Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Wrestling With One’s Identity As a Pastor

Having too much time on a plane (nearly 20 hours from Chennai), I went back to a small book I purchased, one that I included in my Kindle almost as an afterthought. But it was timely, for it helped confirm a decision I recently made at Village. It also gets to the very heart of pastoral identity.

The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor (John Piper and DA Carson) came out of a lecture at Trinity in 2009. It affirms a core conviction of mine—that professors must be churchmen and pastors must be theologians.

This is nothing really new. In his Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (one of the essential books every pastor should read), Andrew Purves notes that the earliest pastors (Gregory, Chrysostom, etc.) were also the church’s theologians. Hence, pastors dare not be reduced to personalities, and pastoring dare not be decreased to skills and techniques, to mere management. “Pastoral work is not formulaic”. It is rather a discipline of theology that must be both lived out and proclaimed.

Underscoring this, Piper and Carson are two contemporary models of men who are committed to the rigors of theology, while maintaining the hearts of pastors. Piper shares his journey to becoming a pastor, starting with academia. Carson, on the other hand, started as a pastor and ended up in the classroom. Yet, at heart, they still live in both worlds. Here are just a few of their insights—

 -fight with every fiber of your being the common disjunction between “objective study” of Scripture and “devotional reading” of Word. When you read Scripture devotionally, keep your mind engaged; when you read critically, never forget whose Word this is (Carson)

-right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God. Reflection on God exists for the sake of affection for God (Piper)

-“Reading makes a full man; speaking makes a quick man; writing makes an exact man” (Roger Bacon, quoted by Carson)

-if you say there is no truth, than you have spoken something that does not count. This “law of noncontradiction” spares us from becoming enamored by postmodernism (Piper)

-nothing is inferior for being old, and nothing is valuable for being modern. Beware the tyranny of novelty (Piper)

-if you shy away from topics that are unpopular in your guild (or your congregation), then you are in the gravest spiritual danger (Carson)

Recently, I was faced with a difficult decision. For these past twelve years, I have sought to live in both worlds—pastoral and academic. After seventeen years as a pastor (ten in Portland and seven in The Netherlands), I accepted a call to full time work in the seminary. But after less than a year, I added pastoral work to my teaching responsibilities. Over time, my interim role at Village moved to a permanent call. For some eight years I was ¾ time pastoring and ¾ time teaching. More recently, I shifted to FT pastoring and half time teaching. Most recently, I have been asked to consider giving all of my time to pastoring. And I have asked myself and God—would I better serve Him in one role? Can I leave one for the other? For me, these are hard questions.

But something deep inside of me tells me I am bi-vocational at heart (something Eugene Peterson wrestled with as both a pastor and a writer). I cannot leave the teaching world any more than I can leave the pastoral world. Both are fundamental to my identity. I cannot imagine engaging students in a classroom without knowing that I face the rigors of what I teach (lengthy board meetings and staff challenges and parishioner heartbreaks). In a similar manner, I cannot imagine being a pastor in today’s world without going through the weekly rigors of academic preciseness. I am wonderfully blessed with the privilege of working with pastors at a DMin level, preparing future pastors at the MDiv level, and pastoring a church, where real life occurs.

It’s not for everyone. Gordon MacDonald, here to teach a course some years ago, was suspect, warning me to keep all of life in careful balance. I have not forgotten this. Reading his Rebuilding Your Broken World from time to time serves as powerful advice to anyone whose life begins to spin out of control. Regardless of how God leads us in our particular callings, what Piper and Carson reinforce is that the church will always need thoughtful pastors who settle for nothing less than rigorous reflection. And the seminary will always need professors who have a deep commitment to the church, devoted to bringing whatever their discipline they teach into the plain language of their fellow parishioners.


  • aesian
    9:44 AM, 17 August 2012

    Hmm, there seems to be some difficulties with the first link, as it returns a 404 error

  • Vaughn Longanecker
    10:11 PM, 17 August 2012

    This life is indeed a wrestling match, for sure, that is not settled until we depart our opponent(I Cor 9:24-27)Reflection is good, it is rare, it is needful, then comes action, I applaud you for going against our culture (religion).
    For His glory, what ever the course that His will takes you on keep in sight the light house of “for His glory”.
    It takes discipline, single minded- ness, clarity, teach us this, please.
    I Pet. 4:7

  • Ganesan
    4:44 AM, 6 September 2012

    fofpastorgHi Robin,Worship Experiences take place at 10am at both our Jackson capums (Tri-City Theater) and at our main capums in Rio Grande. Hope we see you this coming Sunday. Please let me know if you have any other questions. You can also email me at G

  • Kadir
    9:54 AM, 6 September 2012

    – These pictures are batfeiuul, Kristian. I believe my mom is going to try to get you to do our family pictures this December when we are all home for Christmas. That will be a lot of fun and there will be a lot of little ones for you to entertain and shoot at the same time .May 17, 2011 9:52 PM

  • Rabby
    10:07 PM, 7 September 2012

    I stumbled acsros this looking for another Mars Hill in Phoenix. Please try to forgive each other. I haven’t had a church in a long time (I listen online to a church in Michigan) but it hurts to see this. You’re the face of the world. To Henry and I say this as someone who is at best a very poor Christian please try to use this to grow into a better man and a better Christian. Hurt that sears the soul can blind us but it can also give us empathy. Broken moments can show you the face of God if you let them.God is present in this. Even the greatest darkness can become the greatest light to those who are willing to see it. Look at Jesus. Please try.

  • Juliana
    12:12 AM, 8 September 2012

    Thanks for sharing, Bob. I aitpecpare Piper’s emphasis on the community and mission of Sunday School small groups. Can’t help but recall Harry Piland’s great leadership in these areas.

  • Wins
    1:15 AM, 25 February 2013

    Vickie – Breathtaking. You are so right, they grow up too fast and then you wonder why you ever wnetad for them to hurry up and get out of this stage or the next .Oh what I would give to have just a few of those moments back.

  • Valdo
    2:05 AM, 25 February 2013

    I know my own most powerful momtnes as a preacher and pastor have been when I was willing to be vulnerable and play some of my cards face up on the table, as it were. They have been the most real momtnes of my ministry, and also on a couple of occasions the most frightening. Public speaking doesn’t give me the jitters I love it but when I know I’m about to stand before a crowd and intentionally drop the guard I’ve been keeping over something painful, it’s a totally different situation.But now I wonder about how to keep being real *real*. In other words, if I get up all the time and reveal yet one more doubt, worry, flaw, mistake, or sin, over and over again, where does it cross over to melodrama? At what point does it stop serving the Lord and the congregation and start to be just therapy for the preacher? Sometimes this thought seems silly to me, but sometimes not.Also, I regularly think about how to serve the congregation without sacrificing my family, and that includes being careful about self-revelations that may be hurtful to your spouse or children.Anyway, I’m obviously still working this stuff out. Thanks for bringing it up.

  • Gulnara
    8:51 AM, 25 February 2013

    We defend our guy agsinat the other one.c2a0 We pray.c2a0 But as we do all this, far too often we are swept into the secular mindset that everything depends on our vote and this election.c2a0 When the wrong guy gets in office we detach ourselves from the public arena and fret about how

  • Grizzly
    3:52 AM, 19 April 2013

    That’s a smart way of lokonig at the world.

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