Why you need to be a theologian is because you as a shepherd, leader, and disciple need to think right thoughts about God. A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” It is important for us as Pastors and especially those of us who teach children and students that we not only think thoughts of God but that we think rightly about who God is.
I would argue that what you believe about God affects who you follow, how you lead and how you love. For many years I avoided hard conversations about theology because I was “only a kids pastor.” What I didn’t realize is what I thought about God rightly or wrongly affected how I lead and the curriculum I chose and the lessons I wrote. As a pastor to kids, you can feel more like a daycare provider, event coordinator, middle manager, after school program director than a pastor. Those practical aspects are very real and very time consuming but the underlying reality if you are called to lead those who teach kids no matter what your church calls you be it pastor, leader or director you must think right thoughts about God.
In calling Children’s and Youth workers to be Pastor/Theologians I am not saying that you have to sequester yourself and devote yourself to parsing of Trinitarian theology but you should be asking if our lessons and our messages are Trinitarian. Do we preach in such a way that our kids are familiar with the role and the work of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit? This is not the job of the curriculum companies although resources to help pastors think through lessons theologically would be much appreciated. The job of creating a firm theological foundation is the job of the pastor.
Pastor as Theologian in the post-Christian culture of exile is more needed than ever before. I would argue is the most necessary in the choppy waters of pluralism and affirmation the evangelical church is heading for. I am not calling for a return to Fundamentalism that found it’s joy too often in Theological snobbery. But fundamentalism isn’t the plague that is ravaging the church, it is the anti-fundamentalism, anti-intellectual, pragmatic wave that is currently threatening to sink the evangelical boat if we don’t start bailing water and bailing fast.
Not every pastor is called to be a theologian but as I have argued if you lead kids and youth you are called to think right thoughts about God. Some of the objections you might have I know I have had over the years are:
Pastor as Shepherd – I am just called to love people
Pastor as Leader – I am called to cast vision and lead the organization, not get mired in details
Pastor as Disciple – My job is to follow Christ what I think about issues don’t really matter as long as I love Jesus.
What does it mean to be a pastor-theologian?
- Love the word of God. – If we are orthodox protestants than no matter what denomination we should all agree in Sola Scriptura. The word of God is not simply a light, a map or a handbook for life it is the foundation of our life. Scripture is the fountainhead of truth. When I see something in the Bible that disagrees with me the problem is always me never the Bible. If we do not have a love, respect for the authority and truth of the Bible we will produce anemic Christians who’s confidence is in experiences and production value rather than the rock that is higher than I.
- Be more passionate about right thoughts of God than you are right strategies of man. As a Pastor-Theologian, you are not a Chic-fil-a manager you are a caretaker of historic truths of God’s word. We preach the Christ crucified which Paul called a stumbling block to those who don’t see Jesus as their greatest treasure. If our preaching could take place in a boardroom in America in this day and age we are preaching another gospel. The reformation and most subsequent revivals have been birth out of the preaching of the word that has reshaped a generation’s thoughts about God. We need a recovery of a love for the word of God in our children’s and youth ministries.
- Read books about God. This is one that I have been guilty of for years. I used to read so many business books, I had a subscription to Harvard Business Review. I do think Pastors should be strong leaders and leadership books have their place but that place must always be secondary to scripture and books that talk about God. Pastor read biography’s of missionaries and reformers, read books about theology about the nature of who God is. Read books that stir your affections for Christ. If the only books you read are Good to Great your church will only be good and never great because God measures success far differently than we do.
- Understand historic truths enough to translate them in age appropriate ways to the kids you lead. For so long I avoided certain topics because I didn’t understand them. I couldn’t explain the trinity to kids, I couldn’t talk with authority of the hypostatic union with kids. It was because I didn’t understand it enough to break it down for someone else. I don’t fully understand the trinity or the hypostatic union because they are a mystery but I can break them down for kids in such a way they understand them and still have room for mystery. Pastor, we must read and study to know how to best distil the truth of God’s word for our kids. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that “if we can not explain doctrine to children, something is amiss.”
- Ask for discernment – Spurgeon once said: “Discernment isn’t knowing right from wrong but right from almost right.” – The most misleading thing for us and those we lead is not wrong thoughts about God it’s almost right thoughts about God. In church history it wasn’t the blatantly wrong things that took root and lead many astray it was the almost right that found a place, took root and grew into heresy that did much damage to the church. We need not just knowledge of who God is, through the person and work of Christ we also need the work of the spirit to help us discern between right and almost right. The word and the spirit confirm the truth. We must listen.