The Pastor (or Childcare Provider?) as Public Theologian
“It is no mean feat to speak of God, or to relate to people, yet pastors often (always?) have to do both things at once, regardless of their area of primary responsibility. Every pastor is responsible for communicating Christ and for ministering God’s word, at all times, to everyone, and in many ways… The Pastor-Theologian is a farmer of men and women, charge with working and keeping the promised land — the gospel of Jesus Christ — and with bringing streams of living water to urban and suburban deserts in order to cultivate the new creation in Christ” (pp. 2–3).
When most of the modern world thinks about speaking of God and relating to people, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Speaking of God and relating to followers of Christ, now, those can get on the same wavelength. But how do you speak of God and relate to people, as in the general populous? By reclaiming the lost vision of the Pastor as a Public Theologian and the Ministry of What Is “in Christ.”
Vanhoozer and Strachan assert that a pastor was always intended to be a theologian and every theologian is a public theologian, “a particular sort of intellectual, a particular type of generalist.” However, the “purpose of a pastor-theologian being a public intellectual is to serve the people of God by building them up in the ‘faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’.” (pp 15–16) . We are meant to speak of God to all people.
Israel has a long-standing reluctance to interact with God directly. Historically speaking, the public-theologian role was left to prophets, priests, and Kings. Before God gave Israel a king, He gave them profits. After Israel fell to foreign rulers, God gave them priests. While Jesus broke the bounds of Jew and gentile, as people, we still have a tendance to stand at arm’s length from what is Holy, asking someone else to intercede on our behalf. Insert a Pastor as Theologian. If our pastor’s cease to be theologians, who is ensuring that our walk with God is ever adapting and course correcting with the changing world culture. How will we know if we are too far astray or not far enough into the world?
My ministry is within the four walls of my home. I minister to my husband, to my own children, to the children we care for while their parents work outside of their own homes. My ministry is, literally, raising up disciples. I am responsible for ensuring that our walks (mine and theirs) are not only in step with Christ but also for encouraging their walks to stray out into the world without becoming lost in the world. The concept that I could “manage” this responsibility as some pastors have resorted to “managing” their churches feels gravely at odds. I am responsible for forming little minds, little emotions, little steps of independence, and ensuring security. While the realization is that this is exactly what raising up a disciple means, when you place it in a child development context, rather than adult discipleship, the stakes feel incredibly steeper. The future generation is being formed and affected by my ministry.
The steep stakes for embracing the role as a pastor-theologian in my ministry effectively pushes me toward disciplined study and theological practices, ensuring that I am one with the Word and in right standing so as to not lead any astray. Vanhoozer and Strachan identify that one cannot build an effective ministry unless it is built upon Christ himself. For my context, that means ensuring that my home is centered in Christ: the atmosphere, the media access, the relational and discipline philosophies, all must be Christ-based and theologically sound so as to not contradict or confuse the babies’ walk later in life.
Like Vanhoozer and Strachan refer to Christ’s building his church upon the rock, our ministry build’s the foundation for our babies’ faith lives. Any unsound theology that may exist in our ministry has the potential to pull one of our disciples from their path later in life when they experience confusion and contradiction. We are called to, “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12, NIV). Therefore, any contradiction in our home has the potential to set a child astray as he ventures out into the world. Seeing our righteousness will ensure that he sees the world’s unrighteousness and remains steadfast in his right relationship with God.
Vanhoozer, K.J. & Strachan, O. (2015). The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI.