The Professor as Pastor

The Professor as Pastor:

Sanctification and Metaphor in Teaching

Monty L. Lynn, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair

Department of Management Sciences, College of Business Administration

Abilene Christian University

ACU Box 29325, Abilene, TX 79699-9325 / (915) 674-2593

Timothy Sensing, D.Min, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor and Director of Supervised Practice of Ministry

Graduate School of Theology, College of Biblical Studies

Abilene Christian University

ACU Box 29416, Abilene, TX 79699-9416 / (915) 674-3792

Presented to the Christian Business Faculty Association, Nampa, ID, November 2002


Metaphor is a powerful tool for summarizing and altering an approach to learning.  It’s even more powerful when the choice of metaphor opens us to the sanctifying work of Jesus Christ through scripture and the Spirit.  We review the application of metaphor to teaching and extend the discussion by applying the metaphor of pastor to professors.


The shift from viewing a teacher as a guide (stop and do so for a moment)…to thinking about a teacher as a gardener (again, imagine what that’s like)…tumbles educational assumptions and teaching styles like colored glass in a kaleidoscope.  Although not all professors have crystallized a metaphorical image of their approach to learning, no teacher can escape holding assumptions about the learning process.

A professor’s (and student’s!) views of the academic world are interpreted through a complex screen of assumptions:  Assumptions about the teacher’s role, student decorum, the purpose of higher education, the place of a dean, how learning occurs.  These assumptions often remain unrecognized, lurking beneath the surface of our decisions and actions.  Yet they shape and guide a teacher and student’s approach to learning, and their reaction to each other (see Figure 1).

The value of crystallizing a metaphor is that it can compact a host of assumptions into a single, immediately comprehensible image.  When one’s working metaphor does not portray the image one wishes, a new metaphor can go a long way to alter one’s approach to learning.

Our intent in this paper is to encourage professors to identify personal metaphors which are rooted in scripture and Christian theology and which have the ability to inform and enrich one’s view of teaching and learning with the sanctifying influence of scripture and the Holy Spirit.  After introducing the use of metaphor in language, thought, and scripture, we briefly address sanctification and methods for identifying metaphors, and then turn our focus toward the example of pastoring as a metaphor for professors.

Metaphor in Language and Thought

The study of metaphor can be traced back to Aristotle who defined metaphor as a word in which two literally dissimilar entities are compared.  Metaphor is much more than a rhetorical device, however.  True metaphor is a bearer of the reality to which it refers.  The hearer not only learns about that reality, but also participates in it.  In other words, language, human thought processes, and experienced reality are largely metaphorically structured and defined (Gibbs, 1994; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980).

Figure 1:  The Lens of Professorial Metaphors

Metaphors are locomotives of meaning because they compact assumptions and insight accepted in one domain, and transfer them to another domain, often without great cognitive effort on the part of the interpreter.  Metaphor transfers meaning, not between two terms, but between two rich domains of content, or “semantic fields” (Kittay, 1987).[1] Because metaphor is a perceptual lens, one would want to ask, “How does a particular metaphor shape reality?”  And, “How does changing the metaphor change perception?”

Scriptural Metaphor and Sanctification

New Testament (NT) writers use 96 different metaphors to create new images in the minds of followers of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ (Minear, 1960).  Disciples of Christ are children, branches, salt, God’s building, the bride and aroma of Christ, citizens, slaves, and light.  This frequent metaphorical use suggests two observations:  First, that metaphor can powerfully convey mental images of new concepts; and second, that metaphorical images can foster new perspectives and behaviors in individual disciples and in the community of faith.

We wish to highlight the use of metaphor in describing sanctification, both as an illustration of scriptural metaphor, but also as a reminder of the role of the Spirit and word in the sanctification of disciples of Christ:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-which is your spiritual worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is––his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:1-2)

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  (Romans 8:5)

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you.  I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.  (2 Peter 3:1-2)

As powerful as images can be to initiate self-realization and change, there is Christian theological support for living a transformed life, rather than simply knowing Christ cognitively.  Christian doctrine, Charry (1997) argues, exists not so much to accurately convey information, as to “change how we think and act—to remake us.”  The point is not that Christian metaphor is mystical—though it may be—but rather that metaphor is intended to be transformative, not simply rhetorical.  Thus, for the Christian professor part of what biblical integration is, is continually conforming one’s identity—inside and outside the classroom—to that of Christ Jesus.[2]

Charry (1997) attempts to correct two distortions in Christian theology:  Modern tendencies to accept theology with empirical and rational justification, and a pre-modern preoccupation with sin and whether one is pleasing to God.  In their place, Charry encourages a return to sanctification through “embodied knowledge” reflecting an incarnational approach to Christian living.

