Hauerwas 3: From “Theologian in Residence” to Bricklaying: Discipleship in the 21st Century

Cultural change is not easy for anyone. For those of us raised at the end of Christendom, who came to maturity during the beginning of the “mega-Church movement” within  Mainline Protestant Christianity, the current state of American society and of the American Church is difficult to comprehend.

This blog discusses Disciplemaking and church leadership for the 21st Century. I want to start at the end of the 20th Century. In 1991, I went to Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. The president of the seminary was T. Hartley Hall. Hartley came from a good family and had been a student at Davidson College, a Presbyterian four-year college. After Davidson, he served in the Korean War and was a Platoon Leader, Company Commander, and Headquarters Commandant for the 32nd Infantry Regiment. Mr. Hall was awarded a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and a Silver Star for gallantry.

Hartley then attended Union Theological Seminary and served in several pastorates. He was a pastor at a fine church in Nashville, Tennessee, when he was called to be the President of Union. Hartley was a theological moderate-liberal, suspicious of evangelical, charismatic, and other movements that might be termed “Fundamentalist” or “overly enthusiastic.” Instead of “spirituality,” Harley used the term “piety” to describe spiritual formation. One purpose of mentioning Hartley in this blog is to honor his service to the church, even though I cannot entirely agree with his conclusions or the precise content of his leadership.

When Hartley described the role of a pastor, he sometimes used the term “Theologian in Residence for a local congregation.” The job of Union was to turn out pastors with the skills to be theologians for their congregations. Although Hartley and I were never friends, we had a certain similarity. I disagreed with Hartley’s theology, but what I did buy into was the notion that professional education (eventually including a Doctor in Ministry), a deep study of the Old  and New Testaments in both the original and translated languages, proficiency in exegeting the Bible, and a solid theology were essential for pastoral success. In my mind, the pastor of a local Presbyterian congregation needed to be a highly trained and experienced professional.

Not long after graduating, I realized local congregations usually didn’t want theologians in residence. They wanted a good and enthusiastic preacher, a caring pastor, a shepherd for the flock, a friendly person of faith they could relate to, someone who they felt comfortable talking to with decent administrative skills, someone to lead a well-run youth group for their children, and a host of other things before they wanted a theologian in residence.

Don’t get me wrong, all my churches were evangelical, and they wanted their pastor to be sound theologically, Bible-based in their thinking, and capable of giving biblical sermons (and they didn’t want a great deal of abstract thought in the text of the Sunday sermon). They desired practical applications they could take home and put into practice. But, in the end, deep down, they really did not want a theologian in residence, which is precisely what the seminaries of my denomination thought they were training.

If you look at the list of things above that I have come to believe churches want, it is easy to see that only a few of them are what we would call “professional.” The personal qualities of the pastor are what congregations experience day after day, and those qualities determine ninety percent of pastoral success. Unfortunately, mainline denominations have come to see their pastors as providers of professional services, sort of spiritual lawyers or doctors for the congregation. The congregation, except in a very few cases, wants something else.

After Christendom

One focus of Resident Aliens and After Christendom is on the question, “What kind of training do pastors and leaders need to build alternative Christian communities in the 21st century?” [1] The answer can be summarized by the following statement: “Seminaries and other pastoral training organizations need to focus on training pastors who can build authentic Christian communities strong enough to sustain themselves in a hostile environment.” Since both Stanley, Hauerwas and Will Willimon are Methodist, and I am a Presbyterian, you can assume that by that statement they don’t mean, and I would not mean, that the Church doesn’t need to be worried about good exegetical skills, theological competence, some amount of professional training, etc. That’s not the point. The point is that today, the Church, first and foremost, needs pastors and Church leaders who can build, grow, and lead communities of faith.

Bricklaying, Stone Masonry, and Disciple-making

This is where we get to bricklaying. In After Christendom, Hauerwas says the following:

To learn to lay brick, it is not sufficient for you to be told how to do it, but you must learn a multitude of skills that are coordinated into the activity of laying brick – that is why before you lay brick, you must learn to mix the mortar, build scaffolds, joint, and so on. Moreover, it is not enough to be told how to hold a trowel, how to spread mortar, or how to frog the mortar, but in order to lay break, you must hour after hour, day after day lay brick.

Of course, learning to lay brick involves not only learning myriad skills but also a language that forms and is formed by those skills. [2]

Bricklaying is a trade. What matters in bricklaying is not what school you attended or what advanced degrees you earned but the simple question, “Can this person lay bricks?” Kathy and I now live in San Antonio, Texas, where limestone is abundant, and many fine old homes are made of stone or brick. I’ve had to have a stone wall repaired. The experience taught me something vital: Not everyone is a good stonemason. What matters most is not the company the person works for, the trade school they attended, or their references on the internet. What matters is whether they can lay bricks.

Bricklaying is a trade, and a skilled trade at that. Good bricklaying requires not just an understanding of the physics and math of bricklaying but also a kind of physical coordination, a kind of tacit knowledge that people possess to a greater or lesser degree based on years of experience. To say that bricklaying is a skill is not the same as saying that there’s no cognitive component to bricklaying. There is. Many books, articles, YouTube videos, and other ways to learn that mental component. As Hauerwas notes, there is an entire language to be learned as an inexperienced bricklayer learns their trade. This language enables the bricklayer to communicate with others, share information, perfect their technique, develop new techniques, and eventually train other bricklayers.

