Sage Advice: The Teacher as Pastor

by Grant R. Osborne

I just realized my ministry lasted exactly fifty years, from my first church in Newark, Ohio, in 1966 to retiring from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2016. Forty of those years were at Trinity. I didn’t just like my job, I loved it and couldn’t get enough of it. I retired only because my body made me do so.

As a New Testament scholar, I felt my task in the classroom was twofold: to enable my students not just to understand God’s word but to crave it (1 Pet 2:2), and to motivate them to want to share its treasures with others. In future issues, I will write about “the teacher as teacher” and “the teacher as scholar.” For now I want to talk about “the teacher as pastor.”

I have long felt that if all I was in the classroom was a disseminator of information, I would fail. The problem today is that the seminary (or college, or graduate school) classroom is often too academic, and too few students fall in love with the process of exegesis and feeding their flock—even looking upon the act of “feeding” in terms of delivering simple topical messages. We must show students the relevance of the biblical text for their lives, stimulating them spiritually as well as intellectually. The truth is that they can find everything we are going to say in commentaries and other sources. What we need to do is show them how practical and refreshing deep exegesis can be.

This means my lectures might take on the qualities of a sermon as I go through, say, John 12 or Romans 6. Certainly I am dealing with academic debates, but I want to demonstrate that the result of this scholarship is a gourmet meal in God’s word and not just a dry-bones debate over trivia. Moreover, I have a pastoral duty to help students grow in the Lord. Even in that, though, I am primarily their teacher. Many of them will be preaching or teaching when they graduate, so I want to model a good pastor for them. Paul considered his ministry to believers to be that of discipleship, and his primary principle was “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 1:6). I want my students to emulate my model, and so I must have stimulating application in my classroom as well as deep intellectual wrestling with the text and the issues of it.

I feel strongly that this principle works in other fields of teaching, as well. I have had engineering students (and others) say that too many of their professors have never worked significantly “out in the world,” and what these teachers say in class has too little practical value for their students who will be applying their classroom knowledge in actual situations. We all need to make our lectures relevant to the future needs of our students and to motivate them to get excited about what they will be doing.

I feel one of the great needs of the church today is to feed the flock and get our people into the word of God. It seems there is less and less of the Bible in church life. Some pastors even believe down deep that the Bible is somewhat boring, and that expository messages don’t cut it. I want to show in my classroom that this isn’t true, and that God’s word preached correctly is scintillating and meaningful.  

Grant R. Osborne is professor emeritus of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous books, including The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, and multiple commentary volumes, including the Osborne New Testament Commentaries (Lexham Press).

Originally published in Didaktikos: Journal of Theological Education (November 2017). Biblical studies and theological faculty can receive Didakitkos for free. Visit

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