As of last Monday, I’ve spent nineteen years as a professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. That’s more years than I spent in pastoral ministry (about fifteen or sixteen), and certainly more than I spent printing checks, selling appliances, teaching college students, guarding a major communications facility, stocking and pulling auto parts, laying hot asphalt roofing, building commercial displays, or working as a life guard. That’s not an exhaustive list—a man can work quite a number of jobs if he’s been in the market for upwards of four decades.
Of everything I’ve done, teaching and pastoring are my favorites. I took my first senior pastorate after teaching for a couple of years, and I missed academic life every day. For the past nineteen years I’ve missed pastoral life every day. From time to time I’ve wondered whether the Lord might not lead me back into a pastorate—most recently, about a year ago. So far He has kept that door closed, and nearing retirement age as I am, I don’t anticipate another change.
I don’t regret it. I know that if I were in a pastorate again, I would miss teaching as much as I miss pastoring now. What’s more, I’ve loved both where I’m teaching and who I’m teaching with. It has been a significant privilege to serve with people like Douglas McLachlan, Charles Hauser, Tom Zempel, Raymond Buck, Eric White, Deborah Forteza, Sam Horn, and Brent Belford, as well as my current colleagues.
What’s more, for me teaching is easier than pastoring. My toughest day as a professor has been easier than my easiest day as a pastor. They are different ministries. Some good pastors would fail at my job, and I would probably fail at theirs. Every minister is gifted differently, and every situation presents different challenges. I respect any man who can endure in the pastorate, keeping his convictions intact, building up disciples in the whole counsel of God, and shepherding the flock. He doesn’t have to be a great scholar if he is a good pastor and preacher.
Of course, both pastoring and teaching are vocational ministry. I don’t see them as two different callings, but as two overlapping aspects of the same calling. To move from pastoring to teaching is not to leave the ministry, but to exercise a different nuance of ministry. The same is true of missionary work. I don’t think that God calls a man specifically to be a missionary, a pastor, or a seminary professor. I think that He calls us to vocational ministry (at minimum through the combination of intense desire, qualifications, and gifts), and then leads providentially to specific ministries.
One aspect of teaching that I truly enjoy is the rhythm of the seminary schedule. The academic year begins with classes in the fall. Central Seminary always has a conference in October. Then comes the long haul up to Thanksgiving break, followed by a sprint toward final exams. Here at Central Seminary, final exam week is punctuated by the Professors’ Pancake Palace, when the teachers cook breakfast for the students. The semester ends just in time for the festivity of the holidays.
January brings interterm modules. I typically teach two of them. Spring courses begin at the end of January; in early February they are interrupted by a lecture series. Then the spring semester is like the long downhill run on a ski jump, ending with the leap of commencement in May. June brings more interterm modules, and I again teach two. July and August provide an opportunity to retool and catch up on administrative duties, and perhaps to catch a brief vacation.
An annual highlight is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This is the one week of the year when all academic activity ceases. Administrators and secretaries may be in their offices (though they may not). But the professors are absent.
Every year, I have high hopes for that week. I plan a boatload of reading that I hope to accomplish around some sustained writing and a couple of minor household projects. That plan almost never works out. Life, particularly life as it is lived during the holidays, invariably intrudes.
This year I thought I wanted to build my wife a nice, oak bookcase for Christmas. I’ve always built my own bookshelves. It’s not complicated. In fact, every pastor ought to be able to build his own shelves using 1×8” common pine, a circular saw, a cordless drill, and his preferred finish. You can face them with furring strips if you wish. I watched my dad build shelves like this when I was a boy; I’ve never found it hard to copy the techniques.
But I wanted something nicer for my wife: good wood, no visible nail or screw heads, a pretty finish, nice backing. I started two days before Christmas. That’s when an old builder’s rule kicked in: every project costs twice as much and takes three times as long as you think it should.
The first problem was the weather. My car carried snow into my garage, leaving the floor too sloppy for carpentry. Consequently, I had to move the project to my basement. To do that, I had to move things around in the basement. I also had to haul all of the tools, lumber, sawhorses, etc., from the garage and into the basement.
Since I couldn’t use the garage, I couldn’t rip my own oak plywood. I had to have it done at the home supply depot, where the gentleman whom the company allowed to operate the saw didn’t really know how to rip plywood. That meant some extra repair work when I got home. In general, everything took longer than anticipated, and I didn’t finish the project until the Wednesday night after Christmas.
These were full-height shelves (eight feet tall) and heavily built with real oak facings. I’d calculated that I could get them out of the basement once built—and I was right, but just barely. What I hadn’t counted on was the weight. My shoulders are still complaining.
So I have good news and I have better news. The good news is that the shelves are finished, beautiful, and firmly affixed to the living room wall, where they are supporting a colorful assortment of books and knick-knacks. The better news is that I am now back at work, where I can finally rest up.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.