The Problem With Pastors: Too educated?
In my time, during my pre-Christian, Christian, and post-Christian days, I have heard people make claims that I have found to be incredibly absurd. From both theists and nontheists, liberals and conservatives, friends and foes, people say things around and to me that strike me as just… off. However, last night I think I might have heard one of the best. “The problem with pastors, I think,” said an acquaintance of mine, “is that they are too educated.”
Now, I know that the Christian university I attend is no Wheaton or Calvin College; but, I think my school is fairly representative of evangelical colleges in America. I spent more than two years here as a religion major, studying for pastoral ministry. And I can attest to the fact that the religion majors here are in no way too educated. From my experience with seminarians in typical Christian graduate programs, I feel fairly certain in saying those students are more often than not too educated as well. Perhaps there is some period of academic revival that takes place post-formal education in the lives of some pastors, but it has not been my experience.
I think I understand the heart of what my friend was saying. He feels that pastors are too distant from their flock, that instead of meeting the immediate needs of their followers, they are busy parsing Greek verbs and throwing out obscure quotes by Anselm. Maybe this is (partially) true, in some cases. But, in the several churches that I have attended, if pastors are too distant, it is independent of their education.
But he brought to mind one of my biggest pet peeves. The Christian ministry does not attract the cream of the crop. The best and brightest do not seek to be pastors. Don’t get me wrong, some pastors are high quality. They are intelligent, compassionate and articulate. But they seem to me to be in the minority.
One of my favorite classes in college was my Systematic Theology I course. It was taught by an outstanding professor who knows his stuff. Obviously, I’ve come to disagree with him, but he is still a quality professor. And he makes his students learn. He requires his students to outline all required texts (and there are a lot of them), his exams are noted to be incredibly thorough, detailed and yet comprehensive. But do students take this dedication to learning and decide to commit themselves to learning the material? Often, no. They complain that the Council of Constantinople is not relevant to their ministry today. They deride Marcion as a heresy of the past that has no implications for how they will run their church. They are uninterested in the way in which current astronomy and physics enlightens their faith. Of course there were students who would do well, but the majority of the class groaned, complained, and found ways around doing the reading. And they were proud of it.
As an outsider to the church, I would advise the church to find better leadership. The reason church membership seems to be floundering in many denominations is not that pastors are too aloof because of their education, but because pastors have nothing of depth to offer their flock. It is almost upsetting to me to sit in chapel and feel like I understand a biblical text better than the chaplain preaching.
Maybe my small-town, Midwestern conception of pastors is skewed and not representative of the church as a whole. But from my experience, I would love to see pastors who understood church history, the evolution of church doctrine, Christian beliefs, early church fathers, the evolution of biblical translations, the study of hermeneutics, etc. just a little better. As a non-Christian, I would love to be able to dialogue with educated leadership rather than fire-and-brimstone folk-preachers.
If there is any merit to the truth-claims of Christianity, all Christians, and especially pastors, should be able to engage culture at-large. Pastors should have a working knowledge of the classics, they should be schooled in psychology and sociology. Their ability to preach should be surpassed by their ability to read philosophy and science. Their love of Scripture should be illuminated by their love of humanities and the sciences. But this is not my experience.