Theologians have debated many aspects of sanctification (cf. Alexander, 1988; Dieter, Hoekema, Horton, McQuilkin & Walvoord, 1987):  To what degree is sanctification a definitive act versus an on-going process?  To what extent do the word, the Holy Spirit, Christ’s death and resurrection, the church, or the efforts of the disciple primarily bring sanctification?  To what degree can an individual be sanctified in his or her actions?  Although we will attempt to remain above the fray of these debates, three quotations summarize what we believe are helpful, sample insights on sanctification from different traditions and voices:

If we grow in the Christian life so much that the disposition to love is fixed firmly in our hearts, if our eyes focus so consistently on the object of our faith—Jesus Christ—that we can do nothing but love all whom we encounter, whether or not they are “friendly” or “lovable,” then we are “going on to perfection.” (Clapper, 1997, p. 72)

No Christian should doubt the need to give practical, everyday expression to the holiness that is our status and calling in Christ….  On the other hand, it is possible to be so zealous for “progress” that one’s attention shifts from God’s grace to human effort.  Moral growth and development will be God’s gift to us at different stages of our lives, but spirituality must not be measured in terms of the rate of change.  We are to go on exhibiting what we know of God’s character and will, motivated by the certainty of his acceptance, cleansing and enabling in Christ, together with the promise of entire sanctification when we meet him, face to face.  Progress may be seen as we exercise ourselves in that godly devotion which issues from a true knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.  (Peterson, 1995, p. 91)

It is not that we are somehow moving toward the goal, but rather that the goal is moving closer and closer to us.  This corresponds to the eschatological nature of the New Testament message.  It is the coming of the kingdom upon us, not our coming closer to or building up the kingdom. (Forde, 1988, p. 29)

Regardless of the method or manner of sanctification, each of these scholars recognize that divine action is required for sanctification to occur—the focus is clearly upon Christ.  And all can say that disciples of Christ “long for and pray for the complete expression of God’s sanctifying work in our lives” (Peterson, 1998, p. 68).  What an adventure for Christian professors to continue to grow in their understanding of what it means to be living sacrifices, made new in their attitudes and minds, putting on clothes of holiness!

Teaching and Learning Metaphors

One lens to examine a teacher’s self-understanding or professional identity is to examine the metaphors that are used to describe the teacher’s role.  Teaching has been likened to many metaphors in recent years including:  Cooking, coaching, gaming, improvisational jazz, theater, gardening, conversation, mentoring, and persuasion (Enerson, 2001; Fry & Fleener, 1997; Griggs, 2001; Parks, 1996; Schwartzman, 1997; Stellwagen, 1997).  Students have been depicted as glasses to fill, flowers to nurture, customers to satisfy, and patients to treat (Mount, 1983).  The teacher at the front of the room, may be a midwife, cheerleader, scaffolding, sheepdog, or trail guide (e.g., Palmer, 1997; Stone, 1998).  Colleges and universities likewise can be viewed as an ecosystem, village, or neighborhood (Illes, 1999).  To appreciate these metaphors, each needs careful unpacking.  We will try to provide that level of care when proposing our metaphor of pastoring, but refer readers to original references if they wish to explore these previously proposed, enlightening metaphors.

Identifying a specific metaphor which sums up one’s philosophy of learning, does many things—It clarifies working assumptions and serves as a spring from which flow course organization, delivery methods, course objectives, and the type and extent of student interaction.  Yet few faculty (and even fewer students) have distilled their own metaphor.  Lyddon, Clay, and Sparks (2001) suggest that identifying metaphors can be useful in helping individuals uncover and challenge tacit assumptions, work with resistance to change, and they introduce new interpretative frames.  A method for identifying a working teaching metaphor are given in the Appendix.  We used some of these tools in developing the metaphor of pastor.

The Professor as Pastor

No single metaphor can sum up education for all time, nor for all academic endeavors, disciplines, school cultures, or professors (Osborn, 1997).  The task is not to seek the holy grail of metaphors, but to encourage faculty (and students) to be reflective about learning, and to inspire creativity and insight about their approach to the educational enterprise.

Biblical metaphors are not necessarily richer or more accurate reflections of teaching philosophies than are other images.  As one Christian professor says:

I am not concerned that my scholarship and my teaching differ dramatically from what is generally considered sound scholarship and good teaching in the academy at large.  But I am concerned that if I am able to reach the highest levels of scholarship and teaching, I do so precisely because of my commitment to the Christian faith, not in spite of that commitment (Hughes, 2001, pp. 126-7).

Christian professors’ metaphors—whatever they are—further open them and their classes to the sanctifying work of God when they are consistent with the gospel message.

We turn our attention to musings about pastoring and pastors as reflected upon from New Testament writings and ministerial thought and practice (cf. introduction of this metaphor by Marrs, 1997).  We then compare those reflections with a professor’s role, more in an illustrative mode than advocatory.

Biblical Background on Pastoring

Willimon (2000) recognizes that to change metaphors radically changes the conception of one’s identity.  Therefore he states, “What pastors do is a function of who pastors are” (p. 21).  Thus, the definition of pastor cannot be a professional definition.  “A professional is one who has a specialized expertise that can be delivered to a client population for monetary return.¼  As ministry accepts a professional model as its image, the pastor becomes an expert who has individuals and congregations for clients (Poling & Miller, 1985, p. 19).

