Why Pastors should Pastor: 7 MustsMay 24, 2018
It’s never been easy to be a pastor. Though it is often claimed that contemporary ministry is more difficult and complex than it has ever been, that usually signals that the claimant knows very little about previous periods of church history. For example, I am a Baptist pastor. Is it really more difficult to be a Baptist pastor today, than it was back in the 1600’s when the denomination was first founded? Hardly likely! Do you know what they did to so many Baptist pastors back then?
Having said that, it is a challenging privilege to be a pastor – and both are true. It is challenging and a privilege.
Some of the challenges are changing. In Australia, for example, the number of people who claim some form of allegiance to the Christian faith is roughly equal to the number who have no such allegiance. A hundred years ago, over 95% of Australians would have ticked the “Christian” box, albeit that their commitment to the faith was usually nominal. An increasing number of those who are not Christian are also very vocally not Christian – with active opposition to Christianity on the rise.
Furthermore, while pastors have commonly been viewed as a tad quaint and other worldly, they have largely been trusted by the community. This is no longer the case. A speaker at a talk I attended in the UK made the claim that in a survey of young adults, the word most commonly associated with “priest, clergy or pastor” was paedophile. Hard to make inroads into a community if that is the default assumption about you.
The challenges are not only from the outside. Within “church world” (for want of a better expression), a tightening economic climate and the lack of sufficient volunteers has seen the role of pastor being redefined to CEO – the one who needs to oversee and ultimately account for the legal compliance, fiscal health, and long term vision of their church (and in a real sense, it is “their” church… the one they are in charge of – or so they are often made to feel).
Though I fully understand the pressure to make these changes (and have lived through the changing societal shifts that have seen them adopted), I think they have now been in place long enough for us to be paying the price tag. After all, everyone only has 24 hours in their day. If you keep adding new duties to a pastor’s job description, something starts to give. Define a pastor as a CEO (true, we don’t usually do it that crassly, but boil the changes down, and its what it amounts to), and at some point they can no longer be a – well they can no longer be a pastor. And that’s the dilemma we increasingly face. Pastors who find it impossible to pastor – and churches who are suffering because their pastors aren’t acting as pastors.
So what do pastors do? As I am involved in training them, it’s a question I am often asked. Here are 7 things I consider to be non-negotiable if someone is to claim the title – pastor. I’m even willing to be more dogmatic than usual and to use the “must” word rather than “should” or “could”…
A pastor must be prayerful
– able to listen to God and at least sometimes accurately discern what God is saying and doing. Let’s be realistic. You can’t be prayerful in a hurry, so who are we fooling if we think that this won’t take time?
A pastor must be steeped in Scripture
(and I still like to use a captial S for Scripture, as a little reminder that it really is special) – and be committed to and able to unpack it to those for whom they have spiritual oversight. That means an ongoing commitment to reading and thinking through the message and meaning of the Bible is indispensable – and time must be set aside for it.
A pastor must be willing to accept the spiritual oversight of others.
True, this should make them tremble, for it is a weighty responsibility, but shepherds who are unwilling to shepherd the sheep are no longer shepherds.
A pastor must have a sense of God’s call to be a pastor
– for you cannot call yourself. Yes, there are times when doubt will kick in, but when all else is pushed aside, something inside a pastor quietly says, “You are here by God’s invitation, not your own.” That gives a confidence and courage to keep going both when it is convenient, and when it is not.
A pastor must care about the people they are called to serve.
They must care for them as they are – not as they think they should be or could be… but in the often uncomfortable reality of who they actually are. Pastors who don’t care are dangerous – and they are not pastors… And the horizon of their care is not limited to those already within their congregation, but also to those who don’t yet follow Jesus.
A pastor must be willing to listen
– for we are dangerous when the only voice we hear is our own. This is a special risk for pastors. After all, we preach. We tell people what to think and feel. But we must not forget that close listening to God, to Scripture and to others should precede our speaking. Only when we have listened well can we speak well… And don’t forget, careful listening takes time. You can’t shortcut it…
A pastor must follow Jesus
and model a growing life of discipleship and obedience, for it is silly to think that people will go on a pathway we ourselves are not prepared to follow.
In short, pastors must pastor. True, there are some other things they should do as well. It certainly helps if you have leadership skills, and we all live in the world of 21st century legislation, and it is more than a little useful to know how to manage a staff team well. But these are things we should do. And what we should do, cannot be allowed to render us ineffective in the things we must do.
If the tail is in danger of wagging the dog, let’s quietly but insistently rework the priority list…