The Need for Pastor Theologians

There is something that takes place when you began to move beyond that middle point of life.  You tend to look back in retrospect at time and opportunity that was squandered.  You look forward with much more concern about the great values and virtues of a spiritual life than what was in those early years of youthful inexperience.  Age uniquely brings a sobriety, a seriousness, a focus, and at times even a sense of grimness to the mind.  This is especially true for a Christian pastor, or in my thoughts, it should be.  One of those areas of my own personal calling and ministry that I am looking back to are the countless times that I said, “I am an assistant pastor, preacher, minister not a theologian.”  Increasingly as my preaching style has drastically changed from my earlier years from topical preaching to much more expository preaching, I have been greatly convicted by the Spirit of God and my interaction with the Word of God that pastors need to be
theologians.  For a pastor to say that he is not a theologian is certainly not a crime or sin of disqualification from ministry but it does say much about where he has spent his time.  We would never expect a physician to say, “I am a doctor but I don’t know anything about medicine.”  We would not take our cars to a mechanic who said, “I am a mechanic but I don’t know anything about how a car motor works.”  Perhaps that is an oversimplification but I do think that a pastor who has some tenure cannot afford to say that he is not a theologian, that he does not know God. 

Obviously when you hear the word, “theologian,” your mind might drift to a caricature of sorts.  One where you have a tall, gaunt, otherworldly man who cannot relate to the world.  He may be nattily dressed with a fastidiousness that belies his preoccupation to detail.  He may be sloppily dressed and have little regard for the finer details of personal hygiene because that is not the priority of his life.  He spends the bulk of his time in the world of academia either teaching in a seminary classroom or writing scholarly books and journals that deal with the Bible at level that often is quite impractical.  Some of those theologians feed off self-importance, ticking off goals that meant the fulfillment of some degree program or certification to add to their curriculum vitae, and have very little regard for the day-to-day life of the Christian who is battling it out with his world, his flesh, and the devil.  The Bible is merely a book to be studied as a textbook.  They use their education and erudite speech to intimidate Christian pastors, missionaries, teachers, and workers into thinking that their job has great priority and they would never lower themselves to the unwashed masses who fill the local church.  That kind of theologian is anathema!  Admittedly, I have run into a few of them before and my sinful nature always has a huge battle with my spiritual man because I want to publicly mock their self-righteousness and self-importance.  I saw that kind of behavior in the carnal world of the medical field that I used to work in.  It is problematic when we can observe similar patterns and traits among the so-called servants of Lord comparable to the unsaved in the secular world.  When Peter was addressing the undershepherd model in 1 Peter 5, his command was for us to clothe ourselves in humility.  Therefore, the cartoonish figure of a theologian is certainly not what I am striving at or encouraging you to become.  But there is another kind of theologian that I am looking at.

I am encouraging you, if you are a pastor, minister, preacher, to become a pastor-theologian.  For the modern church to battle against the constantly pushing, worldly agenda of the enemy, a pastor must become a theologian.  What most pastors do not understand is that they already have become theologians of sorts simply by the virtue of spending time in the Word in what I hope for you is a daily basis.  However, if time constraints press against you and you are in a bi-vocational ministry, then at least there is some weekly interaction with the Word through sermon preparation and Bible study writing.  By spending time in the inspired, inerrant, authoritative text of Scripture, we become theologians.  Theology, simply defined, is a study of God.  Theology is gaining insight into how God’s plan is being worked out in the sanctified church of the believers but also how it is being worked out in the evil world of unbelievers.  If you have been studying the Bible for any length of time then whatever energy you have been putting into trying to understand Scripture, you are developing a mind and soul that knows something of how God works in our world.  That is the kind of theologian that I am getting at.  This is the kind of theologian that our churches need in our day.  They need men of God who can go to a pulpit and pull out the richness of Scripture and show the people of God who their God is and how He is at work. 

In my last outing, I wrote with a plea for Pentecostal preachers to take a hard and critical look at their preaching and to evaluate whether it was deeply rooted in Scripture.  It has increasingly been my thoughts over the last 15 years that expository, verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, and book-by-book preaching is the best way to provide doctrinal stability to a local church.  The study method to do that kind of preaching will turn you into a theologian that the church sorely needs.  But it is against the normal model that is in many present thinkers now although we are starting to get some traction here and there.  Some Pentecostal preachers and their congregations are seeing the value of this kind of preaching.  Theology needs to get back into the pews so that the majesty and greatness of God is exalted and not a particular preacher or the brand name on the door.  When theological vision is lost, the pastor perishes as well. 

