Category Archives: Discernment

When Are You Gonna Be a Pastor Again?

I get this question just about every week, and I never quite know how to answer it.

Or rather, I don’t know how to answer it in under 10 seconds, which is the time frame most people are looking for when they ask a question.

The 10-or-fewer-second answers I have are: (1) “I don’t know,” which is actually true, but not particularly informative; (2) “When God tells me to,” which is also true, but comes off as flippant—like I don’t really want to answer the question, so I’m punting to God; (3) “Maybe next year. Maybe in five years,” which may or may not be true, for all I know; and worst of all, (4) “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer” (followed by no explanation whatsoever).

If you’ve had lunch or coffee with me and received answer #4, you know it’s the worst one because once you’ve received it you have to make the uncomfortable choice of either saying, “Oh, okay. Nevermind,” and risk making me feel like you don’t really care enough to hear the long answer, or you have to commit to buckling up and listening to an attention-span-testing monologue.

There may be an easy solution to this problem. From now on I’m just going to say, “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer. So, I wrote a blog post about it, if you’re interested in the long version.” I already know that people are going to say, “Oh. Well, give me the short version.” (Insert answer #1, #2 or #3 here) But it’s worth a shot.

Q: So… When do you think you’re gonna be a pastor again?

A: Man… Thank you for asking that. I guess I don’t know for sure why you’re asking it, but I think I know why, and I really appreciate it. Being a pastor was an unbelievable honor, and the fact that people wanted me to be their pastor and were actually sad when I wasn’t anymore is mind-blowing to me. And I don’t say that with any kind of obligatory faux humility. It’s… I honestly don’t how to wrap my mind around that. So, thank you.

Here are the things that come to mind when I try to formulate an answer to that question (in no particular order):

First of all, I really like my job. And I’m good at it. Which is a very rare combination that I don’t want to take for granted for a second. I love my team. I love working with very high-caliber people. I love my bosses. I love their vision for doing real good in the lives of people. I love my clients. I love that I get to employ a large swath of my skill set in this role. I love the rewards that come from doing this job well. I love being welcomed into people’s homes. I love helping people make wise decisions. I love being trusted as a guide and advisor. No one in their right mind would leave this job and this team.

Is this job the purpose of my life? Of course not. But I don’t know too many guys whose purpose in life is their job. My best friends—the best guys I know—are all among the best in their field in sales, finance and music. None of them have made their job their purpose in life. Their purpose in life is clearly to know Christ and make him known. And that can be done well without getting paid for doing it.

I might be made to be a pastor. That might be what I’m supposed to do. I guess that remains to be seen. But my purpose in life is to know Christ and make him known. And I don’t need to get paid to do that in order to do that well.

Second, being a pastor sucks. And it’s the sweetest vocational calling imaginable. And it sucks.

Maybe I should unpack “it sucks” a little bit…

Earlier this week someone on my team at work asked me whether being a real estate agent—especially this time of year, in a booming market, on a very driven team, when 60+ hour weeks are common, and I’m away from home several nights a week on appointments— is harder, or whether being a pastor is harder. My response was that it’s a very different kind of hard. For the most part, I can deal with my current vocational fatigue with one full day off. If between Friday night and Sunday night I get in a date night with my wife, a good run, some time in the Word, play time with my kids, and a few pages of a novel, I’m pretty much good to go for the five days that follow. In other words, there are distinct times in my life right now when I’m not a real estate agent. I’m much more clearly a husband, or a dad, or a Bible student, or a runner, or a reader, or a House of Cards fan.

That was never really the case when I was a pastor. When I wasn’t at the office, I was a pastor-husband (“Is my marriage a good example to my congregation?”), a pastor-dad (“Am I raising my kids to be example-setters for my congregation?”), a pastor-Bible-student (“How would I preach this text?”), a pastor-runner (“God, I need you to download a sermon outline into my brain by the time this 5-miler is done”), a pastor-reader (“Are there any good anecdotes in this novel that I could use as sermon illustrations?”), and a pastor-House of Cardsfan (“I probably should watch this show if I’m going to be able to engage with real people, not just squared-away church-goers”).

It’s exhausting. The spiritual, mental and emotional fatigue of being a pastor is staggering. To never really turn off being a pastor is an enormous struggle for most pastors. And not just for pastors. Also for pastors’ wifes and pastors’ kids. And certainly, a lot of that is pastors’ own fault. I certainly should have worked harder to create margin, to shut my pastor-brain off, and to say “no” to more ministry opportunities and responsibilities. But some of it is inevitable. It’s just part of what you sign up for when you say ‘yes’ to being a pastor. And, what’s more, the devil knows it. He makes a living out of shredding tired pastors.

