I read an article while on vacation on the Building Church Leaders website called; “The Pastor as ‘Organic Intellectual’” While the term organic is highly misused in our culture, I had never seen the words “organic” and “intellectual” used together.

Our English term “pastor” derives from the Latin pastor (“shepherd”). More important, Jesus designates himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18) and commissions Peter to “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).

I think one of the marks of a shepherd also characterizes intellectuals: “The shepherd characteristically is ‘out ahead’ of them, not only guiding them, but looking out, by way of anticipation, for their welfare.”

The flock of Jesus Christ is threatened not by lions, bears, or wolves (1 Sam. 17:34-35) but by false religion, incorrect doctrine, and ungodly practices – not to mention “powers and principalities” (Eph. 6:12, KJV).

Consequently, pastors who want to be out ahead of the congregations must be grounded in the gospel and culturally competent. Public theologians help people understand the world in which they live and, more importantly, how to follow Christ in everyday as well as extraordinary situations.

“Ministerial leadership is, first and finally, discipleship.” Lesslie Newbigin, wrote in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Though to follow Jesus one has to know where one is, what is happening, and which way is the way of truth and life. The pastor-theologian is the “organic intellectual” of the body of Christ, a person with evangelical intelligence who is “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim 3:15 KJV).

According to the article, an organic intellectual is neither a genius–an individual thinker alone with his or her own brilliant thoughts, detached from everyone else–or a member of an elite intelligentsia. Rather, the organic intellectual articulates the needs, convictions, and aspirations of the social group to which they belong. Here’s how it’s explained:

“The organic intellectual brings to the level of speech the doctrines and desires of the community. The organic intellectual is not a product of the Ivy League but homegrown, as it were, on the farm. Most important, the organic intellectual does not speak down to people.”

Antonio Gramsci says: “The mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence, which is an exterior and momentary mover of feelings and passions, but in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organizer, ‘permanent persuader,’ and not just a simple orator.”

So with that definition of organic intellectual, I guess I can be more comfortable knowing the term “organic intellectual” gives concrete content to the analogy of the pastor as shepherd. The pastor-theologian is an advocate for the community of God’s people. The pastor-theologian takes every false thought captive to sound doctrine (2 Cor. 10:5) – christological “ideas” (i.e., truths) that are both indicative of life and life-giving.

Next week, I’ll explore what it means to be an organic intellectual pastor-teacher-organizer-vision caster.