Should Pastors be Smart?

How important is intellect to ministry? Intellect is different than education, though education can increase intellect. Intellect is different than judgment or wisdom—though it can sharpen judgment and augment wisdom. “Intellect” as I’m using it is simply, “capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.”

My first impulse is to say something like, “It would be nice, but it’s not necessary.” There is something about saying it’s necessary that seems wrong. It would appear Jesus and most of the early church leaders had little advanced formal education (though I believe Jesus was brilliant). We also see the beautiful witness of children, the mentally challenged, and the pure goodness of faith showing itself every day in simple ways.

At the same time, it also seems true that those who go through the process of sustaining and growing the life of the mind benefit from doing so. They seem to be able to analyze problems, notice trends, learn from mistakes more ably, as well as apply their intellect for the benefit of the Kingdom.

I don’t think churches have thought through this very much.

On the one hand churches believe it’s important. This is why most churches desire some formal education in biblical studies and/or theology from their minister. They also typically try to make sure a potential minister has strong thinking skills and a firm grasp on the Scriptures. At the same time, many of those same churches choose a polity in which those with no formal education in bible or theology make the final doctrinal and operational decisions for the church—as opposed to those who have been both formally educated and intellectually vetted. Other churches say it doesn’t matter, but require substantial formal training and intellectual prowess from their ministers. Which is it? Is it both? Neither? One or the other?

Personally, I would hate for us to tolerate intellectual mediocrity from ministers just because  we think it isn’t “necessary.” The mind is something with which we are to worship God. At another level, I wouldn’t want to disqualify or silence those who don’t meet some arbitrary standard of intellect. God’s glory can shine through all people.

Yet, it seems that those he blesses with pastoral acumen have a gift they should seek to flourish for God’s purposes. It’s also fair to say those who aren’t Christians would highly prefer to explore faith with someone whose intellect they trust and perhaps even admire.

What do you think? Should pastors be smart? Does it matter, does it not, or is it “nice, but not necessary?”

I would really love to hear from those of you who are not in vocational ministry on this, as well.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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Share Your Thoughts

8 thoughts on “Should Pastors be Smart?

  1. Aaaaaaaand, another thought. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Different folks connect with different folks. Some people don’t care if their pastor is intellectual. Perhaps it is too intimidating or doesn’t connect with them. Other folks couldn’t tolerate consistently simplistic teaching. Perhaps that’s all that matters – that God is using a variety of folks because they will connect with a variety of folks.

    The smart AND proud guys? They gotta go, though. No matter what level of intellect, pastors need to be relying on God’s lead, God’s strength, God’s view of them…not their own, not man’s.

  2. Another thought – God speaks to us through many different vessels – children, folks with mental retardation or incredible physical handicaps – they are all used by God to teach and change us. However, they are not able, for other reasons, to take the role of lead/teaching pastor. It doesn’t mean that God does not speak to us through them – he just does it differently. They are a different part of the body, so to speak.

    An elder is called to teach and defend the Scripture among other things. A sharp mind is part of that, I would think.

    More importantly…why do I look like you in the photo that accompanies my comment?

    • Hah! Jessica, I have no earthly idea why it does that with some people and not with others…but I’m looking into it. Hopefully it’ll be fixed this week. Great comments! I tend to see it the same way–God’s glory shines through all people, in different ways, according to how He’s gifted them.

  3. Yes, yes, yes! Pastors should have enough intellect or wisdom or life experience or whatever it is to be insightful. Education does not make up for dullness of mind, and therefore may be less necessary than being intellectual as you have defined it.

    I have no idea how folks find themselves called into ministry in the formal position of teaching pastor, so I can’t speak to how God stirs someone’s heart and who is truly “called” and whatnot…all I know is that I connect best with teaching that is deep, poetic, insightful, and brings a fresh perspective on Scripture. (It doesn’t have to be all at the same time…) I find myself distracted and disconnected when the content is repetitive or obvious. Perhaps that’s my flaw, or perhaps I need to have more grace, I don’t know.

    One of the chief considerations we had when seeking a church family was the quality of the Sunday morning teaching. By this we meant exactly what you described – we were not looking for flashing, funny, prescriptive, full of personal anecdotes, contrived to be “relevant”, or any other shallow nonsense. We were looking for thoughtful, challenging, and insightful – delivered through a vessel that did not appear to have a problem with pride or arrogance.

    We are grateful to have such teaching at NVC. Keep the conversation going, Tim!