All of that to say, I want to make sure I’m ready for that, and that my family is ready for that. Don’t get me wrong. Being a pastor is an amazing vocation. “You’re going to pay me to read the Bible and help people understand what it means and live it out?! You’re going to pay me to have coffee with hurting people? You’re going to pay me to help people become the best, most God-saturated version of themselves? You’re serious?!” It’s almost unbelievable. It’s an incredible privilege. I can’t describe how happy it made me.

But I want to make sure I’m ready for the spiritual, mental and emotional onslaught as well. I’ve spent the last 21 months with my heart and soul plugged into a monitor to assess my health, get rid of disease, heal, and make sure that I’m as strong and robust as possible if I’m called to head back into the fray. I think I’m there. God’s redemptive and renovating power is as advertized, I’m happy to say. But I want to see a clean bill of health from people who are in a position to give it. Which leads me to…

The third thing that comes to mind is this: It’s not really up to me. I’m only one of the people who has a significant say in whether I become a pastor again or not. I’ve invited at least a dozen people in on that decision, and I take them all very seriously. Some of them are friends. Some are pastors and church leaders. Several of them are people who know me, my heart, my tendencies and struggles, my strengths and virtues, and my character better than anyone else in the world. The most significant one, of course, is my bride. Leslie has absolute veto power over any plan I devise, any opportunity I want to pursue, any interview I want to take, or any church plant I create in my mind. If she’s not a million percent on board, it’s just not happening. So… ask her.

Fourth, and most importantly, I’m not going to be a pastor again until I have a very clear sense of a callI had an undeniable sense of calling to be a pastor for almost six years, and it came with two crucial elements: A group of people asked me to come be their pastor, and God said, “Yes, I want you to go do that,” in a way that I couldn’t possibly ignore or deny.

A calling to the pastorate doesn’t come with a guaranteed lifetime appointment. This isn’t the Supreme Court. There’s no tenure track in pastoral ministry. Maybe I was supposed to be a pastor for a season of life, and now I’m supposed to be a real estate agent for the rest of my life, pastoring my family, loving my neighborhood toward Jesus, and offering my gifts in service to a local church as a layperson. I spent six years urging men and women who weren’t pastors to do pretty much exactly that.

I can’t deny that I’m a dreamer. I make plans in my mind, and scrap them, and revise them, and scrap them again, and start over…. I doubt I’ll ever be able to turn that off. But none of it will ever take shape unless there is a clear sense of calling. I’m not telling God how he has to do it. He can do what he wants. I’m just anticipating that when and if it happens, it will be because a group of people said, “Would you come do this?” and God says, “Yes, I want you to go do that.”

So, there’s the long answer. What can I say? I’ve never been good at short answers. I never had a problem figuring out what I was going to talk about for 35 minutes on a Sunday. My problem was always figuring out how to cut out 25 minutes worth of material to get it down to 35.

Maybe I should be a pastor.


Why I’m Dropping the Ph.D. Program

praying-hands-1.jpgAs of about two weeks ago, I am no longer a student in the Ph.D./THS in New Testament program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

This will come as a shock to some and as no surprise whatsoever to others.  I imagine that most of you who know me will fall somewhere in between.  Sort of a, “Hm.  Wow.  Makes sense, though” response.

I began the Ph.D. program at Trinity immediately after completing my Master of Divinity (M.Div.).  I wasn’t real big on Trinity’s placement model for seminary graduates, which was essentially: “Give your résumé to the Placement Office, they’ll send it to a hundred churches and we’ll see who bites.”  Call it naïve or reckless or whatever, but that seemed to me a somewhat strange way to find a place to serve.  So I pursued a few leads, made some phone calls, submitted an application to a church I had been a part of, but nothing panned out.

Taking this to be a signal that the timing wasn’t right for me to be in vocational ministry just yet, I applied to the Ph.D. program at Trinity as a way to further my training, spend more time around men from whom I desperately wanted to learn (Don Carson, Kevin Vanhoozer, Graham Cole, etc.), and (admittedly) to tread water until a fitting position in ministry opened up.  I took as many classes from these guys as I could, and benefited enormously.

