Seasoned senior pastor returns to seminary to earn Ph.D.
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Learning. Some see it as a front-loaded activity in life—a time where students cram knowledge in as fast as possible and then plow through and out even faster. Many only want the piece of paper to hang on their wall or the letters to affix to the end of their name. For them, learning ends there, left as a socially punctuated and highly caffeinated time in the first quarter of life.
Not for Chris Osborne, senior pastor at Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas, and current Ph.D. student at Southwestern.
Though Osborne, who will turn 60 this year, has been pastoring one of the leading churches in Texas since 1986 and serving in convention leadership positions throughout his ministry, the pastor-student says he began his doctorate to keep him sharp at a time when others often fizzle out.
“Most pastors I know that get to my age tend to go into almost an intellectual and spiritual decline where they just get kind of blasé,” Osborne says. “I didn’t want to do that, and so I wanted to be as sharp as I could the last few years of my ministry here at the church. I figured the Ph.D. would be the best way to challenge me and make me do that.”
Osborne, who earned his Master of Divinity from Southwestern in 1977, says his return to school exemplifies for his church that learning should never end.
“I think it says to them that you don’t ever get to a point that you’re educated and you know it,” Osborne says. “You always assume there is something you don’t know. You always assume there is something you don’t understand, all the way until you die.”
Osborne says coming back to study for his Ph.D. after pastoring at Central Baptist for 25 years has allowed him to appreciate the pursuit of education more than if he had stayed to study for it directly after finishing his master’s. Though students often receive encouragement to complete the degrees contiguously, which Osborne jokingly said was probably the smarter thing to do, the pastor says he would encourage students to consider the benefits of beginning Ph.D. work having had some amount of ministerial experience beforehand.
“If you do MBA's today, they generally—Harvard and a lot of these places—will make you go two years in the business before you come back and do your MBA,” Osborne says. “I think there is something about having spent a number of years in the pastorate and now doing a Ph.D.; I enjoy it more than I think I would have, I understand it better, I see the purpose more, and so I think it's a lot more beneficial, in one sense, to do it a little later.”
Osborne, who serves as a board member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, says he has really enjoyed the reading professors have required of him so far in his classes.
“It’s engaging to read things that you wouldn’t normally read. The good thing about the Ph.D. is it forces you into books you wouldn’t read on your own,” Osborne says. “One of the best books I’ve read was a book on Andrew Fuller that describes his own move away from high five-point Calvinism and how he got there and what he saw in the Scripture. You read that and it gives you great insight into your own ministry and the impact scripture has on you. I never would have read that book without being in a Ph.D. seminar. It’s been really fun.”
The pastor says in addition to the class discussions and except for the footnoting, he has thoroughly enjoyed camaraderie with fellow students and finds they serve as a constant encouragement to him.
“The kids I’ve met in the Ph.D. are way sharper than I was when I was in seminary, so it gives me a lot of hope for the future of the convention,” Osborne says.
Overall, the avid hunter and golfer says his Ph.D. work has positively affected him and will allow him to fight the ministerial slow-down that sometimes plagues veteran pastors.
“It has really enhanced me personally, spiritually, intellectually,” Osborne says. “It’s just been really good for me.”