Willimon, (2002, p. 55) warns pastors who borrow metaphors not from scripture but from the surrounding culture to be careful.  Such metaphors as CEO, psychotherapeutic guru, or political agitator may not embody appropriately the peculiar vocation of Christian leadership.  Alternatively, he suggests that pastors (and we include professors) return to an original definition of professional (and professor) as “people who profess something, who are tied to and who receive authorization from a body of belief” (p. 19).  His call is a return to a representative function of ministry.  Quoting Gustafson:

A “calling” without professionalization is bumbling, ineffective, and even dangerous.  A profession without a calling, however, has no taps of moral and human rootage to keep motivation alive, to keep human sensitivities and sensibilities alert, and to nourish a proper sense of self-fulfillment.  Nor does a profession without a calling easily envision the larger ends and purposes of human good that our individual efforts can serve (p. 20).

The image of pastor that Christ ordained for the edification and guidance of the church is a multifaceted metaphor.  Such facets as prophet, shepherd, witness, teacher, and priest only contain the more common understandings of the role in literature.  Oden’s (1983) definition helps to narrow the discussion.  “‘The pastor,’ concisely defined, is a member of the body of Christ who is called by God and the church and set apart by ordination representatively to proclaim the Word, to administer the sacraments, and to guide and nurture the Christian community toward full response to God’s self-disclosure” (p. 50).

The Pastor as Prophet

The pastor functions as a prophet to witness God’s revelation to people.  The prophet or herald, being God’s mouthpiece, is one of the most common understandings of the pastor’s function found in the Bible.  God is proclaiming through the preacher, the very voice of the Living God.   A divine word is a free and gracious act of the gospel announced.

The Hebrew word for prophet means “spokesperson” or “mouthpiece.”  Even a casual glance at the prophetic writings demonstrates that the majority of their words deal with “proclamation” rather than “predictions.”  The classical example of the term prophet is found when Moses complains about not being able to eloquently speak for God in Exodus 4:1, 10.  God responds, “Aaron your brother shall be your prophet….  I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak….  I will be with your mouth and with his [Aaron’s] mouth and will teach you what you shall do” (Exodus 7:1; 4:12, 15).

Jesus, too, came preaching the good news and sent his disciples out to do the same.  Seventy times in the New Testament the verb “euangelizomai” is found, which means, “preaching the good news.”  Voicing the good news; proclaiming the good news:  That is what Jesus and his disciples were doing.  Mark introduces Jesus’ public ministry with the words, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (1:39).

The deeper theological issues that motivated the prophets can be inferred from the form of their speeches.  They announced the coming action of God and the reason for that action.  However, they never left Israel hopeless.  They offered future hope that would follow the day of judgment.  Judgment was never the last word.  Prophecy was always conditional in nature.  The blessings or the judgments were conditional upon the response of the people.  Therefore, prophets functioned as intercessors for the people before God.  They represented the community in covenant relationship with God.

Prophets were conditioned by the old traditions of the Torah.  They re-interpreted these traditions by applying them to their own times.  Because of the new situations that the prophets found themselves, they modified the traditions. They were concerned with reformation not innovation, confrontation not creation, revival not change.  Therefore, preservation of the tradition was central as they reapplied the covenant to new situations.  The prophets saw that God was about to do a new thing.  Although they spoke about social justice, apostasy, and idolatry, these issues were rooted in the theology of the covenant between God and Israel.  The religious and social issues were only the immediate context that led to God’s present activity.  These issues were not timeless truths abstracted out of context but expressions of God’s past and future activity among the people (Sensing, 1999).

Finally, the stance and person of the prophet is noteworthy.  As Marrs (1997, p. 4) suggests:  “Though we may often view these ancient worthies as persons of heroic stature and character, they clearly saw themselves as inadequate to the task and in constant need of the grace of God’s empowering presence.”

The Pastor as Witness

Another aspect of what it means to be a pastor as prophet is the concept of witness.  A witness beholds, sees, experiences, observes, basks in, becomes aware, and perceives the biblical text as an encounter with God.  Subsequently, the witness will attest, give out, say, make others aware, and testify to the others.  Therefore, the biblical text encounters the audience through the witness.

The witness testifies to truth.  Two credentials are needed:  The witness has seen something and the witness is willing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  What the witness believes to be true is part of the evidence.  The credibility of the witness is crucial.  Ricouer states, “False testimony is a lie in the heart of the witness.  This perverse intention is so fatal to the exercise of justice and to the entire order of discourse that all codes of morality place it very high in the scale of vices” (as quoted by Long, 1988, pp. 42-43).

The authority of the witness comes from what the pastor has seen and heard.  Pastors listen for a voice, the claim of God, and the encounter with the biblical text.  They are witnesses to the event of God’s encounter with people.  Witnesses are not neutral observers.  They have had a personal encounter and experience.  The biblical text is a faithful witness.  Therefore, the witness will find the best way to communicate the message by using various sermonic forms and leadership styles that fit the character of the testimony.  Finally, witnesses testify on the behalf of shared community.