A good bricklayer or stone mason typically trains under an experienced craftsperson. This means that the quality of the mentor is directly correlated to the quality of the student. As Jesus put it, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master”(Matthew 10:24-25). I suspect Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about.

After all, Jesus was a craftsman. He grew up in the home of a carpenter. His father, Joseph, almost certainly trained him to be a carpenter and to help him in his craft. Jesus knew what it meant to be the apprentice. Jesus was not above Joseph. Jesus was not trying to be better than Joseph. He was trying to be like Joseph as far as being a carpenter was concerned. Jesus knew becoming a good craftsman required imitation, time, and practice. He also knew that would be true for church leaders of every kind. He knew what it was to learn a trade at the feet of an experienced master. He had sat at the feet of his father, and he had helped his father, working beside him day after day learning to be a carpenter.

Disciple-Making Today

Unlike many pastors, I was an active layman in a local church for fifteen years before I went to seminary. On the day I walked onto the campus of Union Theological Seminary, I had experience as a Sunday school teacher and small group leader. I’d led a singles ministry, a young married ministry, and college and youth ministries. I’d been a deacon, participated in solving organizational problems, meeting annual budgets, and funding capital campaigns. I had been an elder, including an elder in a time of conflict. The senior pastor of the Church was a very experienced, well-known pastor near the end of his career. To this very day, I often ask myself “What would Jack have done?” in solving problems.

In other words, before being professionally trained, I had been an apprentice for a long time. The seminary was simply the Biblical and Theological “icing on the cake” of preparation for ministry. The fact that seminary did not teach me how to form a small group, begin a men’s ministry, disciple elders, take care of junior high boys, do a capital campaign, manage a church, and the like did not matter. For a lot of people, it does matter. They spend years failing and learning essential skills they should have been taught before they learned some of the more abstract ideas behind the craft of being a church leader. They would have learned many of those ideas, “the language of the craft,” along the way. In other words, they needed to learn to lay bricks.


Underneath some of the superficial complexity of Resident Aliens and After Christendom is a reasonably simple understanding that changes in Western culture require the Church to change how it trains pastors and leaders. In my day, the seminary really did not like what are called “second career students.” We often disagreed with ideas we had seen fail in practice, however popular they were in academia. We were less malleable. (We did have our pre-existing prejudices that needed to be corrected.) We were not necessarily the easiest students to handle, and because we had families and children, we couldn’t devote the kind of time to seminary that some of the younger students could.

Nevertheless, I’ve come to believe that, instead of a second career students being the exception, they need to be the norm in seminaries. The reason they need to become the norm has to do with mentoring and discipleship. When I use the term “second career,” I don’t necessarily mean someone who spent many years in a secular profession. I mean that no one should be in seminary who has not undergone a period of apprenticeship.

As far as I can tell, in the early Church, the process by which a person became a leader involved becoming an apprentice to someone like Paul and later a leader of the Church. This idea continues in some denominations and groups today: people become deacons and assistant worship for some time before they become priests or teaching elders, sometimes called “ordained pastors.” I think this idea has merit. One reason is that we have difficulty in most mainline churches in finding pastors for relatively small congregations, especially rural congregations. Training people from the community and congregation and then later on giving them the technical education that will improve their preaching and pastoral abilities seems to me to be a better way of going forward than continuing to train a lot of people in seminary from larger churches, who are not culturally fit for smaller and rural churches. A second reason involves seeing that ordained people possess the personalities and traits needed for success. As the head of a Committee on Ministry, I have also seen the damage done by having pastors in churches whose limitations cause misery and decline.

Our congregation has a relationship with a local church planting group. Some of those church planters have either no or limited prior professional education. Our church responded to that need by creating a center that helps them get that training online through an organization called “Third Millennium.” We’ve noticed that the students are intensely interested in certain parts of the theological and biblical curriculum. Why? Because they see the practical need in day-to-day ministry for additional Biblical and theological knowledge.

The current structure of many denominations for training pastors has a long history. In many cases, for hundreds of years that training system met the needs of the congregations they served. Over time, however, as culture changed, that method began to show some weaknesses. The same thing is true of disciple-making. We are in a time when changes need to be made, and new systems need to be developed.

Many churches, including mine, had reasonably sophisticated systems for making disciples and training future leaders. Somewhere around 2010, however, our church noticed that our older systems no longer worked. The programs on which we had relied for decades no longer worked well. Most serious churches have had to develop different strategies for disciple-making over the past twenty years. This is not to say that what they were doing before wasn’t good. It was. It just no longer worked. Sponsoring Bible studies was no longer enough. Weekend retreats were no longer enough. Officer training was no longer enough. Relying on the seminaries was no longer enough. They have had to grow, change, and adapt and continue to grow change, and adapt. Where will this end? No one knows. To find out, we just have to keep growing, changing, and adapting.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon, Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014) and Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom?: How the Church is to Behave is Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation are Bad Ideas (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991).

[2] After Christendom, 101.

2 thoughts on “Hauerwas 3: From “Theologian in Residence” to Bricklaying: Discipleship in the 21st Century”

  1. I’m tired and don’t want to do offs a quick, cursory reply, Chris. Still, in case I don’t get back to respond in detail, I can’t disagree with a single point you’ve made, my brother. Thank you for serving His Church Visible so well.
    With love and respect for one of Abba’s vessels of gold,
    Your clay pot brother in Jesus,
    Parson Brown

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