God, in all his irony and wisdom, opened up a perfect opportunity for me at New Hope Church during my third semester of coursework (of four) in the Ph.D. program.  I wanted this position, Leslie and I sensed a call to it (as did the NHC elders and several other trusted counselors) and I accepted it in November of 2006, moving to Minneapolis a month later. I was unsure at this point what would become of my doctoral studies.  My senior pastor and the elders fully supported—and have continued to support—my completion of the degree and urged me to do so if it seemed wise to Leslie and me.  I have pursued both full-time ministry and full-time doctoral work with as much balance and excellence as I have been able for the last three years.  And while my ministry has been fruitful, my family has been reasonably healthy and my coursework is now complete (comprehensive exams and a dissertation would still await—likely another 3-4 years of work), it has become very clear to Leslie and me that it is time to set this course down.

At the end of August, I sent this e-mail to my faculty advisor (his name is irrelevant):

Dear _______,

I’m writing to let you know that after long and earnest prayer and discussion with my wife, I am on the verge of setting down my doctoral work.  Obviously, there is a bitterness in thinking about giving this up, but I cannot deny that over the past year or more I have been spread far too thin and feel that I’ve done nothing as well as I am capable.  I’ve ‘gotten by’ with a (very) patient wife, giftedness for ministry that masks what is too frequently prayerlessness and lack of adequate preparation, kids that are too young to know that I’m not spending much time with them, and a devotional life that has grown thin.  Something needs to give and the only thing that makes sense to set aside is doctoral work.  I do realize how close I am to comprehensives, but in all honesty I am nowhere close to being ready to take them.  I have no confidence that I would successfully navigate the exams at this point.  Moreover, I’m growing more and more certain that I love my church, my wife and my kids too much to spend 5000 hours on a dissertation in the next few years.

All of that said, I do value your counsel very highly and if you see a glaring mistake in my reasoning, or if there are other things you think I need to hear, I would certainly welcome them.  Thank you so much for your investment in me, Dr. ________.”

He responded with a wonderfully kind and supportive e-mail affirming my priorities and prospective decision.

This revelation of the wisdom of setting the Ph.D. aside had been working its way into my consciousness for some time, but boomed into clarity during a run one day in August.  I was running along the shore of Medicine Lake, near our home, and heard what I can only describe as the closest thing to an audible communication from the Lord that I’ve ever experienced.  I heard the words, “That’s enough.  It’s time to set this down.” repeatedly and in such a clear and nearly-audible way that I looked around myself several times to make sure I wasn’t hearing something or unknowingly talking out loud to myself.  When I returned home I explained what had happened to Leslie, asked her to pray, and then I knelt by my bedside to pray for wisdom and discernment to know whether I had heard from Him clearly or not.  The above e-mail was sent a week later.

My completed coursework will merit a Master of Theology (Th.M.) in addition to my Master of Divinity (M.Div.), which is gratifying in that the coursework completed (and tuition paid) will be recognized.  I’m very interested in pursuing a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) in the future—not for the additional letters, of course, but because I am extremely interested in conversing with other learned pastors and scholars in a structured environment about how to pastor effectively, to cast vision, and to preach, shepherd and lead well. But I will not pursue it unless I am able to free up time for it—rather than trying to stack it on top of an already full schedule.

Since making this decision, Leslie and I have experienced an enormous amount of relief and peace.  Our date nights are regular again.  Are devotional lives are rich.  I don’t have to say, “Daddy can’t play. I have to study” to Owen anymore.  What a joy. What a deep, deep joy.  It was the right decision all the way around.  I love my God, my family and my church (in that order) too much to neglect any of them to continue to pursue a degree that cannot do much more to help me carry out what I am certain is my vocational calling: To expound and apply the Word of God from the pulpit and in private so as to win the lost, edify the saints, and create missional disciples who multiply disciples.  May God be pleased to continue to use me.

The Rifleman’s Creed

clearsmaller.gifI know I’m stirring the pot again.

What else is new?  But I came across this today and couldn’t hardly believe what I read.  Here’s my question: If what is being said below is true (and I have no reason to doubt it, though maybe a current or former Marine can correct me), is it in any way possible to be (1) a biblical Christian, (2) a Marine, and (3) a person who has integrity in what they say they believe?

I realize that even posing that question is going to ruffle some feathers, but I honestly don’t know how to square what I read (below) with the clear teaching of Scripture.