The Pastor as Priest

Likewise, the pastor functions as a priest to represent God’s people to God.  Pastor as priest emphasizes a therapeutic function of the role.  Especially during the social movements of the early 1900s, there were increased concerns for personal needs of the hearers to enable some beneficial change in people’s lives so they could make sense of their lives.  Pastoral preaching strives to be a catalyst for more responsible living because a pastor wants something good to happen to the hearers.  Pastoral concerns increase the need to know people and their human situation.

The good pastor undertakes each of these [above] tasks at certain times, but through all of them he is seeking to fulfill the heart of the priestly office:  interpreting humanity to God, holding up the human condition before God in prayer.  The priest speaks a human, all too human, word to God, prays empathetically with and representatively for the here-and-now community amid all its confusions and self-assertiveness, humbly beseeching divine hearing and interceding for the visible community.¼  Priestly ministry seeks to give language, form, symbol, and expression to these otherwise unspoken human experiences, by offering them symbolic interpretations as a community of prayer (Oden, 1983, pp. 87, 90).

The Pastor as Shepherd

The pastor as shepherd is a metaphor that emphasizes the care one exercises on behalf of the community.  Oden (1983, p. 51) describes shepherding as the “pivotal analogy.”  He extrapolates the following principles from John 10:1-18—Jesus’ description of the good shepherd:

  • The intimacy of the shepherd’s knowledge of the flock.  He holds them in his arms.
  • The way the shepherd calls each one by its own name.
  • The shepherd does not, like the thief or robber, climb in the pen by some unusual means, but enters properly by the gate, being fully authorized to do so.
  • The flock listen[s] to the shepherd’s voice.  They distinguish it from all other voices.
  • The shepherd leads them out of the protected area into pastures known to be most fitting—feeding them, leading them “out and back in.”
  • The shepherd characteristically is “out ahead” of them, not only guiding them, but looking out, by way of anticipation, for their welfare.
  • Trusting the shepherd, the sheep are wary of an unproven stranger who might try to lead them abruptly away from the one they have learned to trust, through a history of fidelity.
  • Jesus is recalled as the incomparably good shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep.
  • The good shepherd is contrasted with the hireling or temporary worker who, having little at stake, may be prone to run away when danger approaches.

Peter gives this instruction to shepherds:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.  (1 Peter 5:1-4)

Peter describes a spiritual shepherd with six qualifying phrases, three positive and three negative:


  • Not because you must…
  • Not for money…
  • Not with autocratic authority…


  • but because you are willing
  • but eager to serve
  • but as an example

The shepherd’s authority comes from covenant fidelity, caring, mutuality, and servant leadership. The care a pastor extends to the flock involves a dying to oneself in order to protect and guide the congregation.  In many respects, the aspect of shepherding surpasses any professional models of ministry.  It separates the secular understanding of classroom and can transform the meaning of any classroom regardless of the subject being taught.  Here the teacher finds the integration of faith and learning taking on flesh and blood. Teaching now is incarnationally defined.

The Pastor as Teacher

Pastors have been and always will be the primary teachers in the church.  The Pastorals’ (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) chief interest is to exhort leaders to “teach healthy doctrine.”  Thus the pastor teaches scripture not just to inform people about the world of the text, but to show the world the text creates.  Often this world is counter to the dominant culture.

To be religious is to be a participant in a culture—a mélange of habits, words, rituals, practices, tradition, and stories that move the participant into a different world than that person would live in without the imposition of images, practices, and words of a religion.¼  Christian education is therefore best described, not as a drawing out of something that is already there (in the Latin, educare, “to draw out”), rather, Christian education is more traditionally “catechesis,” our description of all the ways in which we form people into this culture called the church (Willimon, 2002, pp. 208, 210).

The Pastor as a Preparer of Others for Ministry

Finally, the most often used text to describe the pastor’s function is Eph 4:11-16 that emphasizes the role of preparing others for the ministry of service so that a unified community will embody the fullness of Christ for the purpose accomplishing the church’s mission:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

The pastor and other congregational leaders do not do the work of the church but prepare others for that purpose.  Pastors understand their roles as part of the larger community of faith that continues the ministry of Jesus incarnationally to the world.  Likewise, the teacher’s primary responsibility will be to equip the students to carry forth the objectives of the curriculum.

In summary, Carroll (1991, pp. 107-122 and summarized by Willimon, 2000, p. 371) describes three core tasks of pastoral leadership:

1)    Meaning interpretation—Pastors work with the congregation “to reflect on and interpret their life, individually and corporately, in light of God’s purpose in Jesus Christ.”  A pastor is an intellectual leader who helps people to read their lives through the peculiar lens of the story of Jesus Christ.

2)    Community Formation—Pastors concern themselves with the character and the contours of the Christian community.  The gospel is about the creation of a community.  In pastoral work, pastors become embodiments of that gospel dynamic of community formation through the Word and work of God in Christ.

3)    Empowering Public Ministry—Christians are to share in Christ’s work in the world.  The church is not only called to “make disciples,” but also to “go into all the world” doing what Christ did in the world so that the world might come to know itself as under the judgment and redemption of God.

