Five reasons your pastor needs to be a thinker

There was a time when pastor meant theologian, thinker. The church looked to its teaching elders to faithfully teach Scripture and to communicate the reformed tradition through teaching young and old about the faith through catechesis. In evangelical circles we’re losing something of this tradition. Increasingly we’re looking for pastors who are, before anything else, excellent non-profit leaders.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of pastoral ministry as it relates to the management and stewardship of the resources with which God has gifted the church. This is an important aspect of pastoral leadership. However, we do a disservice to the mission of God when pastors think of themselves primarily as people who run churches.


As important as leadership and management of the church are–and some pastors will be more gifted at this than others–it isn’t the central calling of the Christian minister. It’s also not the thing that a congregation needs most of all.

More than anything else, churches needs pastors who are committed disciples of Christ, devoted to studying the Scriptures, formed in the theology of the reformed tradition, and engaged in active thought about how the mission of God can best be pursued by communities of Christian disciples–churches.

There are five reasons that I think this is the case:

  1. Society is rapidly changing. Ministers can be a thinking guide to churches so that they understand and effectively navigate these changes that are pushing the Christian church to the margins of society as we move into a post-Christendom context. As this happens, it will increasingly be important for pastors to be able to effectively and intelligently converse with those who do not share the same intellectual starting point or worldview.
  2. The church is rapidly changing. The church is responding to these societal shifts in different ways based upon underlying theological presuppositions. On the surface, the turbulence in the church seems both highly complex and perplexing. Examined more deeply it becomes possible to trace the connections between presupposition and outcome. Ministers can also be guides to church members who find themselves tossed around by changes in the church.
  3. The nature of ministry is changing. Younger clergy are finding it increasingly difficult to find calls to churches that can pay enough for them to both live and pay off student loan debt for their graduate education. In order to care well for themselves ministers need to take the time to think deeply about what ministry is and what it will look like in a new context. Creative ideas need to be embraced to help younger clergy enter effectively into new and creative ministry.
  4. Scripture and theology need to be applied to life. The purpose of theology and Scripture is faithfulness in belief and faithfulness in life. It takes time and deep, prayerful thought to effectively communicate the connection between Scripture and theology to the life of the individual Christian and the life of the church.
  5. Avoiding burnout. Effective leaders grow through mentoring relationships, often with people long deceased who we encounter in books. Clergy need to do the hard work of engaging with theologians and pastors of a bygone era to learn how the church has envisioned itself in ages past. For example, as we enter a post-Christendom context it seems clear that much can be learned about how to read Scripture, live and minister as the church, and engage culture from the pre-Christendom church of the Church Fathers.

I fear that ministers are increasingly doing what they need to do to keep the church running and losing sight of this calling to be a theological guide to faithful life and ministry in a changing context.

In lieu of a comments section, I accept and encourage letters to the editor. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.

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