Training Up Pastors — What is a Pastor?

Earlier this week, I resurrected a post I had done two years ago on the benefits of going away to seminary. It was a pretty big hit, so I thought I would resurrect a couple of other posts from that series on Training Up Pastors.

I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t poorly redefined the role of pastor in our church culture.

Walter Brueggemann tells the story of a rabbi who laments the current definition of pastor, because it has made being a rabbi difficult. Where the rabbi was a teacher/scholar, now because of the western church’s redefining of the pastor, the rabbi is expected to be counselor and social workers and manager.

What if we were to encourage our pastors to be scholars/teachers/preachers? I think it would mean that all those other duties that have been heaped onto the title “pastor” would become the responsibility of the church as a whole. What would happen if we freed up pastors from the counseling, budget managing, program-building, and allowed them to focus on the Word?

Would allowing our pastors to be preachers/teachers while having the congregation (elders and laypeople) assuming responsibility for the day to day functions of the church increase the intellectual and spiritual depths of our churches?

  • Dustin

    I dunno, Amanda. I’m a big fan of the importance of preaching/teaching and scholarship, but I think that it is precisely in the midst of things like budget-planning, program running and counselling that pastors get the opportunity to show how the Gospel they preach takes shape in the warp and woof of church life. I’ve come to tell myself that “Church budgets are theological statements.” When I start thinking that way, I find that I interact with them much more seriously. I’m not suggesting that the pastor should have to actually do ALL of the administrative stuff ALL the time. But just like the pastor’s teaching ministry is an instantiation of the teaching ministry of the “whole church,” so might we think about the pastor’s administrative and counselling ministry as somehow representing and modeling the ministry of the whole church too.

  • http://lightenough.wordpress.com LLM

    Hmmm…I should have read this new post before I posted my response comment on your other post. There I said this: “Something I am observing more and more is that Pastors seem to be distancing themselves from the congregation (seeing themselves as primarily the preacher and overseer) and relying on the “small groups” for all the shepherding care to go on. The small group leader is to “shepherd the flock” of people in their group. And Pastor only steps in when there are big issues or life events. This is not working well from my observation…as too much responsibility or expectation is placed on a small group lay leader.”

    I like your ideas Amanda – to let the Pastor focus on teaching, and the elders and layleaders do the pastoral and organizational things. Certainly more responsibility should be carried by all in the church. But I also agree with Dustin above that pastors should be able to show how the Gospel they preach takes shape in the warp and woof of church life! Maybe the problem is that we have come to expect too much of our Pastors, and the body of believers has gotten SLACK. More shared responsibility needs to come back into the picture. Pastors have become so burdened that they can’t do anything well, or they have to choose between 2 good things – teaching and pastoring – and one gets neglected.

    To elaborate on my comment above. Pastors assuming that the small group leaders will handle all the pastoral care is not working out…it is a failed assumption….from my limited observations. My small group experiences have not been good. It seems that too many small group leaders just see themselves as a “warm body” whose job is to guide a discussion for an hour or two each week with no responsibility beyond that…..BUT the Pastor is assuming they are doing so much more than that.

    (“Small groups” are the thing around here….maybe not up your way.)

  • http://cdntheologianscholar.wordpress.com Amanda

    Interestingly, Ken Schenck has a post on his blog today on the Competencies of a Pastor.
    http://kenschenck.blogspot.ca/2012/08/competencies-of-minister.html

  • http://dellssue.blogspot.ca Sue B.

    Unfortunately no matter what we think about pastoral definitions (and there are good and not so good aspects to the pastor being hands on/off in various areas of church life, as pointed out in previous comments) economics is also part of the reality of the pastorate. There are some congregations who feel they are paying the pastor to do everything and either refuse to volunteer their giftings in administration and visiting for example, and/or do not want to be on the receiving end of the gifts of their congregational volunteers. They are paying the pastor to do it and so what are these volunteer visitors doing at their door? I used to think it was seniors in the congregation who are mostly thinking this way but had an unpleasant surprise to discover otherwise over the past few years.
    There is also the problem of very small and aging congregations who literally do not have sufficient ability remaining to take on volunteer tasks that are of ongoing assistance to the pastor.
    We do need clearer definitions of what a pastor is to accomplish in many situations, but the practical realities change from congregation to congregation or denomination to denomination. Once again perhaps pastors have to be prepared to rewrite their job descriptions depending upon where they find themselves ministering: large or small congregations, younger or older demographic, rural or urban.
    As a pastor there should be clear definitions to follow wherever a pastor ministers, but it is always so difficult to remain inside the definition when the needs start to outweigh the ability of the volunteers.
    Good post Amanda….lots to think about.

  • http://charispsallo.wordpress.com Charis Psallo

    Just when did all the cutbacks happen? Where are the apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers? (Eph. 4) When did the hired pastor/shepherd start getting stuck with responsibility for everything?