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4 Ways You Can Deepen Your Church’s Faith by Becoming a Theological Thought Leader

Pastor theologians aren’t extinct, but sightings are rare.

We envision and want to advocate for a return of the pastor theologian who has a shepherd’s heart and a pastor’s primary vocational identity, yet who functions as an intellectual peer of the academic theologian and, as such, produces theological scholarship for the broader ecclesial community that helps shape and inform academic, cultural, and ecclesial discussions with a view to deepening the faith of the people of God.

Of course, not every pastor is so called. But some are.

The standard division of labor, in which academics handle theological leadership and pastors deal with practical matters, is simply insufficient. There are, of course, many challenges in counteracting this division of labor. We will make an effort to address some of them.

Strategy One: Guard Your Study Time with a Blowtorch
The lifeblood of a pastor, whether your congregation realizes it or not, is a steady diet of rich theology, prayer, and Bible reading. So stop feeling guilty about spending an hour on some Tuesday afternoon digesting Calvin’s Institutes or Athanasius’s On the Incarnation or Augustine’s On the Trinity. Whether he is an ecclesial theologian or not, theological study isn’t something a pastor fits into his schedule when he’s completed his pastoral duties; it is part and parcel of his pastoral duty.

For the good of your congregation, and for the good of your own preaching and teaching and counseling and writing, do not neglect to feed yourself from the riches of the Christian tradition.

Generally, the work of an ecclesial theologian requires large blocks of undistracted times. We’ve found that setting aside the morning hours works best for us. We can start as early as we want, and we tend to have a head that is less cluttered by the day’s events.

Strategy Two: Build Study-and-Writing Leave into Your Schedule
At our church, each full-time ministry staff person gets one study week a year and is encouraged to take it. A dedicated week, focused exclusively on a reading or writing project, allows one to make more gains in one week than is possible in four or five one-day units.

For those who aren’t in control of their calendar … we encourage you to make a case to your board or supervisor. Draft a short letter requesting the writing leave, and explain how such leave will benefit your ministry and your personal health.

Strategy Three: Earn Buy-In from Your Church Leadership
Perhaps the chief concern of aspiring ecclesial theologians is whether their church leadership will support this particular aspect of their pastoral calling. Some will want to question whether theological scholarship is really the best use of their already busy pastor’s time. If you find yourself in such a context, you will need to proceed slowly.

Theology has been divorced from the church for so long it is no longer obvious to many congregations that sustained theological engagement is a good thing for pastors. This is where you may need to do a little teaching and point out how the church has suffered from this parting of the ways. You will also want to gently point out that just like teaching a book of the Bible forces you to understand it at a deeper level, even more so, putting your thoughts on paper helps you achieve levels of clarity that would otherwise not be possible.

The bottom line is this: Your church will need to see the value of theological scholarship to your ministry, not simply hear you argue for it. This means you must begin by being a good pastor who loves your flock and desires to see the gospel flourish in their lives. As you do that faithfully, your church’s leadership will, over time, come to trust you and how you spend your time.

Strategy Four: Let Love Trump Your Love of Truth
If your congregation starts to begrudge your study time (for example, if you hear things like “He spends all his time holed up in his office”), you will need to take a close look at your priorities. your study time is really in the service of Christ and his kingdom.

As a pastor, you should consider everything in light of the needs of your church.

Theology serves the church, not the other way around; she’s a handmaiden, not a god. If in a pastor’s quest to serve the church universal he neglects the church local, those to whom he has a very concrete commitment, then one ought to wonder if he is really serving the church at all. Besides, all our scholarship ought to drive us deeper into our love for God and his people. If it’s not, then what are we really studying for?

by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, adapted from The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision

How to Use This Book

The Pastor Theologian will help you find other practical ways to improve your preaching, enrich your ministry, and help your church to mature. Gain a vision for how you can provide a theological thought leadership that is biblically based, historically informed, and culturally powerful.