aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Cutting the cloth

A set of conversations recently led me to think about what makes a good pastor. It's a complicated, interrelated set of qualities, and none of us do equally well in all areas. That said, I made up the following table to assist in the conversation.

First of all, I broke up the pastoral work into the categories of Head, Heart, and Hands. Ideally, you would want a pastor who was equally adept in all three categories. That probably ain't happenin'. Still, you don't want a pastor who is seriously deficient in one category or the other.

Then I listed other areas of pastoral work: Integrity; Relationships; Skills; Wisdom; Leadership. Once again, we're not all equally strong in each of these areas, but you wouldn't want a pastor that was seriously deficient in a given area.

By cross-indexing catetgories and work areas, we come up with a list of qualities that pretty much define pastoral excellence. These are what I would use to evaluate ministerial candidates; they are also what I would use to critique my own work to identify my strengths and weaknesses. That would enable me to target things I need to work on.

good pastor


Handles the Scriptures and doctrine rightly.
Absolutely, utterly essential. We're not all exegetical whizzes, not everybody knows Greek (or Hebrew), BUT I want a pastor who understands what we're supposed to believe and teach, who understands where we get it from, who communicates it well, and who actually believes it. I do NOT want somebody who is making it up as he goes along, or who follows fad theologies, who merely mouths slogans, or who uncritically accepts the values of the surrounding culture.

Is a person of good character.
Once again, we're not all visible saints, but we expect you to keep your nose clean and not be an embarrassment to the Church.

Is busy and responsive.
Pastoral work is very entrepreneurial. You set your own schedule to a large extent. That means it's easy to goof off. It also means there are few people to help you understand what you're supposed to be getting done, which means a lot of pastors don't get much accomplished. And you simply would not believe the number of pastors who can't be trusted to be where they've said they'll be or return phone calls, etc.

Acknowledges authority, understands boundaries.
I may be my own boss, but I'm responsible to others. As a charismatic friend put it, "I believe God blesses obedience." At the same time, I understand that being someone's pastor puts me in a special relationship with them, and there are things I don't do with my parishioners, things I don't share with them. You can never completely take the collar off.

Is caring and approachable.
Likability is a big part of the work we do. Not all of us are really, really good at relationships. I'm a bit stiff at times, and, of course, I'm an introvert, which means people wear me out after a while. That said, people need to sense that you like THEM. And, they need to be able to approach you and claim your time.

Treats people right (insiders and outsiders).
Treating people right means being respectful, even of people who are disagreeing with you. It means showing courtesy. It means being fair. It means keeping commitments. The bit about insiders and outsiders is not only about being the same to the unchurched as to your church folk, but also about treating all those within the church right; it means avoiding being what the Bible calls "a respecter of persons."

You don't have to be a genius or have a raft of degrees, but in the end, we deal with ideas in the clergy biz. We use words to engage other minds, we operate in a society with a history that explains why we are the way we are, we compete with other values and systems for people's allegiance. I have met clergy who thought education unimportant, or even a joke. They thought their ignorance or their poor grammar made them lovable, I guess. But as the old proverb goes, "He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool: shun him." You don't have to flaunt your brains, but the job requires you to have some and keep them in working order. 'Nuff said.

Listens well, has time for others, incl. those who cannot further agenda.
The skills of the heart require one to BE THERE. Oftentimes, there is nothing we can do for someone else. Our prayers are not going to "fix" them, and that can make us feel helpless. We must learn to go with them through what they face, and that's hard. And while we're at it, time spent calling on old people or listening to children is never wasted. I've seen busy-busy pastors who want to spend all their time dealing with people who can be recruited and employed in stuff the pastor thinks is important. But you are to be there for those who cannot do anything for you, too. You represent God's care to them.

Preaching, teaching, leading worship, etc.
This is the stuff everyone thinks matters when they start listing desirable qualities in a new pastor. The one thing everybody sees you do every week is preach, so you ought to be able to hold your own in the pulpit. Likewise, there are other programmatic things the job entails. Each pastor is good at some things, not so good at others. Sharpening these skills is important.

Understands complicated situations, reads people well.
People are complicated, and they get themselves tied in some awful knots. Churches are complicated, too, as are schools and workplaces and families. Dealing with people requires the pastor to be find one's way through the weirdness at times, and especially to penetrate to where the real problems are, instead of merely the presenting problems.

Can say NO without being disagreeable.
Not everybody is going to agree with you. And sometimes, there are people who really matter to you -- either emotionally or in terms of the local power structure -- whom you'd really like to be on the same page with. Nevertheless, your NO is what gives value to your YES. You need to be able to speak the truth in love. This is painful, but it usually comes out better than saying Yes to things you shouldn't or trying to have it both ways.

Working with people as counselor and coach.
The pastor is the first counselor most people see. The pastor is also in charge of "equipping the saints to do the work of ministry." This is not the same thing as getting people to do what you think they should do. Helping being find their way forward is about them, not you. It's hard, but it's what people will remember and honor you for, not the stuff you did to dazzle them.

Can see what needs to be done.
Everyone thinks he's a visionary. I'm standing up front, so it must be my job to say what we're supposed to do, right? Well, just because I want to, doesn't mean that that is the prime value. Still, people look to the pastor to articulate the goal.

Lifts up others.
Along the way, helping others achieve what they want will last longer than achieving what you want. Making leaders out of others is better than showing what a big kahuna you are. Learning to honor others, delegate to others, and bring people to buy into what needs to be done is really important.

Good administrator.
Pastors spend an enormous amount of time in the office, in committee meetings, in caring for issues related to the physical plant, and so forth. Few people like it, but a wise person once said a measure of one's true calling is the ability to love even the drudgery associated with one's job. Pastors who skimp on the dull jobs are not more effective, just lazy.

Well, there are my thoughts. I offer them to you -- laity as well as clergy -- for your response.

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