pastoring now tougher than ever

There’s something to be said for the days when pastors were the most educated in their community. They were able to run the church (operationally and organizationally), do the pastoral care, get very involved in community life. And, none would be the wiser. This probably worked well in a smaller community where the church was the town center, and life revolved around the neighborhood, and not with daily commutes, not with international business travels. Now, in the 21st century, with the totality of knowledge doubling every year (and increasingly faster,) pastoring is more difficult and challenging than ever. Rarely is the pastor ever the most educated in his/her spiritual community.

This means the pastor’s glaring lack of knowledge may be called out by congregational members who have expertise in other areas of life beyond theology: be it business management, organizational processes, human dynamics, technology, academia, etc. Those who signed up to be traditional pastors b/c they genuinely wanted to give their life to minister to people via pastoral care are now left in the lurch. Arguably, people still need personal care, and for many churches, it is a shift away from “pastoral care” to “congregational care.” My unanswerable question is: what does someone who set themselves up on a career path to be a traditional pastor do now, if they can’t retool? What transferable skills does a traditional pastor accrue?

Lee Huang (not a pastor, but has close friends who are pastors) rightly observed:

My viewpoint tends to be more organizational, so my take on being a pastor is that it is an impossible job. Here you are asked to be the lead preacher and teacher, available for counseling sessions, leading a staff of people that can span such responsibilities as missions and janitorial, serving as the public face for your organization in the community, networking with other leaders at Christian conferences and denominational gatherings. That’s a lot of hats! … Let’s finally consider the financial issues. I don’t believe pastors are paid very well, so that’s obviously a downer. And if you are paid well, and sometimes even if you aren’t, that has it’s own issues, for congregants can quite easily feel they own you, since they’re paying your way. What other organizations is the person at top in such an awkward financial relationship with his or her co-workers and clients?

[update 10/10/07] Mark D. Roberts weighs in with his retrospective in The Hardest Thing About Being a Pastor

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  1. Reyes-Chow says:

    Good post (As always) I think that the pastor, now more than ever, must provide spiritual leadership that looks different. You are correct in that no longer can a pastor be assumed to know everything, but did they REALLY? Now a pastor must be to be able to affirm the amazing gifts that are out there can/should be used to the glory of God.

    Pastoring is only “Impossible” as Lee says if we do not adapt our posture and approach to ministry as a whole. In this age of we must be even more diligent in living the idea that knowledge and expertise must go hand-in-hand with relationships and spiritual nurturing. So is this way the traditional role of the pastor is even more important and I THINK what folks are looking for most in today’s clergy.

  2. Cynthia says:

    Co-pastoring, with my husband for the last 20 years, I’ve had opportunity to reflect on your observation for a long time and from a first hand perspective. Very fortunately for us, our “glaring lack of knowledge” in many areas has not been called out by our congregation members, many of whom have far more precise expertise in other areas than we do. However, understanding, pursuing, embracing and knowing God, and living a life in the love of, blessing of, & acceptance of the Creator, is what seems to be the most genuine need of people. And that, we can offer regardless of our ineptness in other subjects.

    Yes, there are those who are more astute in business management, organizational processes, human dynamics, technology, academia, etc. And we are those you mentioned who signed up to be traditional pastors b/c we genuinely wanted to give our lives to minister to people via pastoral care.

    However, you should know, we do not feel left in the lurch. We feel, in fact, that we need others more (to strengthen the weaknesses we have in areas outside our purview) and conversely, they need us more because often they are often wrestling complex theological questions. Rather than being left in the lurch, the decentralization of society, has given rise to a team mentality whereby there is much joint service in church, and we are served by our differences rather than being the odd men/women out. As the scriptures describe, each one does his part.

    “Church” has changed as you point out in the intro to your post. Society/culture/the world, all have changed. Church, as the central common in a town, is long gone. In our world, the central common emerging is the Internet. But, the personal needs of individuals are as pronounced as ever, amplified, often by post-modern society.

    When the church needs tech help there is NO expectation that the senior pastors will handle it. In fact, we need our IT person (a volunteer by the way), happy to serve the church with his resources and happy that it is not he who will be performing either the funeral on Friday nor the wedding on Saturday. Some of us preach, some of us teach, some of us administer hospitality, etc.

    Lee Haung indicates that the pastor is the person “at the top”. Of course, I understand his point. But, if you simply inverse the pyramid paradigm, you will find that the pastor is the one at the bottom, the servant of all, the one launching all others into their individual ministry services. An additional metaphor would be like the conductor of an orchestra. And you can praise God out loud it’s not me on any specific instrument.

    And finally, the totality of knowledge doubling every year is no threat to pastors. Wisdom will still be in short supply and God has a corner on that market.

  3. John Lee says:

    In an age where specialization runs rampant, where every other person (in the urban AA church) has a master’s degree, the call to excellence in the pastoral position sounds more urgently than before. DJ is right: it is intimidating to pastor a church filled with PhDs, JDs, MBAs and CEOs. Intimidating because in a church filled with masters of their trades, the pastor can’t help but feel like the proverbial jack of all but master of none.

    What kind of pastor is not only going to survive but thrive in this climate?

    The one who feels comfortable in his own skin, who has a certain experience of life and the world which has rendered to him a deep wisdom and healthy self-confidence. He is also one who is an expert in his own field, not because he is trying to compete with all the other experts in his congregation, but because he is simply living out the calling on his life. He is deeply theological yet practical, loving of people yet deeply distrustful of them as well. In short: he knows his Bible and theology; he knows himself well; and he knows people and how the world turns.

    That we would aspire to either be or follow one such as this.

  4. L.L. Barkat says:

    I’m going to email this to my pastor right now… I do believe it can be very discouraging to be a pastor… one can get to thinking “I’m not good enough!” when the truth is more like… nobody can be 10 people with 10 skill sets. Thanks for this.

  5. David Park says:

    Great post. Do you think this is the cause of more diffused models of church as in non-profit orgs and parachurch orgs? Perhaps this is the reason where books like Revolution have merit, in that the title and role of pastor is sidestepped for a more approachable and achievable audience without the headaches or being “the center” for entire body of spiritual growth.

  6. djchuang says:

    Thanks all for the comments so far. There’ve been more than a few people who have said that pastors are among the most insecure professionals in the world. This isn’t to say that every pastor is insecure and intimidated, but enough of them are that this has become a stereotype. What I’m finding out from some churches that are doing well (not necessarily numbers, but dynamic in how they’re doing church & ministry) is how the pastors and/or executive leadership team are able to mobilize people to use their gifts, talents, and strengths.

    I recently heard the story of Heartland, and the slogan on the side of their building (which is a beautifully refurbished mall) is apt: a different kind of church. The organizational structure of the church is drastically different– with pastors that actually report to the executive leadership team, which report to elders for oversight authority. The leadership team keeps the church on mission in terms of execution and operation, while teaching is managed by pastors. Reminds me of Acts 6, when elders/pastors focused on ministry of the Word and prayer, while others took care of other (organizational) tasks.

  7. Sunday Okoh says:

    Pastoring is among the most noble tasks on earth. The Pastor relates with people after relating with God, who is the ultimate personality in all facets of human life. With God’s help the pastor can surmount every problem that individual members of the Church may have. For a pastor that mirrors God, the challenge of coping with increasing knowledge is a walk over. After all, increase in knowledge is one of the biblical prophecies for the 21st century.