The Joy of the Pastor-Professor (Matthew Barrett)
This past fall the Lord surprised me in a way that I did not expect at this time in my life. As a professor at a Christian university, the majority of my time is spent preparing lectures for the classroom. However, the local church my family and I have been members of suddenly was in need of a senior pastor. It has amazed my wife and I just how providential this pastoral opportunity has been and so I have now taken on an additional role, besides my academic duties, as senior pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Riverside, CA.
I was blessed during my doctoral studies years ago to see this model practiced by a number of different pastor-scholars, but one who stood out to me the most was Thomas Schreiner. His example over the years has been invaluable to me these first few months in my new role. So today I want to briefly reflect on three reasons there is much joy in being a pastor-professor.
1. Theological application and pastoral care. I love lecturing on systematic theology in the classroom. However, one of the difficulties with lecturing in a university setting is that you do not have the opportunity to see theological truths applied in the everyday lives of your students over a long period of time. Therefore, one of the joys of being a pastor-professor is not only teaching God’s Word but then seeing it lived out over months, years, and even decades in the lives of your people. In my case, the majority of my congregation is not made up of students, but normal lay people working nine to five jobs. Seeing God’s Word take root in their everyday lives, therefore, is especially meaningful. Few things bring more joy to the theologian.
2. Proclamation. Lecturing in the classroom is one of my favorite parts of being a professor, and it is something the pastor does not always have the privilege of doing. I thoroughly enjoy getting to talk about the hypostatic union or compatibilism, for example. One of the advantages of lecturing is that you can take the time to flesh out crucial theological distinctions that the pastor cannot always do in the middle of a sermon, but more or less has to assume. At the same time, lecturing in the classroom is not the same thing as preaching God’s Word in the pulpit. While the professor should always be seeking ways to drive theological truths home, lecturing is not the same as proclamation. In other words, the sermon not only analyzes God’s Word, but proclaims God’s Word. These past two months I have preached through the book of Philippians and this second point has become all-the-more evident to me as I not only exegete the text but exposit the text as well, and passionately proclaim the Word of God to the people of God. So in my mind, being a pastor-professor gives you the best of both worlds: rigorous analysis and convictional proclamation of the biblical text.
3. The ordinary means of grace. There are many other things I could mention, but perhaps one that has meant the most to me is the opportunity to lead the people of God in the ordinary means of grace. As great as the classroom is, it does not provide you with the opportunity to practice the ordinary means of grace, and it shouldn’t either, for the university is not the church. But as a pastor, one not only teaches on baptism and the Lord’s Supper (as the professor does), but actually leads the church in these essential ordinances. This coming Sunday I will be baptizing two individuals and this past Sunday I led our church in Communion. I am reminded that these ordinances truly are a visible picture of the gospel.
I hope these three points are helpful to students, lay people, pastors, and professors alike. As time goes on I will, no doubt, continue to reflect upon this dual role as pastor-professor, and I would encourage other professors out there to take that step into the pastorate should the Lord give them such an opportunity.
Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett is also Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at matthewmbarrett.com.