You’ve seen the headlines, perhaps read an article or two over the last two years, and have contemplated your own future.
Some are predicting a pastor pandemic on the horizon.
In “1 in 4 Pastors Plan to Retire Before 2030,” David Roach discusses a possible “succession crisis” coming for pastors and local churches.
Some have estimated that 60 percent of pastors have considered quitting the ministry, or at least their current place of service, due to the general struggles of pastoring, the added tensions and fatigue of the Covid-19 pandemic, and political strife within our communities and culture.
It’s understandable, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
3 areas of pastoral focus
A pastor is not called to do everything, everywhere, all at once (See Acts 6, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus). Pastoring or overseeing is a good and noble calling, one worthy of aspiring to (1 Timothy 3:1).
I believe pastoring a local church means working in three areas of focus:
- preaching/teaching the Bible
- caring for the hurting and hopeless
- leading the church to develop a vision and a plan for implementing the Great Commission of Christ (Matthew 28:16–20; Acts 1:8)
In my previous article, “The pastor’s job description Pt. 1: The priority of preaching and teaching,” I discussed the necessity of preaching and teaching God’s word.
Today, let’s look at the pastor’s responsibility to shepherd souls and lead the mission of a church in a local context.
An unforgettable pastoral lesson
Early in my ministry as a pastor, I was playing golf with my mentor. We were discussing the retirement of a well-known pastor in our area. My mentor knew the retiring pastor personally.
My mentor then described the retiring pastor as an adequate preacher but as one known mostly for his deep love and care for the people in his church. My mentor then counseled me with words I have never forgotten.
He said, “You can be a great preacher and a great pastor. But if you have to choose, be a great pastor. Loving people well is more important.”
That was profound and good advice.
When our preaching suffers
Like me, many pastors love to preach and teach. I believe this is our first and greatest priority. But our preaching is invalidated if it’s not undergirded with a deep and growing love for God and for people.
We must be Great Commandment disciples who love God and love others before we are Great Commission disciples and pastors.
Dr. Jim Denison said to me, “When a person is called to lead a local church, they are hired to be the preacher, but they earn the right to be the pastor as they love the people over time.”
Pastoring or shepherding people is more about relationships than it is about tasks.
How’s your flock doing?
Acts 6 tells us that, as the church grew, the needs of the congregation required the division of labor and the enlistment of more servants and leaders. The priority of preaching and teaching the Bible well can be marginalized by the urgent needs of the people. However, every pastor needs to be accessible to his people to a reasonable extent.
Pastors must learn to balance their time between teaching preparation and personal engagement with people in counseling and general relational development. Intentional scheduling helps. I learned to block out two afternoons a week for counseling appointments. My church also gave me a generous expense allowance to take people to coffee or lunch for relational development, discipleship, evangelism, and leadership discussions.
I urged my staff to “walk slowly through the crowd” when the church gathered to pursue relational connections. We would sometimes discuss in our staff meetings those individuals we made connections with. Success could be measured if we had five three-minute conversations with individuals (Sometimes it was two ten-minute conversations.)
The point is to know the condition of your sheep (Proverbs 27:23).
NOTE: In my next article, the last of this pastor job description series, we’ll dive into leading the church to develop a vision and a plan for implementing the Great Commission of Christ.