Academic Study

Pastoral Theology

God's word proclaimed and lived


What is Pastoral Theology?

Pastoral theology at Westminster involves an application of theological truth to all of life, particularly the life and work of the church. As part of this process, students develop skills, character, and convictions necessary for understanding and proclaiming God’s word. Pastoral theology focuses on four areas: preaching, leadership, biblical counseling, and evangelism and missions.

Basic guidelines

A wide variety of writing projects are assigned in pastoral theology classes. Each assignment has its own characteristics and special requirements. The following guidelines are broadly applicable to pastoral theology. However, always consult your professor and syllabus for specific guidance for each assignment.

Be Practical

Writing practically can be challenging, especially for students who are more used to theoretical and abstract argumentation. While theoretical thinking has its place in pastoral theology, your writing should focus on asking and answering practical questions: How is a particular issue affecting the church? How can unbelief be exposed and dismantled by a particular biblical text?

Be Thoughtful

While being too theoretical in your writing is problematic, it is also unacceptable to write thoughtlessly. That is, there cannot be a wise and timely application of God’s truth without an understanding of that truth. Practical questions need practical answers, but wise answers arise from thoughtful reflection on how the word of God should apply to a given context. It is this sort of reflection which pastoral theology classes endeavor to prompt and which should be evident in your thoughtful, practical writing.

Be Personal

A major goal of pastoral theology is personal spiritual development. Some assignments are explicitly oriented at self assessment, criticism, and counseling. Others may provide opportunity for you to respond to how a reading assignment challenges or affects you personally or to expound a biblical text with an illustration from your own life. As you have opportunity, and as it is appropriate to the assignment, use writing projects to engage your own spiritual development. This is useful both to yourself and to those to whom you will minister, who will learn from your experiences and follow your example.

Be Pastoral

A major responsibility of those who lead in the church is that of vision and oversight. The overseers (Greek episkopoi) of the church are charged with the shepherd-like tasks of surveying the state of a congregation (or larger Christian body), identifying points of weakness and need, and seeking to creatively strengthen and care for the flock. This calling to service in the church was envisioned by Jesus for his chief disciple, even in anticipation of Peter’s greatest failure: “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). This calling to care for the church, strengthening the weak, is at the heart of discipleship. How can you, as a student preparing for ministry, begin to think about caring for the church? Pastoral theology writing assignments are prime opportunities to reflect on pastoral questions, to consider how various issues affect the health of the corporate body of Christ, and to train a watchful eye for potential problems and sources of strength.


The Spoken Word

Preaching is a major emphasis at Westminster, and you will have to write and deliver many sermons during your time here. As you think about how to write for preaching, consider the nature of preaching. First, preaching is proclaiming God’s truth to His people. The preacher uses the spoken word, employing his unique voice in the clear articulation of God’s message. Second, preaching is also applying God’s truth to His people. This emphasis on application is one of the major differences between a lecture and a sermon. Preaching not only communicates truth but also applies that truth to the lives of the listeners.

As you practice preaching, you will be asked to write out your sermons, which is called “manuscripting.” The nature of preaching as both proclamation and application of God’s Word directly affects how you write your sermon manuscript:

  • Write the way you speak. Remember that you are going to be speaking when you preach. Unlike an academic essay, when you write your manuscript you should write in spoken English, using contractions, ordinary vocabulary, and even idioms. You might want to indicate pauses, areas of emphasis, or other rhetorical elements to help your delivery. After you have written your first draft, read the sermon aloud and ask yourself, Does it sound natural?
  • Write so your listener follows. Your listeners must be able to understand and follow you without being able to look back at what you said before. Use repetition and vivid imagery to help listeners remember important points. Provide a clear structure, paying careful attention to transitions between your points. Read through your sermon again. Does your sermon have enough aids for people who are listening?
  • Write for your specific listeners. You are speaking to a specific group of people when you preach. That means you should use personal pronouns like “you” in your sermon. Be direct in addressing your listeners. Include illustrations that suit them. Apply the truth to your listeners, not just in general terms. Read through your sermon again with your listeners in mind. Is your sermon communicating directly to them?

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