Why do so many young Christian men want to become seminary professors, often with little or no pastoral experience?

As someone who was a pastor for twelve years, before becoming a professor for six, and now deeply grateful to be doing both, I think I can speak with a measure of knowledge and experience.

On one level, I can understand the desire. Pastoral ministry is not the most glamorous of tasks, whereas, being a seminary professor, especially in America, carries a degree of respect. It’s also very satisfying to have the enormous privilege of training future pastors and missionaries.

But a lot of young men imagine that professorial life is a breeze: time to read lots of books, long vacations, people seeking your counsel, publishing books, speaking at conferences, etc. What’s not to like?

Gulag or Ivory Towers
Well, there may be some professor somewhere with that job description, but it’s not mine and it’s not that of all the other seminary professors I’ve spoken to. You have to fight to get time to read (I read more books I wanted to read when I was a pastor), you spend oodles of hours doing tedious administration, marking hundreds of papers makes it easy to believe in purgatory, reading academic books and journals smokes your brain, and email brings a daily deluge of questions from people all over the world who think you’re just waiting to do their research for them! Okay, it’s not exactly a Gulag, but believe me, the curse on work did not bypass the ivory towers.

Like everything else, you need a divine calling to do it, persevere in it, and get joy in it. But you don’t see a lot of immediate fruit in lecturing. You do it in faith, believing that some years down the line a student will remember and use what you taught them and use it for someone’s spiritual good. But you rarely hear about it.

21 Losses
Yes, there are deeply satisfying days; when the lectures go well, you’re in the zone with your writing, the email server goes down, and you get 10 minutes to read a book of your own choosing. But if you’re one of those guys who want to be a seminary professor without, or with little, pastoral ministry experience, let me level with you and tell you what you will miss out on. Admittedly some of these losses can be mitigated to some extent by continuing to preach here and there, but the mitigation is minimal and the losses are still massive.

  1. You will lose the joy of seeing souls saved through your preaching.
  2. You will lose the joy of helping people in the toughest life situations.
  3. You will lose the joy of feeding and edifying God’s people.
  4. You will lose the joy of shepherding children through teenage years and into adulthood.
  5. You will lose the joy of preaching evangelistic sermons.
  6. You will lose the joy of building long-term spiritual relationships.
  7. You will lose the joy of taking responsibility for your own flock.
  8. You will lose the joy of developing and working with a team of leaders.
  9. You will lose the joy of helping people make massive life decisions.
  10. You will lose the joy of seeking a fresh word from the Lord for His people.
  11. You will lose the joy of preaching to a people you know intimately.
  12. You will lose the joy of seeing long-term spiritual maturity.
  13. You will lose the joy of seeking and recovering lost sheep.
  14. You will lose the joy of seeing God miraculously provide for the church’s financial needs.
  15. You will lose the joy of being loved by young, middle-aged, and old Christians.
  16. You will lose the joy of learning from the least educated and gifted of saints.
  17. You will lose the joy of identifying and growing people’s gifts.
  18. You will lose the joy and privilege of bearing the scars of pastoral ministry.
  19. You will lose the joy of winning over enemies in your congregation.
  20. You will lose the joy of helping Christians die.
  21. You will lose the blessing of God – if you are pursuing a calling God did not give you. Don’t waste your life!

Still want the job?

  • Tom

    So can you make an equally-long list of the joys you gain by being a seminary professor?

    Knowing pros as well as cons always helps when evaluating a possible course of action.

  • S. Leonard

    Loved your candor and honesty for these are trains of thought I have pondered but not experienced. However, I have a greater dilemma: I am a woman. I love ministering for ALL the reasons you listed why being a professor would not be fruitful to my call’s cry but at least it give credence to the call per say and a voice to the wisdom and insight God within has given me. Its so simple when I study history and the wrecklessness social groups Paul ministered to then why he spoke what he did yet later would call out women in his ministry. Yet our religious codes make boundaries where truth should prevail and counterfeit religions cloud the minds of our youth when God made us both to be teachers, men and women, to the young. However, our girls and boys keep being given untrained, unskilled, inexperienced, bible schooled kids to tell them how to get along but not how to really get to know Jesus “intimately” for there is the key to remaining faithful and learning the voice of the Shepherd NOT the world!
    My heart aches because there is a huge disconnect…
    Girls who are cutting-
    Boys who don’t know why they should treat a girl with respect-
    because many of them were sexually abused too!!! But no ones really talking about it!!!
    The girls are shattered inside because NO father ever declared her value but rather showed her insignificance by rejection, abuse and shame!

    A young 20something year old who is more interested in cool lights, music and food but not paying a price of prayer on their knees “will never be the pastor with a heart breaking before the master” this generation needs!!!

    So…I ask, where is a place for women pastors in such a time as this to come along side their husbands and lead pastors and shepherd/parent these kids with a seasoned love that will not be looking for its next big position or lead position to fill but rather a real shepherd’s position over a real flock of youth?
    Let’s look at spiritual parents not young hip kids that proselytize our broken to be like the world but with a WWJD bracelet!
    Real change comes from within and God does that to each of us on our knees!

  • http://reformeddude.blogspot.com Robert Marshall Murphy

    Still want the job.

  • Sean Lucas

    Such a great list David and exactly why, for me, congregational ministry is the first and most important part of my calling. Writing and teaching may go but not congregational ministry.

  • Carine

    David, we thank God for where He has called you – your ministry reaches now much further than one congregation.The battle is raging in the church, satan is like a roaring lion, and compromise in the church has clouded her discernment and weakened her considerably. It is a strange time we live in – who would ever have thought the time would come where one had to humbly approach a Seminary Professor for guidance ,because there was simply no one else to turn to? May God uphold you, grant you wisdom and give you much joy! Blessings!

  • http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/ SLIMJIM

    Thank you for writing this. In light of your description of a Professor’s schedule, I don’t know how you blog.
    Your description of the seminarian who wanted to be a professor was me! I think pastoral ministry taught me a lot more than I imagined.

  • http://Christfocusedliving.wordpress.com John Coakley, Jr.

    Thanks for this, David. Very insightful and honest. I appreciate that. After reading this article, I am going to call it (for myself) “21 Reasons to Become A Pastor”. I found it to be an encouraging article. Grace and Peace to you, sir.


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  • Mike

    What if you are called to being a seminarian professor? Because for me I fill the calling to be a seminarian professor not church ministry.

    • Michael S Clifford

      Likewise. I want to stay in God’s Church, I want to give my life to Him, I also want get married and start my own chapter, the only way to do that is become a professor, the Church needs more judging by Cardinal O’Malley’s statements, and so it might as well be me!

    • Alan

      I think the is why he wrote “Like everything else, you need a divine calling to do it, persevere in it, and get joy in it.”

  • Robert

    I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but I wonder if you’ve thought about the fact that points 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 21, and especially 3, 10, 12, and 17 should be a part of a seminary proffesor’s life if he/she is involved in the life of his church and invested in the work he is doing at the seminary. Proffesors who teach as if they are called by God to prepare ministers ARE seeking a fresh word to mold disciples of Jesus while guiding them through difficult times of life and decisions. At least at the seminary I attend, my professors have been major spiritual influences on my life at least on a par with pastors I have had. I’d be willing to bet that if you’re called to teach then God has been using you in the lives of your students more than this post suggests you realize.

  • http://www.DrewThomas.org/ Drew Thomas

    If I ever become a seminary professor, you better believe I will preach evangelistic messages to my students. Obviously I need to stick to course syllabus, but still they will get the gospel preached to them and geared toward them.