Applying the Pastoral Metaphor in Higher Education

Students in a classroom may be “called out” in a sense, but they are not the “ekklesia” of the New Testament.[3] There are numerous differences between a pastor and professor, as well.  By applying the metaphor of pastor to professors, we are suggesting that the image of pastor may enhance and fill-out the professor’s identity, role, and action, because the image reflects ideas of faith and the academy, not because biblical passages directly pertain to professors.

If we apply the six pastoral facets as discussed above to a professor’s work and life, we see a rich image (see Figure 2).  Three of the facets—teacher, prophet, and preparer—focus more (but not exclusively) on the content to be engaged.  The other three facets—priest, shepherd, and witness—focus more on people engaged in the learning process—students, professors, and others—as well as divinity.

We do not mean to suggest that each facet is somehow distinct, separated from the others.  Rather, they form a whole.  Separating them is an artificial exercise that allows us to focus momentarily on each facet.  None of these facets is straightforward either, or easily lived.  Indeed, they can be quite complex—working out a learning environment in one’s own style, for one’s own discipline, with one’s own students is difficult, complicated, life-long work, as is plumbing the depths of what it means to be in union with Christ.  Both of these points are evident in the writing of Christian professor Richard Hughes:

If we wish…to teach from a Christian perspective—indeed, if we wish to honor the integrity of the academy and the integrity of the Christian tradition, and to honor them both simultaneously—then we must take upon ourselves the paradoxical vision that stands at the heart of the Christian gospel.  For when we embrace that vision, we equip ourselves to do a variety of things in our classrooms.  We equip ourselves, for example, to honor competing perspectives simultaneously, for one who is comfortable with paradox can be comfortable with competing points of view.  If we are comfortable with paradox, we no longer feel compelled to resolve a dilemma, to foreclose on a student’s question, to eliminate ambiguity, to transform all shades of gray into black or white, or to tie up every loose end before the class concludes.  Again, we if ware comfortable with paradox, we can be comfortable with creativity and imagination on the part of our students, even when their creativity forces us to occupy unfamiliar ground (Hughes, 2001, pp. 99-100).

We now turn our attention to what a learning environment might look like when the pastoral facets are integrated.

Implications for Educational Philosophy

If teaching is reduced to the transference of facts, data, and information, then somewhere the meaning of teaching itself is lost.  As Poling and Miller (1985) suggest:

[An] appropriate image for medicine and counseling is not primarily its professional expertise, but rather its role in forming a community that is physically and mentally healthy.  The appropriate role for law may not be primarily its ability to win cases, but rather its responsibility for a legal structure that is fair and adequate for the whole community (p. 21).

Professors too may see themselves in the ministry of community formation as defined by a particular curriculum and vocational calling.

Focus Facet

Pastoral Professors…



Facilitate learning of disciplinary content:

Teach in the traditional sense, bringing to bear all the learning tools and perspectives one knows; bringing together content, androgogy, learning styles, etc.


Remain open to Christ’s influence in one’s thinking and discipline: Honestly convey the word of God’s impact on thought and practice; present competing ideas and allow students to choose their course; stand within not apart from the student community; recognize the constant need of God’s grace and presence


Apply disciplinary content and the word of God beyond the class setting:  Explore implications of thought and practice in life, one’s professional body, and society; explore what it means to be fully human and Christ-like; address career skills and ministry readiness



Maintain a relationship with God:

Hold up students, as well as all of one’s life, to God


Care about and know individual students: Stand within not apart from the student community


Allow personal encounters with faith, one’s discipline, the role of teaching, and life experience to shine through:

Entertain ultimate questions; teach by the Spirit

Figure 2: Facets of Pastoral Professors

Students who have been shepherded by wise teachers become authentic persons who have passion, conviction, and character.  This is not done overnight or through a set of classes arranged in the curriculum.  It begins with the parents in the home and in collaboration with the Christian community, the church.  Students develop spiritual disciplines that mold them into people of character.  In this sense, the church gives nurture to Christians who have been borne by the Spirit of God.  The Christian teacher, regardless of content area, functions as a key facilitator in the process as the student grows in vocational identity.

All professional disciplines contain tools and techniques.  Anyone engaging in a profession must critically reflect on what they do and why they do it.  Standards forming the basis of reasoned inquiry must be articulated.  Past practices and understandings that mold their understanding of why they do what they do, should be analyzed.  Skills must be learned.  But how will the teacher who employs a pastor metaphor accomplish this instruction?

For some teachers, the classroom is the primary and only source of application in the field.  For many of these, a behaviorist model is employed to teach methods and techniques, formulas and paradigms.  For many teachers using a behavioral model, good teaching is evidenced when the student successfully demonstrates skills and communicates content.

Conventional classrooms reflect a modernist mind-set that has dominated Western philosophy since the seventeenth century.  Knowledge is acquired passively as the teacher writes on the clean slate of the student’s mind.  Inquiry models itself after the scientific method of careful observation of facts.  Education in such environments has two principal aims:  To transmit all of the important knowledge that has been acquired by those who have preceded, and to make sure that the student’s mind remains receptive of the curriculum.  Teaching is functionally seen as a form of technology or “public speaking” rather than a relational theology between people and God and the relational concern between people and neighbors.

