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Prioritizing pastoral roles

| by Jim Farrer

“The church’s first business is with the truth” writes James D. Smart in The Rebirth of Ministry(p. 134), yet the complexities of life have added more and more expectations and roles for the pastor. 


It may seem strange to employ this term taken from a branch of biology. However, several fields related to pastoral work have become increasingly aware of ideas, “isms” and idols which often secretly endanger individuals and society. James Sire inThe Universe Next Door warns of the danger of deism, naturalism, existentialism, pantheism and New Age-ism. New Testament professor Donald G. Miller in Alternatives to Christianity points out the hollowness of secularism, atheism, humanism, hedonism and nihilism.

In Taking on the Gods,Merle R. Johnson, Associate Professor of Pastoral Psychology at Boston University School of Theology, discusses how counterfeit gods oppress people’s identities. As we embrace idols, the sinister principalities and powers leech and rob the joy from God’s precious people. Will business-as-usual Christianity disentangle people from these “isms” and lead them out of the maze of mysticism or erase the stench left by these “gods of dung”? (See Walther Eichrodt Theology of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, p.225)

In many denominations people who describe themselves as charismatic have discovered Biblical ways to unmask this evil and under Jesus’ authority to confront it and to restrict Satan’s effectiveness.


Some people expect the minister to be automatically aware when someone becomes miffed or ill or even admitted to the hospital. Not every pastor has a sixth sense or a spiritual gift of heightened discernment. In those denominations which ordain women, perhaps “intuition” is why God seems to be calling more of that gender into the ministry.


In The Purpose Driven Church(p. 82) Rick Warren reports survey results to the question: “Why does the church exist?” Eighty-nine percent of church members responded: “The church’s purpose is to take care of my family’s and my needs.” In contrast 90 percent of pastors knew that their primary calling is not to serve their congregation’s whims (serve-us) but to give service to the Lord Jesus Christ and win the world to him.


Most congregations post a monthly calendar in the office area of their building for listing
events. Consultant Lyle Schaller has advised hanging a three-year calendar in one of the heavily traveled gathering areas of the building to build a future-orientation.


One of the top questions to ask any congregation which wants to move off a plateau in attendance is: “How many are on your prospect list?” Author Bill Easum observed that in stagnant churches, the pastors likely will need to take the lead reaching into the community and spending 50 to 85 percent of their time networking with the unchurched. When Dr. David W. Holtz was a leader in the Church Growth division of the Church of the Nazarene, he shared a way for pastors to win 20 new members to the church each year. The plan encourages the clergy to strike up conversations with 20 persons in places such as coffee shops, banks and convenience stores, to share their business cards, to tell them they are willing to be a friend and pastor when these new acquaintances have a need, and then to maintain those casual relationships.


Even in the 1950s, Joseph Sittler wrote about the “maceration of the minister” or being chopped up by all the tasks and expectations. Various surveys have shown that pastors typically work upwards of 50 hours a week. Pastors need to prioritize Sabbath time for personal renewal and reconnecting with the Lord and to carve out family time.

Many leaders have experienced that “prayer is where it starts” in church turnarounds and that the most neglected resource for pastors and congregations is intercessors. To stand at the watchtower of prayer (Hebrews 13:17) and “to war the warfare of the tent of meeting” (Numbers 8:24 literal translation) are our most vital tasks.

It is a privilege to go through the seasons of life with folks, to struggle with the honest
doubts people have about the “Big Questions of Life,” to explore the most fascinating book in the world, to act against injustice and on occasion to experience that thrill when Jesus becomes victorious over the rebel powers of darkness that seek to destroy God’s precious people.

Which roles come naturally to you? As you face certain crossroads of life or certain chapters in ministry, God may challenge you to add another skill set. But which roles are most important? Is the task to keep Christians happy or to keep Christ happy?

Jim Farrer

A broadly-trained church consultant, Jim Farrer is the founder of Vital Signs Church Consulting and a member of the Society for Church Consulting. A veteran of ministry positions in Canada and the U.S., he has trained leaders from 18 denominations and led seminars and coaching sessions nationwide. His articles have been published in the Journal of Evangelism and Missions and the Great Commission Research Journal. You can reach him by e-mailing or calling 814 629-5211.

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