The Pastor as Theologian, 6: The Inescapably Theological Nature of Pastoral Ministry

As Piper’s comment in the previous post argued, being a pastor/theologian does not mean staying up-to-date on all the latest scholarly publications produced each year. I teach seminary full time and cannot keep up with everything published in even one of the fields I teach (apologetics, theology, church history, ethics and New Testament). So there’s no way that a pastor can do this either.

What being a pastor/theologian means, then, is that you have a inherent love for the things of God. You delight in meditating on and communicating the great truths of sound doctrine. Your preaching is saturated with substance, not fluff, not your reflections, and not mere rhetorical flair. And although you can’t read everything, you do read as much good theology as you can. Without reading something, preaching tends to become repetitious and tired, like butter spread over too much bread. Reading spurs thinking, expands your frame of reference, and supplies an ever-fresh stream of ideas, illustrations, and analogies.

Some pastors protest that theology is not their interest. It is difficult, however, to read the Pastoral Epistles without being confronted by Paul’s incessant exhortations to Timothy and Titus to be saturated with sound doctrine. This is not merely a charge to read the Scriptures. Rather it is to affirm the doctrines which the Scriptures teach, and to expand and develop the theological truths of the apostles by exploring their depths.

Al Mohler argues that no facet of ministry can be properly conceived or carried out without doctrine as its foundation:

In reality, there is no dimension of the pastor’s calling that is not deeply, inherently and inescapably theological. There is no problem the pastor will encounter in counseling that is not specifically theological in character. There is no major question in ministry that does not come with deep theological dimensions and the need for careful theological application. The task of leading, feeding and guiding the congregation is as theological as any other conceivable vocation.

Al Mohler, He Is Not Silent (Moody, 2008), 108.

So it is not just the preaching of the pastor that must be theological. Every aspect of pastoral ministry should be carried out from a truly biblical and theological viewpoint. A pastor should rigorously subject his ministry philosophy and practice to the scrutiny of the Word. It is too easy to assume that the way we do ministry is just fine because it s working for us, or we like it that way, or it fits our personality, etc. These are all man-centered justifications for not practicing ministry according to sound doctrine.

In Titus 1:9 Paul demands that Titus should be “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” Holding fast the faithful word means that theology was not to be laid aside when developing a youth ministry, a philosophy of Christian education, or a model of preaching. Theology should guide the development of all aspects of congregational life.

And the evaluation of that adherence to sound doctrine should not be the exclusive privilege of one individual, but of a multiplicity of leaders who can discern faithfulness or lack thereof. Assessment of one’s own ministry is not only dangerous (because we are so easily blind to our faults and trust our own judgments more than we should), but violates the biblical principle of Proverbs 27:2: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.” And Proverbs 11:14: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

What is the conclusion of the matter? Pastoral ministry is inescapably theological. To ignore, abandon, disdain, or downplay theology is to minister at great risk. Outward appearances may not betray a downgrade. The results may, in fact, be great. The church may grow, offerings swell, praise may reach a crescendo. But there will be no “Well done.”

Pastors, heed Paul’s words to Timothy:

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you. (2 Tim. 1:13-14)




3 thoughts on “The Pastor as Theologian, 6: The Inescapably Theological Nature of Pastoral Ministry

  1. This has been a good series. I hope many pastors read it and learn from it. May seminaries focus, not just on doctrine, but the systematic presentation of doctrine. Perhaps it would help Baptist pastors to take to heart the summary of doctrine in Baptist confessions, namely the Second London Confession of 1677/1689. The issues raised in that confession, especially in ways that it differed from the Westminster Confession, are still issues that are current today, including the nature of Scripture and the person and work of Christ. My Th.M. thesis at WTS dealt with these differences.

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