A pastoral model of learning involves more than nuts and bolts of content or the “technique” of teaching.  There is something more imitative and creative about learning.  A pastoral approach relies on models and mentors leads to experimentation, discovery, and adventure. The pastoral metaphor allows for the dynamics of the teacher, class, and the communication event beyond the invention and argument of the lesson.  It suggests a method of learning by apprenticing oneself and imitating models until one is ready to try it on for size.

Pastors as teachers emphasize process.  Mentorship is discussed in terms of dialogue, overhearing, and interacting with one another.  Due to the relationship with the other, a transaction occurs.  Students are recognized as part of a community more so than an autonomous individual.

Students do not naturally assimilate various areas of study.  Most students need help through courses in order to become what God has called them to fully realize in their lives and vocations. As Frye (1982, p. xv) states:

The teacher, as has been recognized at least since Plato’s Meno, is not primarily someone who knows instructing someone who does not know.  He [or she] is rather someone who attempts to re-create the subject in the student’s mind, and his strategy in doing this is first of all to get the student to recognize what he already potentially knows, which includes breaking up the powers of repression in his mind that keep him from knowing what he knows.  That is why it is the teacher, rather than the student, who asks most of the questions.

The classroom—for a pastoral professor—is not reduced to a lecture, an examination, or a debate.  The classroom becomes a dialogue that allows students and professors to follow a question wherever it may go.  Allen (1996) calls this process “critical correlation.”  The teacher correlates the content to the contemporary experiences of the classroom in a mutual, critical manner.  Conversation that creates critical correlation allows for the possibility of change.

When pastored, students become active inquirers.  The active inquirer will consistently consider any belief and or fact in light of the grounds that support it and the consequences to which it leads.  Therefore, students need to be encouraged to be self-reflective, self-directive, and self-corrective in their practice.  Ornstein (1995) describes mature reflection as the ability to analyze teaching and learning from multiple perspectives so that implicit knowledge is translated into practice even under varying and new contexts.

Reflection is stimulated in classes through journal writing, informal dialogue with the instructor, and peer interaction teams.  Throughout a critical reflective process students learn to make their own theory.  Teachers foster intellectual freedom in the classroom that awakens students to the realities of a world that has a possibility of becoming other than it is.  Students are empowered to think, to share meanings with others, to creatively conceptualize new realities and possibilities, and to make sense of the world.

Pastoral teaching encourages exploration and adventure.  The art, skills, and models are brought into relationship with one another as students experiment and explore their own mastery of the content.  They adapt, assimilate, modify, grow, and see their own potential and future.  A primary way to explore is to practice the craft within a safe environment.  Teachers need opportunities to test methodologies in a peer-reviewed environment, observe reactions to their attempts by receiving feedback, and then consider modifications in their practices, beliefs, and attitudes.

Teachers as pastors foster a climate that allows students to utilize and exercise different modes of knowing.  Pastoral learning makes room for cognitive, affective, visual, mechanical, intuitive, aesthetic, ethical, and logical modes.  Or as Lazear (1991) has summarized Gardener’s seven ways of knowing, students learn in verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, body/kinesthetic, music/rhythmic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal realms.

A teacher’s philosophy in the classroom mirrors his or her philosophy in practice and within society.  No one approach is dogmatically held as superior to another.  Students are asked to stretch, experiment, and risk in order to experience, become, and develop their potential.  The teacher joins them on the journey.  Process takes precedence over product.

Teachers as pastors hope to allow students to assimilate knowledge into existing structures and accommodate new structures of meaning.  Students often enter classrooms with a concrete orientation of reality.  Often this orientation for the young is dualistic in its dynamic.  By creating a third alternative—triangulation—another perspective will create disorientation to the status quo.  As the student resolves and/or accepts the tension, a new orientation occurs.  The orientation, disorientation, reorientation approach to teaching is often common in development.  In other words, a deconstruction sometimes is necessary to allow the student to reconstruct identity, theory, and practice.

The teaching process enables students to claim their unique gifts and foster new possibilities. Teachers help students cultivate and harvest what God has planted in them, through genetic inheritance, personality, life experience, and church background.  Students do not come to the classroom as blank slates that need to be taught how to preach as if they know nothing about it and have no equipment for it.  Rather, they already know much of what they need.  Students come to the classroom as whole persons with innate abilities, thoughts, feelings, experiences, doubts, hopes, anxieties, expectations, and histories.

Declarative, procedural, conceptual, analogical, and logical knowledge are identified with cognitive processes.  Four related teaching strategies are:  Talking, displaying, coaching, and arranging the learning environment (Farnham-Diggory, 1994, pp. 463-477).  Since there are diverse ways to view the world and knowledge, the teacher should employ different ways to allow understanding to occur.  A pluralistic approach to teaching is necessary.  Each student must be considered when determining how the student best learns.  Subsequently, teachers should use constructivist approaches that foster interaction between a student’s personal knowledge and the subject matter.  What students currently bring to the instructional situation needs to be considered when making curricular decisions.

