We all have different impressions of what Christianity is. For the Apostle Paul, it meant counting his accolades as loss (Philippians 3:8), turning from years of tradition and zealotry into what his own kinsmen would regard as heresy. There is a sense in which we all share that insofar as we are all Christians. But a few years ago, for me, Christianity was an intellectual pursuit, and those who were not intellectual about their faith were derelict in their duties, especially when those people were leaders in the Christian Church. You can imagine how ridiculous it is for someone in their early 20s to look at a seasoned pastor and think to himself, “I could do better.” What I eventually came to learn is that Church is not seminary.
I have also learned that the arrogance I had about my theological insight and the judgment I passed over men in leadership was not alone. There are many young men who judge their pastor based on his or her ability to navigate theological issues over the pulpit. There are a few quick points that I want to make about this. First, Paul’s qualifications for an elder. Second, your pastor has a lot to do. Third, wisdom is greater than knowledge. Fourth, a sermon is not a lecture.
Paul’s Qualifications for Elders and Overseers
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
1 Timothy 3:1-7
You may notice that the qualifications for an elder do not consist of knowledge of the different theories of the atonement. Paul does not believe that an elder needs to provide a seminary-level education to the Church. These qualifications relate to the elder’s conduct, background, family, relationships and maturity.
The only phrase found in this passage that could support the elitist position is that the elder must be “able to teach.” As Charles Swindoll pointed out in Insights on 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, this really refers to the elder’s ability to communicate about Scripture. There is certainly a level of knowledge implied, but nothing that wouldn’t be gained from sitting down and reading the Bible. They’re training Christians in discipleship and the gospel.
The Role and Time of a Pastor
Preaching is not just about relaying content. It is about communicating effectively (one of Paul’s requirements for an elder). You might think you could do better, but when you stand in front of an audience and start talking about the theories of the atonement, most people are going to zone you out in about 30 seconds because you are not a skilled communicator. Some of you might be. But I have seen young men stand in front of an audience and nobody knew what they were saying because they did not know how to speak to an audience.
Furthermore, the duties of the pastor extend far beyond what you see him or her perform. They hold office hours where they do administrative work, have pop-in visits, counseling sessions (could you give a counseling session?), nursing home and hospital visits (could you visit someone in the hospital and give the patient and their family comfort?), responding to argumentative emails from elitist 20-somethings, event-planning, and then on Saturday they try to find time to develop their sermon. It’s not all sermon prep. If it was, they might be more theological.
Interestingly, many of the elitist 20-somethings that I have encountered have an abundance of time, working part-time jobs, college students (maybe even studying theology) and spending much of their down-time reading and engaging with theological content. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, everyone is in a different stage in life. But it becomes a problem when you cast judgment on people who cannot do the same thing. You will probably get to a point where you don’t have time to be smart. A pastor might work until, say, 6 (doing event-planning, not reading theology, remember). They get home at 6:30. Dinner with the family until 7:15. Kids go to bed at 8:30, so you’re doing that until 9:30. If you’re in bed by 11, you’ll have about an hour and a half. By this point, you’re mentally drained. You could lock yourself in your room and study theology or hang out with your wife. Most people, even the elitist 20-something, are not going to study theology for that hour and a half.
And that is what happens every single day. You just don’t have time to be smart.
Wisdom is Greater than Knowledge
Your pastor might have trouble teaching you much about the theories of the atonement. But he or she will have some insight about how you can overcome your addiction to pornography. They might be able to tell you how you can get more involved in the community. You could ask them questions about whether you should apply for student loans or where you could get a job. How can you build your resume when you have limited work experience? Knowledge of the theories of the atonement won’t help you there. Your pastor might be able to.
The Apostle Peter did not write “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” because he knew that your elders would have more knowledge of the theories of the atonement. He wrote it because your elders have more knowledge of the world and how to function in it as a disciple of Jesus.
A Sermon is Not a Lecture and Church is Not Seminary
Church is not seminary because people do not go to Church to learn about the theories of the atonement. They are there to learn to be disciples of Jesus and function the world. This will mean navigating through the culture and holding fast to the gospel and biblical truths. A theological lecture is designed to teach you about theology, but you can get there anywhere. You can get it on the internet or from books. But in your Church you have a community and an outlet of practical wisdom. Some pastors are incredible teachers and they can lead their Church into deeper theological truths while also guiding them in practical wisdom. But this is a rare gift: don’t expect your pastor to be James White or William Lane Craig.
And stop judging your pastor. Learn from them.