One of the biggest challenges that a full-time pastor must fight with is the personal schedule that is required in a local church especially if he does not have a staff to help him.  Public sentiment and opinion that rises from the pews often discourage a pastor from taking the necessary time that is needed to spend long periods of time with Scripture.  These serve as obstacles to a pastor’s schedule and they become temptations for him to want to give up on the task of focusing on the real ministry what we are called to do:  prayer and ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).  Another matter that should be understood is when a pastor allows his soul to immersed in Scripture for the sake of knowing who God is and what He is doing in the world, he immediately becomes very counter-cultural.  This can be problematic when you are the shepherd of worldly, carnal, and prayerless congregations.  They see this man as an impedance to their pursuit of material goals and matters.  But there is incredible joy that takes place in a congregation that is spiritual, fruitful, and holy and hungry for God.  The pastor-theologian then becomes a gift to them that has been placed in their lives by God and the Word prevails.

To be a pastor-theologian you must get control of your schedule which will require some personal discipline.  The second thing to do is to create some friendships that will encourage you to look into theology in a much deeper way.  This year by the grace of God, I was blessed to be able to connect with some men whom I have known for several years and this friendship has developed into a powerful encouragement for me.  One of those men recommended that I read The Pastor as Public Theologian by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan.  A conference I attended gave me The Pastor Theologian—ResurrectingAn Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson.  Both of those books stressed the necessity of presenting the holiness of God through theology in our preaching.  One of the suggestions these books made was encouraging a connection with fellow ministers to discuss theology.  Since our locations prevented us from meeting geographically because I am east, another is Midwest, and the other is West Coast, we went to private Google Hangouts.  We set some ground rules; no sports, no politics, no small-talk, etc. we were going to spend time with theology and expository preaching methods, techniques and content.  Once we got running we took a systematic theology book that we all had and began to talk about the attributes of God.  We started with holiness and discussed that and it was like the more we bit off the bigger it became!  We had several of these before the summer season started and various obligations got us out of our routine of meeting.  Both other men are regularly preaching away from their own churches and have district responsibilities so the challenge became with the schedule.  But the notes that I accrued during this time when the sparks were flying were huge for me.  The Google Hangouts moved me toward places in Scripture that I would not have normally gravitated toward and it served as a blessing for me as well as the church I pastor.  They were deeply doctrinal in content and this brought about an even deeper understanding of God and who He is.   

A pastor-theologian (preacher-theologian as well) must gain control of his personal schedule, he must get into a network of good brothers, and he must quit calling where he works an “office” but rather a “study.”  Don’t ever refer to your study as an office!  Offices are where business deals are made, where patients are seen, where teeth are cleaned, and where administration takes place.  A study is a place where a pastor-theologian can retreat to the presence of God and his books.  My own personal study is in a low-traffic area of our church and I intend on keeping it that way.  It is here that the hard work of prayer, the reading of Scripture, and the preparation to preach takes place.  The pastor-theologian needs to treat his time in the study with reverence and honor because he is not retreating from the world just to get alone and away from things.  He is getting into the presence of God so that the overflow moves into the church so that it becomes vibrant, alive, and holy!  Attorneys bill hourly when they are working on cases and many are well compensated for their work.  If a pastor was to be placed on a billable schedule as such how much would he make in a week’s time.  If you are forsaking your study, you are a starving preacher!  
There is one other matter that is very helpful for the man who desires to be a pastor-theologian.  The more time you spend with the Word, the more confidence you will have in Scripture.  The battle for inerrancy, inspiration, and authority of Scripture is a battle that every generation must fight for itself.  Pentecostals are not immune from this battle either!  When I spend time with the Word (not just books about the Word) it has an unbelievable impact on how I think and what direction that I take.

I may spend some more time with some other areas of this topic but I encourage you to become a theologian.  The goal is not so that others look upon you with awe at your skills and your capacity to learn but rather at how God can use the study of Himself to impact preaching so that our churches are encouraged and our world is converted. . .

Thanks for reading. . .          


Rick said…
Thanks for this article, Bro. Harrelson! I've come back a couple times to read it again and let it challenge me. It has made an impact on my study and discipline and has given me a desire to dig in deeper to God's Word. I hope to be a pastor-theologian who blesses and ministers deeply to the church I pastor!

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