Today I was eavesdropping on a pastor’s conversation with a fellow classmate. It was a conversation that I’ve heard many, many times over the past few years from a variety of pastors in a variety of contexts. They were discussing the material from the lecture that they had just attended, a lecture regarding a few controversial Christological issues. In a nutshell, this pastor was saying that the one thing that he has learned from pastoral ministry has been that the majority of theological issues that are argued and debated in seminary are irrelevant to actual pastoral work. His points included statements such as “The average layperson could care less about the Calvinism/Arminianism debate” and “When a church member comes to you after their husband dies, they just want to be comforted in the assurance of his salvation, not blasted with theology.” He said he "turns off" when difficult issues are being discussed because those conversations won't help his ministry. Unfortunately, many pastors that I’ve come into contact with have this mentality, the mentality that the pastor’s job is just “to love on people.”
Ok, from the get-go, I want to be clear that I absolutely, 100 percent agree that a primary role that a pastor plays in the church is to “love on people,” as it were. (Which is also a shared responsibility of church members I might add...) Also, I want to admit that my views are bias, like everyone else. Except, I’ve dedicated the past few years to full-time theological and philosophical study. So, of course, my mind is already made up that theology is important in ministry. I further admit that I have not held a full-time ministry position, though I’ve served on the staff of several churches. Finally, there is a hint of youthful idealism in my position that I know plays a part in this. But hey, don’t look down on me because of my youth. ;)
Theology is not some static abstract discipline that is best suited in the walls of academia. Theology is the “study of God.”
My immediate response, and I say this in love, is “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” I can come up with a huge list of reasons why every pastor should have their hands elbow deep in theological issues… Here is a list of the first ten that came to mind:
1) Theology is not some static abstract discipline that is best suited in the walls of academia. Theology is the “study of God.” If the purpose of mankind is to know and worship God, what makes you think that theology would be irrelevant to the Church, whose role is “to know Him and make Him known”? ( Which is a question that cannot be answered by the way without diving into Ecclesiology, a theological category that entails many controversial issues.)
2) It is a misnomer to suggest that theology doesn’t lead to action. The living out of our faith occurs only as we know what God wants from us. This is not always easily discerned and theological discussion helps in this process.
3) The book of Romans… (and the other 65)
4) How could you ever expect to comfort a person whose husband has died if you haven’t worked through the issues relating to soteriology? How would you be sure you were telling her the right thing? Do you just accept what you were told by the old Fundamentalist preacher blindly? No, we are called to have critical minds that are willing to look to Scripture and utilize a little thing called biblical theology to discover how we might be comforted in times of great difficulty.
5) Your church is not likely to be shepherded beyond the spiritual level to which you yourself have progressed. So, if you ignore the deeper things of God, the deeper discussions about how God operates, so too will your church. The majority of church teaching doesn’t occur on a deep level, but it is certain that it never will if the pastor doesn’t know his stuff. No wonder the American church has such a low view of God—they know so little about Him and they aren’t concerned with knowing anymore about Him!
6) The greatest pastors and preachers who have ever lived were theologians. Think about Spurgeon, Edwards, Calvin, and Luther! What about John Piper and Leonard Ravenhill!?
7) The coming Kingdom of God, on earth and in heaven, is the very reason we can endure the trials and hardship in this life. So how can Eschatology and the difficult issues therein be irrelevant to the pastor?
8) We live in a postmodern culture which tells us that truth takes on a variety of forms. Why should anyone take your word at face value? Shouldn’t they, in the spirit of healthy discernment, ask questions about how your faith works? What happens when the church actually starts to engage the intelligent unbelievers in this country and finds that it doesn’t know its own faith well enough to answer questions and defend its truthfulness?
9) I guarantee that truth seekers are looking for the theologians in their local communities. If the Christian pastor isn’t that theologian, they will look elsewhere. They will find a faith that makes the most sense out of their world.
10) Layperson: “How do you define love?” Pastor: “Well, the greatest love is the love of God and from His love flows all other love.” Layperson: “So, He loves me, but He let my husband spend the last 12 months in horrible pain and now He’s dead?” Pastor: “Well, you just have to trust in Jesus’ love.” Layperson: “What about the hurricanes around the world that destroy thousands of lives? What about Kim’s son who was killed by a car accident last week who wasn’t even a believer? Does God love those people?” Pastor: “Yes. Just have faith in what the Bible says.” Layperson: “How can the Bible say that God still loves them?” …. Pastor: “Let me get back with you about that.”