In light of the previous post, “Will the Job Market Drive PhD Graduates into the Pulpit?“, I just wanted to think aloud with any interested readers on the ideal ecclesial setting for the vocational model of a “pastor-theologian.”

For more on how I am envisioning this model of pastoral ministry, see here and here.

I want to be careful not to promote some elitist brand of “minister” by writing so often about the “pastor-scholar/pastor-theologian.” The current pastoral leaders of the church are differently gifted and a vast range of divinely-guided inclinations are shaping their individual ministries. In using the term “pastor-theologian,” I am loosely referring to someone who engages the work of theology with all the rigor and zeal of academic theologians, but within the specific context of the parish and the pews of local church life.

But what sort of ecclesial setting is more conducive for the pastor-theologian: a small church or a larger one? There is no easy answer here because churches differ in their leadership structures, just as ministers differ from one another in their range of gifts and interests.

Pastoral Theology in the Mega Church Context

In this post, let’s just think for a bit about the potential for doing theology from the pastoral office of a mega church.

Many of our larger churches are led by CEO-styled ministers who are effective at governing and inspiring a sizable institution. This managerial model does not seem that viable for the sort of sustained reflection and quietness that attends what we normally think of as the work of theology.

Some mega church pastors, though, are permitted to devote their ministerial labors primarily to the preaching and teaching office of the church. Many of those we normally think of as high-profile pastor-scholars spend 20+ hours a week on each sermon. Their schedules are carefully preserved for studying and writing, while other manager-type ministers occupy themselves with the business of running the church.

The problem here, however, is that a pastor-scholar who gets this much time safely for reading and writing can be shielded from the daily life of the flock. Such a pastor-theologian, therefore, may not be able to do theology pastorally. Of course, if all that prep work is devoted to a sermon, then there is a powerfully pastoral element at work. Homiletics is essentially pastoral. Those countless hours of reading are usually devoted not to producing an erudite essay but a message for Sunday morning. But it should be acknowledged that being confined to a study and immersed in the works of biblical scholars and great theologians can become as much an “ivory tower” setting as the office of the professional academic theologian on the university quad.

Advantages and disadvantages abound. Any thoughts?

[Next post will be up soon focusing on the Small Church Context for Theology]


3 thoughts on “The Ideal Context for a Pastor-Theologian: Small Church or Mega Church?”

  1. It changes things a bit if you aren’t thinking primarily of the senior pastor–an associate pastor in a mega church would potentially have more time for reflection, and not carry the institutional burden of a large church. A few large churches I know of have hired associate pastors whose primary role in the church is to be the resident theologian.

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