Every Sunday, there is a person that stands at the front of a Christian worship gathering. Who is that person? What do you call that person? Yes, that person has a first and last name, but that person also has a unique role in the church that goes by many different names. There are biblical names such as “shepherd” or “pastor/teacher”. There are names that linger from a century or two ago, such as “parson” or “reverend”. Then, there are more contemporary names about the specific duties of this person such as “executive pastor” or “missions pastor”.
A word that I think fits this position is a word I picked up from one of my mentors. It is actually two words “resident theologian”. I would define resident theologian as, “A person in a particular location that studies God and shares those findings with others.” However, there seems to be a problem with this definition being lived out. Some pastors want to be theologians and forget about their need to be residents. While some churches want pastors to be residents and forget about their need for theologians. As one finds a healthy balance between these two words, resident and theologian, I believe a person can increase ministry effectiveness.
“Preach with a newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other”, is an often repeated statement of Karl Barth. The resident theologian must seek to understand and interpret both the Bible and the community he lives. This idea of being a resident theologian is not new. However, it can be newly applied as the resident theologian language travels a similar path as the contemporary words of missional and incarnational ministry.
Resident, missional, incarnational…It is simply living where you live. That sounds corny or trite, but it is embracing the particular location of the ministry. It is learning of the unique quirks, particular sins and special joys of the people of that community. The resident theologian doesn’t “live” back in the town of his last ministry, the town where he grew up, back in seminary or forward into a future desired place of ministry (such as the Caribbean!).
The resident theologian lives where God has placed them. They settle in. Jeremiah 29:5-7 shares of the exiles that were now living in Babylon. They were to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (Jeremiah 29:5). This theme continues, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Certainly, most pastors will not stay in one location for their whole lifetime, but for the time the LORD has placed a person and family in that spot, live there. In the place you live the pastor is to fight the snow or flood alongside your community, deal with the water issues in your town, the power outages, enjoy the high school sports, and the kids’ soccer games.
I have observed pastors run from being residents. Pastors (including me) run to books, to conferences, to meetings, to extra education, to everything but being residents of our communities. This limits our effectiveness to learn the language of our community of which we are called to serve.
The other side of the coin is that pastors run from being theologians. Pastors get comfortable in a place as residents. They start to be so liked and appreciated as residents, that they stop being theologians, particularly when a prophetic voice is needed. When they see sin raising its ugly head in the community or the church, he may enjoy his residency so much that he no longer recognizes the sin or no longer wants to call it out for what it is, sin. All of us as Christians are “aliens and strangers in the world” (I Peter 2:11) and must keep our eyes open for enjoying our “residency” to much.
Church members, encourage your leader to be a resident theologian. Invite them into your community and into your homes. Show them around to see some of the wonderful options available as a resident in your community. However, also encourage them to be your theologians. (Your church honestly doesn’t need John 3:16 repackaged every week!) Rather Christians are called to “grow up” in the faith (Eph. 4:15-16). Give your resident theologian support as he helps your church to mature.
To those resident theologians, I am cheering for you. I am praying for you. I am with you, because I am one of you! Let’s be resident theologians for the glory of God!