When a colleague changed jobs from campus pastor to theology professor he explained that he was more of a pastoral theologian than a theologically-minded pastor. He indicated that there is a continuum between ones focus on theology and the role of pastoring.
I think he’s right.
I’ve met people who played with theological ideas all day long but didn’t have the ability (or interest) to pastor and care for people. I’ve also met people who wanted to focus all of the time and energy caring for the flock and hated wasting their time on studying theology. I realize that most people fall (as they should) somewhere in between the two extremes but that they tend to lean more toward one side than the other.
I don’t know where I fall.
When I preach, it sounds more like teaching. When I teach, it breaks my heart that I’m not preaching. Today I taught on revelation, the idea that God is showing himself and his truth to people both generally (through creation, common grace and conscience) and specifically (in definite ways to definite people at definite times (like in the Bible or through speech). I presented the information in a logical orderly fashion.
I defined. I labeled. I categorized. I communicated.
And, when I was done, I felt like I had profaned something holy. To speak in propositional truths about the God of the universe choosing to reveal himself to mankind seemed to fall woefully short of what the topic deserved. I was taking something that should be awe-insipiring and making it something the brain could easily handle. I felt like I was taking something weighty and beautiful and, by making it tangible, I was making it cheap.
If I had taken the time to craft a message or an experience that would help them feel, experience, and know the wonder that is the wholly-other God seeking us out, I wouldn’t have had enough time to cover the material. And covering the material is legitimate and genuinely important.
And so I am feeling the tension between academic theology and pastoral care. My ministry, right now, is in the classroom. There are objectives that I’m being paid to help the students complete. My job is to reach their head and I want to be careful not to neglect their hearts in the process. Theology calls for all of us. It must be both academic and pastoral. I don’t yet know how to balance that in my classroom with my students for the three hours a week I engage with them.