Kevin Vanhoozer, Pastoral Ministry
We had the opportunity to interview Kevin J. Vanhoozer briefly on pastoral ministry and Church. Kevin is a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. We asked him on pastoral ministry, we hope that you who aspire to be leaders, elders, pastors, shepherds in Christ' church would benefit from Kevin's perspective on pastoral ministry. It is our prayer that God would raise up trained leaders who are filled with humility, love, knowledge and truth. - Casey and Dan
1) What is a pastor theologian?
A pastor theologian is a pastor who understands that the vocation to build God’s church – an embassy of the kingdom of God – is a theological task. A pastor is first and foremost a minister of the gospel, the word of God. Ministering understanding – through sermons, counseling, and example – is the one thing a pastor does that people in other “service” occupations do not and cannot do. There are other professions that entertain, help, provide therapy, and feed people, but the pastor’s distinct task is to minister God’s word, in sermon and sacrament (the Lord’s Supper), and help people to become wise unto salvation. All this assumes that the pastor knows God, can interpret God’s word, and grasps the gospel and its implications.
2) should pastors go to seminary? Is seminary for every pastor, I mean what about those who have been doing ministry for years without having had formal training? What advice would you give them?
On the one hand, Jesus says “And they will all be taught by God” (John 6:45) and promises that the Spirit will teach us (John 14:26) and Paul expects believers to teach one another (Col. 3:16). On the other hand, many still need teachers (Heb. 5:12) and the risen Christ has given teachers as gifts to the church (Eph. 4:11). The question, then, is whether the kind of teaching that pastor-theologians do requires a special kind of schooling.
Historically, pastors have indeed been educated – taught by others in the context of some kind of learning community. One reason is that imitation is a good way to learn. Another, more contemporary reason, is that learning has become rather specialized. It’s easier to learn Greek and Hebrew, for example, from someone who already knows the language.
I think being a pastor-theologian is one of the hardest things a person can do. It requires character, spiritual, and intellectual formation. We don’t let airline pilots fly or surgeons operate without extensive training. Unless we think that ministering God’s word to human hearts is less important, or less complex, why would we not want pastors to receive the kind of training that would equip them for the task? I believe that providing theological education in the global South is one of the most urgent issues facing the present-day church.
3) What does a theological education provide for a pastor feeding their sheep?
This is an excellent question, not least because today theological education requires considerable commitments of time, energy, and finances. Is it worth it? I’m not in a position to give a blanket endorsement for every institution out there because the quality of theological education often differs from school to school and from degree to degree. At Trinity we continue to treat the M.Div. as the gold standard because it provides students with knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek, the history of the church, the fundamentals of educating, counseling, evangelizing, and preaching, and a grasp of Christian doctrine, how it all fits together and why it matters for ministry.
If I had to sum it up in one word, I would like to say that theological education provides wisdom or understanding, but in truth one needs experience as well. What I can say, then, is that a theological education gives prospective pastors the knowledge that experience and practice can turn into wisdom by the grace of God. And, in a best-case scenario, it gives them a peer group with whom they can maintain fellowship and perhaps accountability, especially important for pastors who are not part of any denomination.
4) What is the purpose of the church on earth?
I can’t improve on C. S. Lewis’s idea in Mere Christianity: “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.” In other words, the church’s calling is to fulfill the Great Commission: to make disciples from every nation. Note that a disciple is more than a convert. To convert someone you have only to change their ideas and commitments. To disciple someone you have to change his or her whole way of life. You have to teach them to observe everything that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:19-20) – and by “observe” Jesus did not mean mere look at, but obey. The church exists to help grow disciples, and to provide a nurturing community where believers can live, individually and corporately, to God and God’s glory. It is in proclaiming and embodying and celebrating the gospel that the church becomes a parable of the kingdom of God and thus serves the world.
5) How has being a scholar, theologian, teacher, leader shaped your own ministry for the better?
Well, the more I learn from Scripture about the triune God, the gospel, and the Christian life the more responsible I am for living it out. Scholarship by itself does not necessarily make a saint. So, while I am grateful for extended times of study, and for opportunities to learn with and from students, I am also mindful of the need to engage in practices conducive to my own spiritual formation. At the end of the day, it’s not enough to know about God; I want to know God, to see, yes, but also to taste God’s goodness. Thankfully, the scholarly work I do as writer and teacher has led me further into delighting in God. I’m also grateful to be part of an academic community for which chapel, corporate prayer, and fellowship are high priorities. A theologian should not be a lone ranger.