Ministry: Professional or Theological

September 10, 2006

Being that I am transitioning in some ways in the ministry I have been taking some careful thought to the nature of ministry. Over the course of the last number of months I have been reading David Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology. In that book he takes a great deal of time to investigate the idea of a professional ministry. He demonstrates that the concept of professionalizing the ministry is in fact destroying the very nature of the ministry. He explains that the theological purposes and nature of the ministry are being destroyed in modern evangelicalism by the pursuit of professionalization. He has a very telling section where he wonders aloud what the pursuit of ministry would be like for the apostle Paul if he were alive today.

“We can only guess how well the apostle Paul might have fared had he sought pastoral employment among evangelicals today, but we would not be risking much to suppose that he would start out with a few strikes against him. Happily, there would be a constituency deeply appreciative of his teaching and service. But he would not be without his critics. Indeed, they might very well be numerous. Some churches would doubtless be delighted that he was willing to support himself and leave more of the church budget for other matters, but the ore professionalized congregations would probably be embarrassed by this. Who, they might ask themselves, really wants a cut-rate pastor? Few would warm to his personality, and that would be no small matter. Today, most pastors stand or fall today by their personalities rather than their character. Many would be agitated about his insistence on discipline in the church. Many would be offended by his refusal to grant the legitimacy of each person’s private views so long as they were held sincerely. His insistence that truth is given objectively in Christ, not subjectively through private intuition as the pagans thought, would make him sound strangely out of touch. Indeed, his preaching, judged by contemporary standards, would be considered by many a failure because the brief summaries that we have of what he did show no penchant for telling stories at all. Besides, Paul was apparently in the habit of extending his discourses long beyond the twenty minutes to which many churches would limit him. He would probably end up provoking a churchly insurrection–for all the wrong reasons. Few would be able to make much sense of his concerns with the connections between New Testament faith and Old Testament promises, because the Old Testament is terra incognita in the Church today. His passionately theological mind would get him into trouble on two counts: his preaching would be judged hopelessly irrelevant because its theological focus would put it out of step with modern habits, and his passion would simply prove embarrassing. His vision of God’s purposes in the world, one supposes, would probably seem interesting but, in the small world of church life, not really compelling. And so the difficulties would mount. Paul would probably be condemned to flit from place to place, not out of choice but necessity, never finding secure lodging anywhere, his resume fatally scarred by his many pastoral failures until, abandoned and worn out, he would be left to pass his closing days in a home for the aged” (David F. Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993], pp. 290-291). Emphasis in original.

The professionalization of the ministry is killing the ministry. The lack of focus on the minister as the pastor-theologian is killing the church. The one called to shepherd and guide the flock into all godliness and to instruct in the knowledge of God through His word is absolutely necessary for a healthy, godly, theologically mindful community of believers.

Our focus, as we pursue the ministry, should be less on mimicking the business world but instead mimicking the example and teachings of the New Testament. It is a sad day we live in when one such as the apostle Paul would be found “ineffective” in the ministry today. Using him as an example, may we constantly be focused on leading our flock into godliness and fulfillment of the mission of the church to make and mature disciples, and to instruct them in the Word and theology. As one of my seminary professors has said, our love of God should increase proportionately to our knowledge of God. Therefore, the pastor is not a professional but a theologian.

I leave you with a remark by John Piper from his fascinating book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry. This book cannot be more highly recommended for all pastors today.

“We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake” (John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry [Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2002], p. 1).

Your Fellow Servant in Christ Jesus,

Allen Mickle