Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What is a Pastor Supposed to Do?

Of all the vocations one might enter, pastoral ministry has to be the most confusing.

For the person who finishes medical school, hanging out a shingle and practicing medicine is the next logical step.   The details of practicing medicine can be complicated, but the mission remains clear.  Everyone knows what a doctor is supposed to do:  treat patients and make them healthy.

The same is true of an attorney.  Once law school is completed and the bar exam is passed, the lawyer uses his/her know-how to advise and represent clients in legal matters.  The same is true for a CPA – so forth and so on.

The job profile of a minister, however, is not so clear cut.  To enter the ministry is to step into an environment of high and lofty expectations, most of which are ambiguous – meaning there is more than one interpretation for the role of a pastor.

For example, consider the expectations that many church members often have of their pastors.  I have heard stories about people expecting their pastor to talk to them late in the night when they can’t sleep, come over and mow their lawn, fix their car, visit them at the dentist, and pick up their children from school.

The typical pastor is expected to wear too many hats: he must be a therapist, marriage counselor, spiritual advisor, scholar, teacher, .... a healer, administrator, accountant, fund-raiser, friend of children, preacher, church leader, community activist, hospital Chaplin, wedding planner, funeral director, baby dedicator, and house-blesser.

But it doesn’t end there; he should also conduct religious services, plan and lead special services, make house calls, show up at recitals, be on call seven days a week, and work on holidays – including Christmas Eve, Easter, and Thanksgiving.  Pastors must have perfect marriages with exceptional kids.  Finally, they must live in homes that are acceptable to public opinion and drive automobiles that are not too expensive.

And then there is the whole realm of theology that pastors have to cover for.  i.e., There are so many denominations, doctrines, interpretations, books, article, and alleged spiritual authorities out there with all sorts of perspectives related to the Christian life... and the pastor is supposed to be an expert on all of them.  He is also expected to be an expert on all the latest theological trends.... a walking encyclopedia of Biblical knowledge… a flawless public speaker… an academic thinker.... a consummate politician who strives for majority consensus... and an inspiring executive leader… all with the heart of a shepherd who is willing to hold hands with the skill of Mr. Rogers himself.

Then there are the expectations of church transferees.  When people transfer from one church to another church, they often arrive at the new church with certain expectations based upon their experiences in their last church.  i.e., They have notions about how the church should be run… its form of government… the role of the pastor…. who has authority...  the methods ministry…  the ministries that should be offered… certain practices.. style… flavor… or what the worship services are supposed to look like.

Everybody has their “thing” that they would like to see their new church doing.  They want their thing to become the church’s thing.  And in a church of 400 people there will be close to 400 opinions that the pastor is expected to entertain, embrace, support, or promote.  But guess what?  There is no church that can do everybody’s thing.  So you have to keep the main thing the main thing

With so many hats to wear, so many shoes to fill, so many expectations to meet, and roles to play… a pastor can get on a squirrel cage of activity… of being a people pleaser… and forget why he entered the ministry in the first place.  It's one of the reasons pastors end up bitter and spent.

So what is a pastor to do?  It’s not so clear cut as the job description of other vocations?

Fortunately, the HS inspired the apostle Paul to write a letter to Timothy, a young pastor, so that he –  and pastors today – would know for certain what God expects of them rather than catering to the masses. 

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