Should You be a Pastor or a Professor? Thinking Through the Options

A spectrum of options between the world of pastors and professors

With this spectrum in mind, it becomes readily obvious that there is not a simple choice between either pastor or scholar, but a gradated list of options in between (and this list is not exhaustive). This should be a refreshing realization for some who feel the pull towards both pastoral ministry and scholarship.  There are many options above that allow a person to contribute to both worlds.


Since I am a professor at a seminary, it is not unusual (indeed, it is very common) for students to come to me for advice about whether they should enter the pastorate or seek to be a professor.  While many of these students may have entered seminary with the intention of entering pastoral ministry, they have found themselves falling in love with a deep study of theology and the Bible.  And so, they think, perhaps the academic world is right for them.

I confess that I am often torn when students come to me with this question.  On the one hand, I want to discourage students from pursuing the Ph.D./professor route.  In addition to the fact that Ph.D. work is far more rigorous (and costly) than they think, there is a great need for solid, bible-centered preachers/pastors today. The more solid folks in the pulpit the better.

On the other hand, we also need good seminary professors.  Indeed, it is these professors that shape the theology, philosophy, and ethos of the next generation of pastors.  Strong seminaries lead to strong churches. Thus, I am always on the look out for the next potential faculty member who can shape these future Christian leaders.

Of course, in the midst of such discussions, it is important to remember that the these two choices–professor or pastor–are not polar opposites.  On the contrary, there is tremendous overlap between them (when conceived rightly).  So, I thought it might be helpful to sketch out a spectrum of options between the world of pastors and professors.  And not surprisingly, I will do this by using a chiastic-style structure (!):

1. The Pastor.  This category includes your average Reformed pastor who is theologically-trained, understands the importance of academics, but is not engaged in any meaningful study/research beyond weekly sermon prep. This individual does not degrade or downplay the importance of theology/academics, but simply doesn’t engage much with those subjects himself.

2. The Pastor-Scholar. This individual has an interest in theological and scholarly issues that goes beyond the average pastor mentioned above.  Thus, he is often engaged in serious reading, study, and academic work that goes beyond weekly sermon prep. And such study often informs his ministry, preaching, leadership, and counseling.  He is the type of individual that would probably work hard to retain some level of proficiency in Greek-Hebrew even after many years in the pastoral ministry.

3. The Pastor-Scholar who is active in scholarly world.

Read More