One of the most fascinating fields of human endeavour has to do with the nature of pastoring a local church congregation. Surely it is one of the oldest professions in the world — having come into existence through the example and exhortation of Jesus (i.e. John 21 — “feed my lambs”) as well as that of the earliest Christian leaders. Through a variety of references in the New Testament (as well as parallel ones to the role of priests in the Old Testament) it is clear that God called and intended some to give their whole lives to pastoral work. Jesus and the Apostles authorized it as professional work. (See Matthew 10:10, 1 Corinthians 9:7-17, 1 Timothy 5:17, 18)
Through the history of Christ’s church, pastoring, of course, has taken many different forms. Sometimes it has been bi-vocational; sometimes less formal. But for many of us, it has been our major professional work for most of our lives. Certainly it has been so for me. Being professional work, schools exist in order to properly prepare for it. Such schools even existed for prophets (an aspect of pastoral work) in Old Testament times.
In my Denomination, The Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, pastoral ministry usually takes place as a full-time professional service. It follows a system of credentialing and ordination for authorization to function in such a role. Usually, but not always, it involves at least some formal education and/or graduation from a recognized Bible School, College, or Seminary. Considerable attention in the education process is given to thorough biblical and theological training. But attention in these programs is also devoted to practical experience in Christian life and pastoral ministry skills.
Having devoted most of my life to pastoral service, I am amazed by the complexity of what pastoral ministry has become in more recent times. In the early days, especially in a smaller church, it seemed that pastoral ministry was all about preparing for a number of congregational services each week and making some pastoral calls. But even then, I soon learned that pastoral ministry involved engaging in the community in a way that demonstrated how to share the Christian faith with others. Now that the church is no longer central to our society as it once was, this factor in pastoral ministry has become even more complex.
As I have worked with a variety of churches in recent years, an understanding of what pastoral ministry entails has become crucial to helping churches solve the leadership challenge. The larger a church is, the more important it is for the church to think critically about the nature of this role, especially if it wants the church to move forward in making a significant impact on its community. Most church congregations will measure a pastor’s value according to how well he leads and communicates in a worship service. They are looking for the pastor’s biblical/theological knowledge, but also for his skill in communicating with relevance, humour, and warmth. It takes a great deal of skill for a pastor to successfully engage a large congregation in meaningful learning and application week after week, after week.
However, most people in a congregation don’t consider the fact that public service communication and leadership is only a small part of what pastoral ministry is really all about — perhaps only about 30-40% of the whole package. Another huge part of pastoral ministry has to do with what I would call pastoral skills. This is the interpersonal, counselling aspect of the pastor’s ministry. Since pastoral ministry involves an accountability before the Lord for the spiritual well-being of all those who are part of the church, it seems vitally important that the modern-day pastor has the ability to engage with the people of the church community in a personal manner. Naturally, especially in a large church, it isn’t going to be possible for him to do this with every person in the church. Nevertheless, taking an interest in the personal lives and progress of the individual sheep is a vital part of a pastor’s ministry. Often it may involve counselling or helping them through various rites of passage such as baptism, marriage, or death. As the church grows, the lead pastor will pass more of this kind of responsibility on to other pastors or lay leaders. But in one way or another, this may easily account for another 25% or so of a pastor’s work.
Perhaps the most under-estimated work requirement for a pastor has to do with the administrative part of his role. In my view, this is not so much about filling out papers, as it is about finding ways to effectively manage the work of the church. Undoubtedly, especially in a large church, the pastor will have professional assistants to help with the details of financial and facility management. But even there, he will need some savvy about the best way to structure and organize the church. My thought of the pastor as administrator is mostly about recruiting, training, and leading a team of the best possible personnel resources to do the work of the ministry. This team will variously consist of both professional and lay leaders. While his preaching ministry will “cast the vision and values” of the church, he will see it accomplished through a well-managed ministry team. In administration, a pastor is seeking to ensure accountability and diligent communication at all levels. Necessarily, biblically, it will also include a realistic and relevant means of ensuring the church is embracing its mission in the community and the whole world. This administrative role is huge for a pastor. It properly accounts for the other 30 – 40% of his work.
These three things in pastoral work, I believe — preaching, pastoral care, and administration — is the stuff of which pastoral leadership is made. It’s really all about effective leadership. It is the reason why some seminaries, including Ambrose University, are giving more attention to the nature of Christian leadership both in the secular world as well as in the church. It is a kind of leadership that combines the best of what a job requires with personal development and management. For it is one thing to do a professional job of leading effectively in the church, it is quite another to balance all that is required in that role with a well-balanced personal life — continuous personal development and a vibrant family life.
Some may well ask whether such a life is possible. Apart from a deep sense of God’s personal call and continuous anointing for the task, no! But by the grace of God, when it is functioning like God intended, there is nothing else like it. I believe, with the proper help and guidance, pastors can experience such a life for the duration of their entire ministry calling.