Teachers as pastors desire students to think about thinking.  They want students to write and speak in ways that demonstrate cognitive strategies such as summarizing, classifying, comparing/contrasting, and analyzing through oral and written discourse.  Education is about giving the student new and varied experiences and creating environments in which students are encouraged to create their own theory.  Education is a continual process of reconstruction of experience.  Students are sense-makers.  New situations often require creative solutions.  An active mind interacts with new situations through the process of critical inquiry learned in the classroom.

Continuing education is not only a formative process but also a critical one that supplies skills and concepts to facilitate further learning.  Pastoral teachers enable students to learn how to become independent learners, discovering knowledge for themselves.  Learning to learn will be a skill that enables the student to rise to heights beyond where the teacher or the student can presently envision.  As students gain conceptual understanding, teachers will challenge them to apply, synthesize, and evaluate information while being open to intuitive knowledge that allows their imaginations and experiences to function also as sources of knowledge.

The information age has overwhelmed some in academic studies.  Teachers are expected to be gifted communicators, administrators, master of ceremonies, public relations experts, counselors, and all round experts in multiple fields.  In this information glut, students need guidance to choose the essential.  Students need to learn to understand, cope with, and positively influence the world in which they find themselves.  Students need to bridge the gap between theory and practice.  This expectation requires the pastoral teacher to stay current with present research and be prepared in every class.

The teacher should expose students to resources, help them experience learning, and enable them to begin processing and applying the knowledge gained.  In other words the teacher will help students experience learning so that they can translate what they encounter into their framework of being.  The teacher becomes a limited, timely, and critical co-author of their story during these formative years.

Teachers are called to influence the common public reality.  Private attitudes and actions will have good public consequence.  When the public is not being affected for the good as anticipated, an examination of private commitments is in order.  As students assess their theology, identity formation occurs and private lives are transformed.  As students increase the intelligibility and accessibility of their theology in the public arena, impact will occur for the cause of Christ.  Therefore, an androgogy of praxis is advocated.

How the teacher develops an androgogy that enables students to know their sense of identity, the community’s identity, and a sense of how God is present, is difficult.  If one’s understanding of God, self, and community doesn’t make a difference in the community of faith, if it doesn’t hold up on the street, then the practitioner needs to re-evaluate.

If the teacher desires the student to master skills and acquire factual knowledge, then the androgogy in the classroom will be reflected in demonstrations of techniques, lectures on facts, and practice labs.  The students will be indoctrinated with content and inculcated with basic techniques.  However, if the pastoral teacher is more concerned with values, character development, integration of principles, and other fundamental aspects of identity, the classroom environment will foster a lifetime of learning seen in a climate of mutual respect, trust, support, affirmation, nurture, and celebration.

A pastoral professor is open to the Spirit’s influence in teaching.  He or she is open to reflecting the gifts of the Spirit and qualities of living a new birth—speaking truth in love, humble, patient, not rude or boastful, building up others.  The “teaching in the Spirit” approach

…causes the teacher to turn the students to the Lord and to learn how to learn from Him.  The teacher’s role is to exemplify in his soul the way a good teacher lives.  The student is helped to be self-motivated and to learn from God (Cook, 2000).

They are eager to serve, not because they must, but because they are willing, not greedy for money or lording their authority over those entrusted to them.

Finally, when a teacher is before a classroom, he or she will be claiming realities about God in his or her own personhood, language, and understanding.  The teacher’s identity outside the classroom will be coherent with their identity in the classroom.  The theological, sociological, and pedagogical aspects of student development are integrated into one cohesive and holistic model.

Teaching is a public activity.  God has called teachers to a public ministry. A communal, formative, and critical pedagogy engenders a faithful public witness.  Understanding witness in terms of pastor ignites androgogy and transforms curriculum to the glory of God.  Then teachers can truly say with Paul, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Final Thoughts

We conclude with several possible objections to the pastoral metaphor and attempt a response:

Is this an inappropriate injunction of faith in academic disciplines?

This is a well-debated point and it seems the pastoral metaphor sides with a visible, distinctive, perhaps even forced evangelical view.  We, however, agree that

…even though we know that perspectival teaching is inevitable, we dare not exploit that inevitability.  We dare not transform our lecterns into pulpits.  We must honor the values of the academy and respect the right of our students to search for truth (Hughes, 2001, p. 98).

This is consistent with the prophetic facet of the pastor’s role, and with God’s action with people—allowing freedom to choose one’s path.

Isn’t this too much to put on the backs of professors, too heavy a load?

Like pastors and ministers of churches, and in Jesus ministry as well, there are limits to how much the human body can do.  Just as the pastoral model can be abused to force God upon students, it can be used to take advantage of a faculty member’s willingness to selflessly serve.  Great care should be taken to move toward sanctification, not toward exploitation.

What about students who do not accept the professor as a pastor or themselves as a congregant—doesn’t the metaphor break down if all parties don’t agree on it?

This disjunction occurs no matter what metaphor is chosen.  The pastoral metaphor allows dialogic opportunities between the professor and student.

Isn’t a metaphor like a parable—it can be overextended and misapplied?

