Photo by Kate Ter Haar

Yesterday my friend Jeff wrote about the potential for an organization or venue especially for pastors akin to the Society of Biblical Literature.  Ultimately, he is concerned about the cultivation and nourishment of scholar-pastors.  In particular, I think he is suggesting that pastors should be encouraged and have opportunities to produce scholarship of their own and share it with colleagues.  I’m definitely intrigued by this idea.

This conversation reminded me of another idea that I’ve been mulling over recently.  It’s now been over seven years since I graduated from seminary.  I’ve maintained some of my academic chops by trying to work on a PhD, reading a lot on my own, attending conferences and continuing education, and trying to be more intentional about writing things other than sermons and lesson plans.

As I continue to ponder my next steps academically, one thing I have felt a longing to do is go back and reread the basic theological texts of my seminary education, and fill in gaps that I know I missed.  I feel that my engagement with these texts will be much richer now that I have several years of experience in pastoral ministry.  My temptation is to drop everything I can and start plowing through my library.

It occurs to me that this would be much better to do in a community of other pastors.  I wonder if I could get a grant from the Lilly Endowment to create such a group.  I wonder how many other pastors would be interested in such a venture.  It would be great to get together a group of pastors with a wide spectrum of experience levels, ministry contexts, and theological perspectives.  For it to work well, we would have to be intentional about creating sufficient time to do significant reading and we would need to hold each other accountable.

Would any of you pastors out there be interested in such a thing?

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. Hey John I think that could be cool! I have been mulling over ideas for a conference and maybe this could be a good center point. I was thinking about ideas related to reclaiming the “Good News” and it would seem that people after they have been in ministry for a while may look on those text from the beginning of seminary with a new set of eyes and understand them in a whole new way. You know anybody at Lily to get the money from!

  2. John, we’ve actually been having an on-again, off-again conversation here at Auburn about helping pastors to do something very much like this; our concern is making sure that the academic work then strengthens the concrete work of ministry, rather than being an abstraction or simply a personal retreat. Got some ideas about how to do that, though; just haven’t had an opportunity to put it on the front-burner yet. So this post was a good goad!

    As it happens, I’m going to be in Chicago for some meetings Dec 8-9, including one at Fourth Church! If you’re interested in talking more, shoot me an email and let’s see if we can find a time to connect.



  3. I would love to do something like this. I think I would get so much more out of reading those texts now than when I read them originally.

  4. I’ve had this same thought recently, and it compelled me to start reading R. Michael Allen’s “Reformed Theology” overview. I’d totally do this.

  5. Hi John,
    I work in the Office of Theology & Worship, where for the last 6 years I’ve been working with the Re-Forming Ministry program. Re-Forming Ministry sought to do something very similar to what you are exploring in this blog post. It brought together groups of pastors, governing body leaders, and academics in the theological disciplines, asking them to engage one another in theological reflection. It was a great adventure, fascinating to watch the groups unfold. Re-Forming Ministry is drawing to a close as our Lilly grant comes to an end. As this happens, we are working to build on lessons learned there, particularly through adding new dimensions to the Company of Pastors.

    Our way of naming the task is that we are seeking to cultivate communities of theological friendship. I believe that “communities of theological friendship” is a way of naming the deep vision that presbyteries and the varied other councils of the church in this denomination were designed to embody. It sounds as though you and those who’ve indicated interest in this idea are looking for such communities; we here share that longing and the search for ways to embody it. Perhaps we could explore this together? If so, drop me a note: I’d love to give you a call and explore further!


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