I’m not trying to reopen the gun/non-resistance question again.  In fact, I hope it doesn’t go there, because this really has nothing to do with guns, but with allegiances. This is an honest question, and there are pastoral implications to it.  That is, I assume that at some point someone I pastor is going to ask me what I think about their son or daughter or they themselves joining the Marines, and what I read is forcing me rethink the answer I would have given until now. Help me out here.

From Heritage Press International, an apparently reputable website in the U.S. Marine Corps community:

In boot camp at Parris Island or San Diego, and in the Basic School at Quantico, no one escapes from the Rifleman’s Creed. Every Marine is trained, first and foremost, as a rifleman, for it is the rifleman who must close with and destroy the enemy. The rifleman remains the most basic tenet of Marine Corps doctrine. All else revolves around him. Marine Aviation, Marine Armor, Marine Artillery, and all supporting arms and warfighting assets exist to support the rifleman. It is believed that MGen. William H. Rupertus, USMC, authored the creed shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It is commonly known as the Rifleman’s Creed, but it has also been called “My Rifle: The Creed of a United States Marine.” Every Marine must memorize this creed. And, every Marine must live by the creed.

This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life. My rifle, without me is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than any enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will….

My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit…

My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weakness, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will…

Before God I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life. So be it, until victory is America’s and there is no enemy, but Peace.

Discerning Major Decisions

discernment.jpgSo, are you ready for the longest blog post in the history of long blog posts?

That’s probably not true, but it’s going to be pretty stinkin’ long – at least for TWOG.

I thought a lot of you would find the following (15 page) journal entry interesting, and that for two main reasons: First, I know that many of you are interested to know where my thoughts are on whether I should continue to pursue my doctoral studies or set them down. Second, I’m sure that many of you would be interested to know what my process of discernment looks like when I need to make a major decision, and this will serve as a good example.

This entry, of course, does not explain the entire process. In fact, it really only accounts for one day. But I make enough references to other aspects of my process of discernment that you should get a pretty clear picture of what the entire process looks like. I have taken similar approaches to at least 4-5 other major decisions in the last 8 years, but this is the first time I have written extensively about it.

I’d also like to encourage pastors or seminarians to read this entry carefully as it expresses some of my best thinking (however paltry) on the teaching ministry of the pastorate.

So, make some popcorn, settle in, and have a good read. Looking forward to your feedback.

Journal Entry from May 16th, 2008

Reading: Psalm 1; Proverbs 1-3; 1-2 Timothy; Titus

I have come to the point where a decision clearly needs to be made as to whether I continue on in doctoral work or set that aside and devote myself to other things. I have set aside this entire day to seek God in prayer, through his Word, through fasting, and in discernment to decide the matter. I don’t know that I’ll have an answer by the end of the day—God is not bound to speak—but I do hope to. I’ve thought about it much, have prayed and sought wise counsel over the last six months. It’s time to bring it to God and ask him to speak clearly and lead me one way or the other. I am thankful to have come to a place (more or less) of neutrality on the issue, so that I am well positioned to follow wherever God desires to take this. I’m beginning my morning with breakfast and Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1-3.

In reading Psalm 1, I recognize that the first thing I need to do in seeking the Lord’s voice is to repent and seek forgiveness for persistent sin. God blessed those who delight in his instruction, not those who stand in the way of sinners. And, as Proverbs 1 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” I do not expect the Lord to speak clearly to me if I persist in rebellion against him. Clearly, in Proverbs, the contrast between wisdom and folly parallels the contrast between righteousness and wickedness:

Prov. 1:23: “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my Spirit on you; I will
make my word known to you.

Prov. 1:29-31: “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the
Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own desires.”

Prov. 2:3-7: “…If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is shield to those who walk in integrity.”

Prov. 3:5-7: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

[spent an hour in confessional and repentant prayer]

I just enjoyed a long time of prayer in repentance from sin, for forgiveness and cleansing through Christ, and for healing, restoration, and heart change from the Spirit. Lying prostrate, face in the grass and hands open, I am refreshed and renewed, and ready to seek God’s will in earnest. I’m going to take time now to read the Pastorals to remind myself of the character and nature of my calling.

