My daughter said to me the other day, just offhandedly, "Dad, you should be teaching in a college somewhere." There's a powerful pull to that idea for me, as I love to teach. One of the most satisfying things I know how to do is to take biblical truth, whether it's focused on a biblical passage, or church history, or "secular" history, or current events, and teach it in a way that it makes sense to people. I love that. So for just a second, the idea of a life devoted to teaching sounded pretty good.
Then I started to think about it. Not that there's stuff wrong with teaching that would keep me away; any career is going to contain plenty of frustration, guaranteed. (No matter what you go into, you'll be working with sinners AND you are one yourself, so the frustration is a given.) In another life I could easily be a college professor.
The thing that keeps me away from that line of thinking is this: I believe that in the 21st century, the primary location of God's activity AND the primary location of people doing cutting-edge thinking about God's activity is in the local congregation. This has not always been the case, but it is certainly the case today. So for me, the best place to be working, thinking, and teaching, is in the local congregation.
Yesterday my wife and I were talking about this and she challenged me on it just a bit. "What about all those leaders you'd be influencing by teaching at a seminary? You'd be influencing hundreds of congregations, not just one." Again, there's a lot of draw to that idea. But a congregation ought to be a center of God's kingdom-building activity in the world. Congregations ought to be places where the Spirit of God is working overtime in people's lives and into the world.
One evidence of that work will be that people within the congregation discover gifts and callings they would not otherwise have known. They find themselves doing, leading, and serving in ways they would not have planned for themselves, because Jesus has a radical hold on their lives. Hopefully this is true of each and every person who spends time in that congregation.
Also if a congregation is healthy, and is doing what it is called to do, one result (among many others) is that it should act as a launching pad. That is to say, some of the brightest and best of its members should catch fire and rocket off into other places in the world as God's Spirit calls them to follow Jesus someplace else. Some of the greatest life and vitality in a congregation comes as they see people who have been nurtured in its ministry heading out to other ministries and then staying in touch with the sending church.
So a church leader exercises great influence. By creating an environment where people know Jesus, grow deep into his Word and into Christ-centered community, and hear the Spirit's call to go beyond themselves, a church leader has the opportunity to nurture a generation of upcoming leaders who will then look for their place in God's kingdom. A few of these will end up in Christian colleges or seminaries, probably, but many will be following Jesus in new and radical ways, and a few will be launched like rockets into the world.
I can't think of anything more satisfying.