We agree.  Any educational technique breaks down at some point, and applying metaphors to teaching does as well.  There is a danger in accepting the compact assumptions embedded within a metaphor without critically examining those assumptions.  And there is a danger in extending the application of a metaphor too far.  Further, a metaphor–such as teaching as pastoring–may have multiple interpretations (cf. Baergen, 1999).  The metaphor should richly present but not persuade without underpinning assumptions about learning and teaching.

Might other metaphors describe some Christian professor’s teaching approach better than “pastor”?

Perhaps.  No single metaphor can sum up education for all time, nor for all academic endeavors, disciplines, or school cultures (Osborn, 1997).  The task is not to choose the single “right” metaphor–for learning is many things at the same time–but to encourage faculty and students to be self-reflective about the educational enterprise, and to inspire creativity and insight about the path to learning.

There are many possible metaphors taken from Judeo-Christian scripture that could be considered and developed.  Continuing with the pastoral metaphor, exploring the “classroom as congregation,” that is, more as a community than a simple gathering of individuals, might offer some interesting insights.

The pastoral metaphor is not a model for every Christian scholar and it does not fit every institution, discipline, professor, or learning environment.  It is merely illustrative of the ways in which metaphor can compact a philosophy of teaching, and it is an attempt to further open a Christian professor’s teaching to the gracious sanctification of God.


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Appendix:  Methods for Identifying Tacit and Target Teaching Metaphors

A professor’s working metaphor often can be deduced through observation over time and often reflect ideological strata that cut across various historical eras in higher education.  Questions such as “What is the classroom environment like?”  “How do the professor and students interact?”  “What’s the apparent objective of any particular class?” can hint toward possible working metaphors.  Often times for faculty who have not considered their working metaphor, practice and ideal differ.  They may have thought they were a coach but an honest look at their teaching practices suggests they are more of an assembly line worker.

Although metaphor may be a creative expression, the way to arrive at a metaphor may be analytic or playful.  One inductive approach is to start with a sampling of metaphors, choosing the one or ones which best sum up your desired or real teaching style.  Then, the professor can list specific behaviors that would characterize that teaching style.  To prompt a broad consideration of teaching, a professor could self-reflect on questions such as the following (adapted from Fry & Fleener, 1997), and then look to see whether observation of his or her teaching confirms this metaphor:

1. What metaphor describes your real/desired role as teacher?

2. What metaphor describes the real/desired role of the student?

3. What metaphor describes the physical environment of your classroom?

4. What metaphor describes the classroom climate?

5. What metaphor describes your concept of classroom management?

A list of metaphors for use with this method can be found in many places, such as Michalko (1991).

Conway (1988, quoted in Sutherland, 2001) suggests a second, more detailed method for identifying a real or ideal metaphor.  A teacher might ask the following questions:

1. Isolate and define the concept—in this case “teaching.”

2. List the critical attributes of the concept to be presented in order of priority.

3. Select one or more metaphors that fit the concept and its attributes.

4. Draw the metaphors on paper (the more visually depicted they are the easier it is to see similarities between the concrete object and the concept).

5. Select the metaphor that fits best and then draw it again on paper being sure to associate all critical attributes of the concept of the structure of the metaphor.

6. List the parallels or agreements between the metaphor and the concept.

7. Analyze the similarities and dissimilarities.

8. Occasionally reflect and ask for feedback on whether the metaphor is evident in one’s teaching.

Either method can raise to the surface a hidden, tacit metaphor.

[1]The transfer of meaning across metaphors is not error-free.  Metaphors can require increased mental processing time, complicate communication, and be inaccurately interpreted, especially when the metaphor is ambiguous or misleading (Noveck, Bianco & Castry, 2001).  Sometimes we become so accustomed to a metaphor that the linguistic label takes on a life of its own.  Terms such as roles (a metaphor taken from an actor’s words written on a roll of paper), markets (a term from medieval French trading), or economy (from the Greek for household management) are theoretical abstractions, yet they have become accepted as reified entities.  And once accepted, they hinder alternative conceptualizations of the phenomena at hand.

[2]Hauerwas and Willimon (1989, p. 21) make this point: “The theology of translation assumes that there is some kernel of real Christianity, some abstract essence that can be preserved even while changing some of the old Near Eastern labels.  Yet such a view distorts the nature of Christianity.  In Jesus we meet not a presentation of basic ideas about God, world, and humanity, but an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a people.  By the very act of our modern theological attempts at translation, we have unconsciously distorted the gospel and transformed it into something it never claimed to be—ideas abstracted from Jesus, rather than Jesus with his people.”

[3]As Shelly and Harris (1992, p. 95) state:  “Business relationships have partnerships.  Classmates share.  Fellow patients extend sympathy to each other.  Players on the same football team support and encourage each other. But none of these relationships is the “koinonia” described in the New Testament and unique to Christians.  Even if the participants in the situations were all Christians, their financial, educational, emotional, and athletic ties would not make these associations into churches….  The lived experience of Christian fellowship, as opposed to all other types of human community, may be defined as one’s active involvement with another child of God so as to encourage his or her growth in spiritual things.

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