[spent about an hour reading the Pastorals slowly and meditatively]

Relevant counsel from the Pastorals for this decision:

  • There is a danger in education: namely, wandering away into discussion that just do not matter and do not benefit the church, but rather bring a haughty and arrogant spirit (1 Tim. 1:6-7).
  • An apostolic ministry is marked by preaching, message-bearing (ambassadorship), and teaching with faithfulness and truth (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11, 2:24; Titus 2:1).
  • The office of overseer is a noble task, requiring sober-mindedness and ability to teach. Presumably, the more sober-mindedness and capability to teach the better (1 Tim. 3:1-2).
  • Overseers must manage their household well. If they are not capable of managing their household well, they are not fit to be overseers (1 Tim. 3:3-4).
  • Servants of Christ are to train themselves for godliness, and in this context [1 Tim. 4] godliness is especially bound up with right thinking and right doctrine (1 Tim. 4:7).
  • The salvation of my people is, in some ways, tied to me keeping a close watch both on my life and on the truth of my doctrine/teaching (1 Tim. 4:16).
  • Preaching and teaching in the church is a particularly high calling, and must be taken very, very seriously (1 Tim. 5:17).
  • Teaching is incredibly important, but learned people have a particular propensity to get embroiled in controversy because of unhealthy cravings for it (1 Tim. 6:2-5; 2 Tim. 2:23; Tit. 3:9)
  • Paul urges his protégé: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved; a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
  • It is very possible to learn, learn, learn and never arrive at a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7).
  • Preachers need to be as well-equipped as possible to deal with controversy and potentially divisive teaching (2 Tim. 4:3-5).
  • In the Pastorals a right heart and proper character always undergird the knowledge required of an overseer.

I need to spend some time in prayer over these things I’ve seen. I’ll spend the next hour in prayer over each of these observations, and then fast and pray over lunch, asking God to help me to begin to put my best case against continued doctoral work together on paper, after which I’ll pray for God’s help in putting together my best case for continued doctoral work.

[spent a little more than an hour in prayer]

My best case against further doctoral work:

The foremost concern I have in considering continuing with my doctoral work is the time it will require and what things I might more wisely do with that time. Realistically, doctoral work from now until the end of my dissertation defense will likely require (granted familial and ministry commitments) 10-15 hours per week minimum for a duration of 4-6 years. In addition, periodic sabbaticals will be necessary before key events (i.e. comprehensive exams, dissertation proposal, dissertation defense), ranging from 2-6 weeks, and I am not certain that these sabbaticals would be granted by my elders nor whether it is justified to take that much time away from the work of the ministry. The weekly time taken for study would be time otherwise spent with family, working on home projects, pursuing other useful reading, and enjoying some rest and time for hobbies. In addition, more time could be given to building and investing in my ministry through New Hope Church.

Also, committing to a certain lifestyle and schedule for 4-6 years presumes that such a schedule will still be possible during all of the next 4-6 years. It is possible—even likely—that within the next 4-6 years I may be in a different ministry position or setting entirely unknown to me at the present, and that Leslie and I will (Lord willing) have at least one more child. In addition, continued Ph.D. work is expensive. Tuition rates will likely continue to climb in this economy, while financial aid will likely continue to decrease in availability. This will cause my family to face more difficult financial decisions regarding finances that we otherwise might.

In addition, there may be averse effects on my spiritual and devotional life. Rigorous study need not, but sometimes does, lead to pride and arrogance, to burnout, to an excessive craving for controversy, and to an excessive focus on minutiae, rather than on the big picture; to viewing the Bible less as the Word of God, living and active, and more as a textbook to be analyzed and criticized. Study can also lead to an overly critical and haughty attitude toward those who are not as studied, and can even lead to an over-reliance on the power of human cognition over against prayerful, humble, faithful submission to God and his Word. I do not presume to be immune to any of these potentially deadly effects.

Finally, committing to this course of study would likely forestall much involvement in the broader national and global evangelical movement for the next 4-6 years and will limit the vast majority of my ministry involvement to my local church.

Lord, is there any significant argument I have forgotten or omitted?

Before going to prayer and asking for God’s help in putting together the best argument for continuing doctoral work, I’m going to work some on a tentative weekly schedule to help determine whether the required weekly time is even possible to build in (see scratch paper).

