume a higher call in no way removes our need to love and strengthen our disciples when they struggle. We see the apostle carrying out just this kind of work with Timothy. He reminds his charge that God has given us a spirit of “power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). It is this kind of mentality that Scripture births in us. Not a play-it-safe mentality, but a disciplined, risk-it-all approach. The work of Christ in us creates strong character. It makes us strong over sin, loving instead of angry, and disciplined instead of dissolute. The character that God forges internally is the same character that can take the heat externally. The pastor-theologian has spiritual ambition and strong, godly character. The mark of a pastor, even a young one, is that of godliness, and a willingness to put everything on the line in order to give Christ the glory he deserves.

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