Living with a Pastor’s Heart and a Scholar’s Mind

I have spent quite a bit of time both in local church ministry and in the theological academy. In both settings I have been a participant and an observer. What I have noticed is that there tend to be extremes in both settings – specifically with regard to leadership – in terms of being scholarly and pastoral.  In the local church, there are pastors who are deeply pastoral, giving great care to watching over the practical needs of the flock. These pastors may care little about serious theological inquiry, while giving themselves fully to home and hospital visits, counseling appointments, and lunch meetings designed to encourage church members. On the other end of the spectrum are pastors who would say, “I would really love ministry…if it were not for the people.” They spend a tremendous amount of time reading every new theological work that comes off the press. They spend days preparing theologically-rich messages to deliver on Sunday. But they are rarely with their people.

The same imbalance often occurs in the academy. There are those scholars who can wax eloquent on all the theological debates, both ancient and contemporary. They can quote from all the major works of all the greatest scholars in their field of study. The students, try as they might, simply cannot stump this professor. He is truly an expert in his area of expertise. There seems to be, however, a sense of hollowness in his classes. The teaching is certainly true and perhaps profound. But for the students in the classes who are going to serve in  local church ministry, they are simply left wondering how to apply what they are being taught to their ministry context. Then there are the professors on the other extreme. They are known more for their pastoral reflection or story-telling from their previous ministry experience than their theological depth. Some students want to take this professor’s classes because they know it will not be too challenging. Other students will avoid these classes because, to them, the classes are “boring,” lacking theological depth and challenge.

In either setting – the academy or the local church – finding a man with the heart of a pastor coupled with the mind of a scholar is a rare blessing indeed. When he speaks you listen, not just because you trust his scholarly acumen, but because you know his deep love and care for those with whom he is sharing. In The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry by John Piper and D.A. Carson (Crossway: 2011), you find two wonderful, godly examples of such balance. John Piper (a scholarly pastor) and D.A. Carson (a pastoral scholar) share from their life and ministry experience how God brought them to the point – biblically and practically – of seeking such a balance in executing their respective callings. Their deep love for Christ and passion for Christian ministry are evident on every page.

While this book would obviously be an excellent read for every pastor, church leader or seminary professor, I believe it is a great read for every follower of Christ as well. If nothing else, it will certainly help the local church member better understand the depth  and weight of the pastoral task, and will no doubt help church members think of specific ways they can pray for their pastor(s). I am thankful to have read this book and hope to live up to the challenge of balancing a scholar’s mind  and a pastor’s heart, for the glory of our Great God and for the building up of His church.

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