Ordained academics

Geordie asked a question in response to this post which seemed to demand a longer answer. How is a vocation to ordained ministry lived out on the academy? It seems to me that there are two sides to this question: one theological and one existential.

On the theological question there are probably two basic ways to jump: one might acknowledge the presence of different orders of ministry within the church, of which an academic role could be one. Calvin included ‘doctors’ alongside ‘pastors’ amongst the ordinary ministers of the church (Inst. IV.3.iv), calling on Eph. 4 as his justification. The Baptist Union of Great Britain is beginning to head in this direction, recognising specialist ministries in evangelism and in youth ministry on its list of accredited pastors. One might, then, offer an account of ministry that included within the basic vocation a call specifically to the study, explication, and defence of the doctrines of the church. Such a vocation might of course be exercised in various places, but a university theology department would seem a particularly hospitable one…

The problem with this line would seem to be the movement from ‘doctoral’ ministry to ‘pastoral’ ministry, and vice-versa; is God’s calling mutable? Well, possibly, or God may call some to both roles, to be exercised in different ways at different times. The problem is not insuperable.

If, instead, we regard ordination as to a unitary ministry of ‘pastor-teacher’ (as other readers of Eph. 4 find the text affirming), the question needs to be answered a different way. I once argued in connection with ‘sector ministries’ (hospital chaplaincies and the like) that it is the visible practice of every denomination I know to regard other roles (national or regional leadership; translocal charitable or preaching work; chaplaincies; …) as legitimate exercises of a calling to pastoral ministry. (‘Visible practice’ here meaning that even if they don’t admit it, by not excluding ordained ministers who take on such roles, and not re-ordaining them should they return to pastoral ministry, they imply that these roles offer the potential for an adequate fulfilment of their calling and ordination vows.)

In a word, my theological answer to Geordie’s question is here: I am able to fulfil my ordination vows, and the vocation God placed on my life, in my current employment. This is a judgement I have made, but it has been guided and confirmed by my church fellowships and denominational officers.

An existential answer may have to wait till another post.


  1. Mark L
    Mar 28, 2008

    Hi Steve, as one who is seeking to fulfill a call to pastoral ministry (albeit not of the denominationally ordained kind, but that’s maybe another story!), one of the challenges at times is to maintain both at a personal level, and in the context of sometimes sceptical church members and fellow-leaders, that such a calling is not mutually exclusive of pursuing academic study, whether formally or not. It is tremendously encouraging in such a context to know of those, like your good self, who are pursuing academic study as part of a calling to ministry. Put more simply,it just highlights that church and academy need each other, and that over-rigid separations between the two are to no-one’e benefit.

  2. Curtis Freeman
    Apr 17, 2008

    Steve: This is a puzzling question I’ve had for some time. I wrote about it in one of our Baptist House newsletters. It is common in some Baptist congregations here in the US, mostly National Baptist, to recognize any ordained minster in good standing as one of the ministers of the church. I’ve longed for some sort of role of “teacher” as an officially recognized church ministry that is separate from that of “pastor-teacher.” Yet in these matters most of our US Baptist denominations are far behind those in the UK in valuing or at least recognizing the teaching role of the academy. Best, Curtis

  3. Steve H
    Apr 28, 2008

    Hey Curtis,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    There are lots of anomalies in our Baptist praxis, unfortunately. Like you, I have no formal role in my present congregation.

    Of course, heavily formalised procedures can be just as difficult. When I was at King’s College London they used to have a 5-yard altar, because all the Anglican priests on the staff of the theology department had to ‘concelebrate’ at the college Eucharist! (That was in the 1940s, of course; in my day we were not short of ordained ministers [Torrance; Rae; Gunton; Holmes; Horne; …] but only Brian Horne was Anglican, and he moved to Rome over the ordination of women measure.)

    As I argued in Baptist Sacramentalism, our implicit theology suggests we believe that ministers in educational roles are still performing a valid ministry, and further that we believe that ordination confers an indelible character on its recipients. (On the latter, we–I assume the US groups are similar–would never re-ordain, even if someone had been restored to the pastorate after a period of exclusion on disciplinary grounds; on the former, we keep an ‘accredited list’ of ministers in good standing, which I, for instance, am permitted to remain on; were I to take up a career in commerce, I would not be.)

    But, yes, I like the National Baptist practice. When I was recognised as a leader of my church it meant a lot to me, and I signed several publications with both academic and ecclesial affiliations. These days I feel unable to do that, and it is a little painful.

    How do the NBs square this with congregational polity? Presumably the congregation has to call each minister to formal ministry?


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