Pastoral Leaders as Resident Theologians

Pastoral Leaders as Resident Theologians

By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning

A new friend shared that she was learning a lot from her reading in The Hidden Lives of Congregations. She said she was especially challenged by the the concepts about pastoral leadership addressed in the book: (1) the function of leadership is influence, (2) the importance of the leader as resident theologian, and (3) it takes at least 5 years for the pastoral leader to get to a place of influence that does not derive from his or her position.

She shared that her formal seminary studies about pastoral leadership introduced different assumptions about the function of the pastor as leader, and little by way of the concepts of pastor as “resident theologian.” By the use of that term I don’t mean that the leader-as-theologian engages in setting forth the one belief expected of all; I don’t mean a propositional stance on orthodoxy; I don’t mean that the leader’s job is to “teach theology.” What I mean by the use of the term “resident theologian” is the presence of someone who can model, demonstrate, and train others in the congregation (but especially its leaders) to “think theologically.”

We have heard that challenge before: it’s not about providing the answers for people, it’s about teaching people how to ask the better, theological, questions. A resident theologian does not mandate a belief, or insist on an orthodoxy—that’s what dictators (to make an overstatement) do. A resident theologian is one that serves as the resource in the congregation for critical processes of theological discernment, provides correctives in thinking (like pointing out when the congregation is thinking “marketing” rather than “theology” when faced with a decision). The resident theologian cultivates congregational leaders in the practice of critical reflection. He or she equips congregational leaders and members by introducing them to theologians, poets, and prophets and by inculcating in them (and thereby the congregational culture) the language of theological faith.

Framing the function of the resident theologian in that way can help flesh out what we mean, partly, by influence. Influence is mediated by the quality of relationships the leader has (and relationships take time to develop), and the nature of one’s influence includes shaping the thinking and language of those one leads. So, this is what the leader does in the meantime between day one and the five years (aside as, one student suggested, waiting and twiddling one’s thumbs–although twiddling thumbs can be an entertaining pastime). They cultivate the relationships and they “educate” the congregation to think like theologians and acquire a theological language. (You can’t think like a theologian, if you don’t have the language for it.)

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to the Digital Flipchart blog.

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