ministry

Seminary Student, Don’t Get Too Comfortable in the Academy.

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Most seminary students arrive at a moment in their studies when they wonder: “What if I’m actually called to the academy and not to the Pastorate?”

Well, I’d like to make a plea to those students: Pursue vocational pastoral ministry.

Pursue it for as long as the Lord doesn’t slam the door in your face.

Why?

I’m glad you asked. Because it’s God’s chosen office alongside deacon to build up the church.

I love the academy. We need brilliant and caring people there. But it’s through the church that the manifold wisdom of God will be made known (see Ephesians 3:10).

Pursue vocational pastoral ministry.

Yes. Pastoral ministry is more grueling. It’s more demanding. It’s more exhausting. It’s more time-consuming. It’s less glamorous. Pastoring is all the above and more. You’ll be sitting by the bedside of a dying saint for hours instead of reading the latest theology book. You’ll be awoken from your sleep to texts of an urgent situation that will require all of your mental energy for weeks on end. And you are still expected to shepherd your church in teaching and care for your own family.

Pastoral ministry is hard. Really hard. The burden can feel crushing at times.

The academy can look far more attractive. Peeking over the fence, you think: I could set my own schedule. I could read and write. I would be respected as an intellectual.

And it’s this intellectual aspect that often leads seminarians to wonder: Am I better fit for the academy? I sure do love reading theology and writing, and wouldn’t it be nice to be respected as an expert?

But what if I told you that many of the greatest intellectuals of the Christian faith were pastors? What if I told you that the most serious vocation for critical thinking is the pastorate?

Who comes to mind as some of the greatest Christian thinkers? Surely those like Irenaeus of Lyons, Basil of Caesaria, Augustine of Hippo, Cyril of Alexandria, Hilary of Poitiers, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Hooker, William Perkins, John Gill, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, J.C. Ryle, and R.C. Sproul would come to mind. All were pastors.

John Gill, for example, without having access to Oxford or Cambridge as a Baptist in the 18th century was still revered as an intellectual bastion during his 52-year Pastorate at the same church that Spurgeon would later Pastor. Gill wrote more than 10 thousand pages during his lifetime (hence his title of Dr. Voluminous), knew Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, wrote a commentary on the whole Bible, and wrote the first Baptist systematic theology. Gill is still known as a stallwart theologian, and there is even a concerted effort to revive contemporary aquintance with him.

And only the Lord knows the countless Pastor-Theologians who lack name recognition and published work. They died, were buried, and are today forgotten by the world. Yet like so many saints long passed, the world was not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:38).

To be clear, I mean no offense to the academy. They have scholars that are unmatched in their disciplines. Such scholars are gifts from God. After all, I’m in the academy rather than the pastorate myself!

But here is what needs to be heard, understood, and taught to each generation anew: The locus of the intellectual life is the context of the local church. The telos of the intellect is worship of God. And the center of worship is the local church. The true theologian must be formed by worship. The true theologian must recite the creeds, take the sacraments, sit under the Word preached, pray for those in need, sing with the saints, play hide and seek with the children in the sancutary after church, and, well, you get the idea. True theology takes root when we are on our knees in worship.

The narrative that the academy is the pinnacle of the intellectual life simply needs to die. It’s not. The church is. And the church needs to reclaim its glory. There was an age long past when the Pastor was the intellectual of the community. We need to see a revival of pastors who seek to nurture their intellect without the desire to leave behind the Pastorate.

That’s why we shouldn’t be shy about the role of education for Pastors. Advanced education should be for pastors. Such education does not merely give you a step into the academy’s ivory tower. It is for the benefit and building up of the church. Pastors can and should continue their education in a lifelong quest to know God and lead their church to do the same.

Yes, yes, yes. There are caveats. We need devoted and wise lay pastors alongside experts in the academy. I’m not suggesting we devalue these crucial roles (lay pastors deserve the same honor as vocational, in fact!). I’m speaking to students preparing for vocational ministry who wonder if the academy might be a better vocation. So, I’m emphasizing the glory that is to be revealed for the office of pastor compared to the academy. I’m calling us to remember where the bastion of intellectual vitatlity resides. I’m calling those currently in ministerial training not to wander into other vocations—vocations that are good and glorifying to God! It is a wonderful thing to be a nurse, to be a mechanic, to be an academic. These vocations glorify God. But make no mistake. The church is the epicenter for theological reflection. Theology isn’t theology unless it leads to worship. And God designed the church for this task.

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  • ministry
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Jordan Steffaniak

Jordan L. Steffaniak (ThM, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is married with two sons. He is co-founder of the London Lyceum, a weekly podcast and online center for analytic, baptist, and confessional theology. He has published in academic journals such as Journal of Reformed Theology, TheoLogica, The Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies, and Jonathan Edwards Studies. He works full-time in the finance industry, constantly pursuing his curiosity for all things.

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