What is Poimenology? On the one hand, it is a word that I made up by adding the Koine Greek word for pastor (ποιμήν or ποιμένα, lit. shepherd) to the scientific phrase “ology,” which means “the study of” a field or discipline. Conversely, I believe that as a field of study pastoral ministry has been erroneously subjugated to a mere sub-discipline of ecclesiology (the study of the church) when it is deserving of a more comprehensive treatment. Although systematic theologians will likely contest my proposal, I’m convinced that the study of pastoral ministry must be elevated beyond that of a sub-discipline in theological studies.
Why such an elevation?
1. The Complexity of Pastoral Ministry.
First, academics are not, generally speaking, the ones in the proverbial trenches leading churches. Frankly, it may be easy to overlook the complexity of pastoral ministry from inside the academy. However, most pastors will quickly admit that their jobs (ministries) are far more complicated than the minimal treatment the subject is given in either Bible College or Seminary. It is common to hear the phrase, “They didn’t teach me that in Seminary,” spoken among pastors. Although a simple retort to their on-the-job training, the comment reveals the frustration most pastors feel when considering the gap between their theological training and the practical issues they face on a daily basis.
Churches would be better served by Seminaries that employed pastor-theologians who have experience in leading and serving in a church. My own personal bias is that this experience should come from time spent outside of the Seminary community because “seminary churches” are in many ways vastly different from the typical church in America. The biblical principles of pastoral ministry may be easily disseminated to young students; however, the application of the material is extremely complex. The intricacies of pastoral ministry alone provide a solid basis for the elevation of pastoral ministry as an academic discipline taught by those who have practical experience working in a church.
2. The Centrality of Pastoral Ministry.
Although there is much debate over what term should be used to describe the pastor (e.g., pastor, elder, minister), the number of pastors in a church (e.g., plurality of pastors, senior pastor), and the relationship between the pastor and congregation (congregational, leadership board), there is no doubt that the impact a pastor has on a church is both immense and significant. While many evangelical elites erroneously believe that their top-down vision for American churches is relevant, in reality, wide-spread change must be a grassroots movement, which will only come to fruition through the leadership of pastors. The evangelical church, with its lust for Christian pop-stars and mega-personalities, has overlooked the real influencers of Christianity, local pastors.
Although they are often taken for granted, the impact a pastor has on a church may be difficult to measure. When you are sick, he is the one at the hospital. When your grandmother died, he was the one preaching the funeral. When your marriage is falling apart, he is the one counseling you and your spouse. When you needed the gospel, he was the one standing faithfully in the pulpit declaring biblical truth. When you confessed Christ as Lord and Savior, he was the one baptizing you. In short, your pastor is someone who is influencing nearly every aspect of your life. A list of things that your pastor does, both seen and unseen, for you and your family would be exhaustive to write. It suffices to say that the primary influencer in the church is the pastor, humanly speaking. Thus, the discipline of pastoring is deserving of much more attention.
3. The Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.
Over the past twenty years, I have either experienced first-hand or have counseled pastors who have been called upon to know something about everything. I’ve lost track of the number of phone calls, emails, and text messages that I’ve received from other pastors asking for advice on a multitude of topics and fields in which they have no experience or education. Here is a shortlist of the subject matter or disciplines that I’ve either had to educate myself in or have helped other pastors navigate: tax laws, non-profit laws, federal and state employment laws, real estate transactions, zoning and planning, building permits, financing, accounting, recognizing mental illnesses and addictions, parliamentary rules, church and state issues, web-site design, graphic design, marketing, writing governing documents (constitutions, bylaws, procedural manuals), editing and publishing, maintenance issues, mechanical issues (from old boilers to church buses), videography, licenses, liabilities, insurance, just to name a few! Your pastor is being asked to be a jack of all trades without the necessary level of training required to be effective. Pastoral training should be founded on biblical truth, which includes the biblical qualifications, nature, and role of pastors. However, the training cannot end with a brief overview of these topics. A robust treatment of the field of pastoral ministry must include the application of these principles to the diverse challenges facing pastors on a daily basis.
In response to my own constructive criticism, I’ve asked both pastors and men preparing for the ministry to submit questions about pastoral ministry. In other posts, I address many of these questions in a way that demonstrates my commitment to applying biblical truth to the complex and challenging aspects of pastoral ministry.