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Pastors, Ph.D.s, and Prestige

1395441_10153176283036393_6649785529365125208_nIn the Treasury of David, C. H. Spurgeon says (here commenting on Psalm 23:3a, “He restoreth my soul”), “‘He‘ does it. His ministers could not do it if he did not. His Word would not avail by itself. ‘He restoreth my soul.‘”

“His ministers could not do it if he did not.” If you are a minister of any kind–whether a Sunday School teacher or a pastor or mother of children–we must have this constantly before our minds. We are nothing. We depend upon God alone for true eternal success in Christian ministry. Worldly results can be manipulated. True success is spiritual, and comes by the will of God. He is the one who restores the souls of men and women.

I was thinking of Spurgeon’s comments in connection with a piece written by Mark Jones for reformation21’s blog, “So you want to be a Doctor?” In connection with Jones’s advice, I would add another note. He advises young Christian academics considering a Ph.D. to “be prepared to be humbled.” I would say the same thing, for different reasons, to men working on a Ph.D. (or D.Min. or Th.M. or M.Div. or M.A. or whatever other human accomplishments you have obtained) and planning on entering pastoral ministry.

A Ph.D. may help you if you are a pastor (there are certainly many pitfalls that come along with it), but it is not a gateway to God’s blessing. The blessing of God does not work that way. Yes, God rewards us taking up the ministry he has given to us (he promises to bless the preaching of his Word), and he certainly wants us to take up these means of preaching and teaching the Word with the best of our capacities and the best possible training.

At the same time, just because we are doing what is right with respect to our education and preparation, we are not guaranteed that our life in ministry will be lined with streets of gold and abundant success. Being well-prepared for the pastorate (in the ways that a good education accomplishes this) does not necessary result in God’s blessing. No. As 1 Cor 3:7b says, “God … gives the growth” (cf. 1 Cor 3:6b).

In fact, what a Ph.D. ought to do is cause us to fall on our knees all the more and beg God for his blessing on our ministry. The person who truly knows Scripture on that high of a level should certainly be capable of recognizing this! All of us, no matter how well prepared, are in way over our heads. An M.Div, a Th.M., a D.Min., and even a Ph.D. cannot annul this. “But by the grace of God I am what I am,” Paul said. Academic prestige is not an automatic lever for a bountiful ministry.

God wants faithfulness of us. “Let each one take care how he builds upon [the foundation which is Jesus Christ]” (1 Cor 3:10b). It is we who mistakenly think the goal of ministry is numbers or baptisms or the membership roll. While we should zealously pursue the salvation of sinners so that they may hallow the name of the Lord, we should never think that our success depends on mere numbers, as if our “quarterly earnings” were the gauge of our ministry’s health. God defines ministry success as faithfulness in preaching the Word.

So never pursue a Ph.D. thinking that “if I get this degree, then I’ll really be a great pastor,” or “if I am a doctor, then being a pastor will be much easier and successful.” This is not how our gracious God operates. Even the best prepared among us still rely wholly on God. He is the one who restores men’s souls. We are just under-shepherds.

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).