[spent about an hour working on a schedule for fall, summer, and spring that would allow for 45-50 hours of ministry work, 12-15 hours of study time, and at least one full day, a half day, and two other evenings a week to be entirely devoted to family]

Making a schedule for the summer, fall and spring went fairly well. It is possible, I think, to devote adequate time to family, ministry, and studies. Clearly, however, it would require an extraordinary amount of discipline in time management. The allotted time frames would have to be almost inviolable. It would require that I decline or defer unnecessary counseling appointments and other commitments. I would need to say ‘no’ to plenty of otherwise good and enjoyable meetings and leisure times. It would put greater strictures on my sermon prep time, so that if my sermons are not finished during the allotted time, they would have to be preached unfinished in reliance on the Spirit to use unpolished work. That said, it does seem possible. The hours work.

[spent about 15 minutes in prayer for help in formulating the best case for doctoral work]

My best case for further doctoral work:
First and foremostly, continued doctoral studies would allow me an almost unparalleled opportunity for rigorous study with top-flight scholars, many of whom are among the most godly men I know. This would be an opportunity for extended honing of my skills in rightly handling the Word of truth. In some sense, the opportunity rather creates an obligation. That is, in view of the thousands of men and women—church leaders—around the world who would give almost anything to be able to pursue doctoral studies at Trinity with someone like D.A. Carson, it may be a deeply ungrateful and callous thing to decline such an opportunity.

To be sure, there are times that I have almost convinced myself that further academic study would be of very minimal value to my pastoral ministry. I’m not sure what has led my to think this, however, given that my years at Trinity where the single most formative of my life for pastoral ministry—particularly my time with Dr. Carson—that that I learned so well how to understand, handle, explain, and apply Scripture, which has profoundly impacted the way I do everything else in ministry. I have no reason to doubt that further study would do the same—particularly in light of the benefits I have already reaped from doctoral study for my pastoral ministry.

A Ph.D. would bestow an influence and stature of some degree and would open up more opportunities for broader ministry at home and abroad (e.g. short-term teaching posts in under funded foreign seminaries and pastors’ colleges). Stature and influences can certainly be sought for ungodly and self-centered reasons. But, if like Bonhoeffer, they can be used for the sake of the gospel, they can be incredibly useful.

Furthermore, I sense a good deal of fear and trepidation in myself about the possibility of changing directions in a course that I am reasonably confident God set me on in the first place. I sought the Lord in this matter before I originally entered the Ph.D. program and felt confident that he was blessing this course of action. It is not impossible that he meant for me to begin the program, learn some valuable things, spend the money, and the quit. And it is not impossible that I discerned his will incorrectly from the outset. But both of these appear to me to be unlikely. It seems much more likely to me that subsequent doubts have arisen from the fruits of poor time management, a desire for ease, and a fear of frustration and failure in the program.

The counsel I have received from godly friends and advisors has been split. Interestingly, the almost unanimous sentiment among those of my own generation has been to suggest that I quit the program, while the almost unanimous sentiment among those of older generations has been to urge me to complete the program. It may be that younger generations tend to be more ignorant and dismissive than older people and lack foresight. Or, it may be that older people tend to value “letters-behind-names” too highly, while younger people rightly tend to value authenticity and wisdom more than degrees, letters, and empty credentials. It’s probably impossible to discern these things for certain. I am certainly susceptible to youthful ignorance. And I am certainly susceptible to an idolatry of letters and credentials. But I also believe it to be possible to be wise and authentic and to hold weighty credentials at the same time. However, in light of fairly balanced scales in this matter, and in light of consistent biblical instruction, I am inclined to weigh more heavily the counsel of older men (who include my senior pastor) rather than young men (cf. 1 Kings 12).

Doctoral work completed and credentialed will likely afford me increased opportunities for leadership and involvement in the broader evangelical movement (after 4-6 years), both nationally and globally. For better or worse, more leadership, teaching, training, writing, and speaking opportunities are opened to godly men with academic doctorates. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing in and of itself—it is simply reality.
What is more is that I have always been frustrated by the growing gulf between the church and the academy, where a close relationship existed until even the 20th century. Too often, these spheres do not converse and the result is a lack of piety, practicality, and focus on the mission of the church within the academy, and a dire lack of intellectual rigor within the church. But one can scarcely lament the gulf without attempting to bridge it. Completing the doctorate but continuing in pastoral ministry would uniquely position me to stand in the gulf and converse with both sides.

Lord, is there any significant argument I have forgotten or omitted?

It is 6:30pm. My mind is exhausted. I can’t think of much more that I need to think or pray about, so I am now committing this all to the Lord.

Lord, please grant wisdom and clear guidance. Please show me what is best and I will trust you with the details. I desire to please you and submit to you in all things. Be honored and glorified in these decisions. I ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.