Yes, pastors aren’t infallible, and
they might need to refer us to
theological specialists from time to
time, but for the usual run of intellectual challenges to our faith we
ought to find our pastors to be adequately expert.
Are they? Have we insisted pastors receive formal education truly
equal to the challenges of life in
• We must fund theological students such that they can afford to
get those demanding degrees at
the best places and not graduate
with crushing debt – or drop out
as they see the debt mountain
loom. If we wouldn’t want to be
served by a dentist or lawyer who
received her professional training online, do we want to be
served by pastors who have never
been educated in a community of
• We must support the best Christian universities and seminaries
such that they can be generous
with excellent scholarships to
attract and support the best
• And we must pay pastors well
enough that they are not having
to cut short their few precious
“thinking hours” each day to
ponder how to make ends meet.
The objective here, of course, is
not to produce pastors who are
narrowly intellectual, preoccupied
with doctrinal minutiae and detached from the rest of Christian
living. Most contemporary congregations include people capable of
helping in lots of pastoral ways, but
how many well-trained theological
professionals are there to meet the
need for intellectual help in thinking through the threats and opportunities of our cultural moment?
The 18th century co-founder of
Methodism, John Wesley, himself a
voracious reader and polymath,
We Evangelicals can also help
our pastors by insisting on and
supporting ongoing pastoral edu-
cation. Working through difficult
issues requires two resources in
abundance – time and money.
• Our churches need to build into
every pastor’s year at least one
seminar, course or conference on
a difficult issue, beyond gatherings that focus on denominational or congregational business.
• We need to be sure every pastor
has access to the best books,
magazines and websites, and
build into his or her weekly schedule the time to absorb them.
• We need to encourage pastors to
establish professional study
groups that together tackle the
hard questions in ongoing conversations of a high order. And these
study groups should be networked
with scholarly experts, those
“specialists” we mentioned, who
stand ready to help them on particular difficulties as they arise.
2. RELIABLE SCHOLARS
We also need at least two things
from our scholarly theologians.
First, we need more experts on
disputed issues coming together to
hash out their differences. You
would think that this is what happens all the time at scholarly
meetings. It sometimes does, yes,
but on far too many theological
issues (as in other academic disciplines, alas), the partisan discourses remain separate, and experts
indulge in the lazy luxury of
preaching to their fawning choirs.
I recall 20 years ago a Canadian
conference on gender issues spon-
sored by a national organization
that could well have brokered a
genuine and constructive confron-
tation of egalitarians and comple-
mentarians. But the agenda was set
by only one side, and the other was
forbidden from any representation.
Exactly the same thing has been
evident recently in major conferen-
ces on nonmainstream sexuality (or
LGBTQ+) issues. They almost al-
ways turn out to be rallies of the al-
ready convinced rather than meet-
ings of differing minds. Anyone who
is not already convinced, however,
predictably comes away wondering
what the other side would have said,
and so nothing gets truly settled
among those who are humble
enough and open-minded enough to
consider more than one opinion.
Prominent organizations of Evan-
gelicals, therefore, (including de-
nominations, scholarly organiza-
tions, public interest groups and
major schools) ought to do much
more than they are doing in bringing
experts together in conversations of
genuine give-and-take to educate
each other, and then the rest of us,
about the vexed issues of the day.
Then, second, such experts need
training to communicate effectively with us via the media most appropriate to both the subject matter
and the audience. Book? Video
series? Sunday school class? Weekend seminar? Magazine article?
Sermon? Blog post? Tweet? What
is the right way to say what needs
to be said to the audience who
needs to hear it?
These are questions for which
academic training provides no
guidance whatsoever. But basic
principles of good journalism and
communications can be taught.
Will someone provide them for our
experts? Will the experts, with
backing from their deans and provosts, undertake such training to
communicate much, much better
with interested laity?
At least professors need to team