My friend’s little sister is taking a course at a public university called Intro to the New Testament. If its title reflected its actual content, the course would more aptly be named Intro to Why the Bible Is a Lie. It is clear that the goal of her professor is to snuff out every last flicker of faith. For her, the classroom is a place of utter exhaustion, a desert wilderness where she continually fends off a roaring lion, eager to devour.
I sit in the back corner for a course titled Old Testament Isagogics. It is clear that the goal of my professor is to strengthen my faith, build my knowledge, and equip me for a future of doing the same for others. He tells us how he prays for us every day. For me, my classroom is a well. My professors safely shepherd me to drink from its living water each and every morning.
What we have isn’t normal.
I’ve never been all that close to any particular parish pastor throughout my life. I went off to boarding school at the age of fourteen and from then on moved from school to school, church to church, and pastor to pastor. Since childhood, I haven’t really had an answer to the question of who “my pastor” is. Throughout my formative years, then, my pastors have primarily been my professors. I’m not sure if they know just how large a role they have had in forming who I am today. Many of the most impactful moments have come outside of a prescribed lesson.
Our professor ended class a little early the other day. In the front of the room, I saw the tear-welled eyes of a man reminiscing. He was remembering their faces—the faces of those who had succumbed to the temptation that it would be better to take their own lives than to walk another day on this earth. These forty-five minutes weren’t about checking boxes or belaboring grandiose concepts. They were about syncing the beats of our hearts to the beat of the pastoral heart before us, one which had been beating for many more years than our own. Ministry was being experienced, not taught. And in that process, this pastor in my classroom inscribed a note on our hearts deeper than any pen on paper could.
This is what it means to be formed for ministry by someone in ministry. This is what it means to have a pastor as a professor. We seminarians see how our professors set aside the job they loved so intimately just so that they could equip us to do that same joyful work instead. We notice that. We value it. What we have isn’t normal, and for that, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank the men who teach us and the God who called them.
My friend’s sister continues to sit at the feet of a professor who is anything but her pastor. I occasionally overhear her phone calls of exasperation. Meanwhile, that same morning—perhaps at the very moment she was enduring the attacks of that roaring lion—I looked up to see a man who had just been speaking to me from the front of my own classroom now proclaiming to me from the front of the chapel with outstretched arms, “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
What we have isn’t normal, and for that, I am immensely grateful.
Micah Otto is serving as a vicar during the 2022-23 school year at Redeemer, Tucson, AZ.