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The 3 Roles of Great Pastors

The 3 Roles of Great Pastors

Blog Post 23 - Soccer Coach

Part 2 of 4

We’re knee deep into the specific changes needed to live out what many pastors say but few accomplish – turning members into ministers.  Currently, we’re unpacking what that means in terms of organizational realignment.  In the first of our four posts on that topic we detailed what pastors should stop doing and what members should start doing – resulting in a much flatter org chart.  Today, we’ll cover the last piece of that equation – what the Bible and organizational best practices agree should be the role of pastors. The evolution of the pastoral role in America over the past 100 years corresponds closely with the church’s decline in growth, impact, influence and perception.

Pastors’ View of Their Own Role

As we discussed last week, a church can’t significantly impact its community if the pastors won’t surrender their disproportionate current share of power, knowledge and responsibility.  Pastors “enable” a consumer mindset when they assert control of power, knowledge and responsibility for “being the church”, leaving members to come and go as they please.  We’ve all seen how badly kids behave when parents spoil, defend and cover for them.  Failing to let children take responsibility for their actions “enables” them to be slackers, expecting to be entertained, complaining when they don’t get what they want, with no consequences for bad behavior and caring about no one but themselves.

Aren’t their signs of some of those tendencies among today’s church members?  Too many remain spiritual children, spoiled because pastors were reluctant to push them to deeper levels of faith and commitment.  Too many never advance to maturity because pastors, their spiritual parents, never fully entrusted them with the power, knowledge and responsibility to go and make disciples.

Accepting a role no higher than that of members, as a servant leader, takes a great deal of humility.  Leading less, empowering more, relinquishing authority and no longer trying to build an institution works against everything seminary, books, articles and conferences today are telling pastors.  Yet those are necessities for exponential disciple-building and “taking ground” in a city.  A church built around one big personality or controlled by a couple powerful lay members can only grow so far.  Pastors must be secure enough to surround themselves with (and disciple) senior, capable individuals who have enough experience and savvy to (in turn) effectively disciple many others.

Are the same characteristics that make many people want to become pastors the same that may disqualify them from being one?  For those who love the Lord, have an entrepreneurial spirit, and enjoy leadership becoming a pastor would appear to be the perfect career path.  But what if the desire to lead a church means you shouldn’t?  Those hungry to lead are often those who will be most inclined to read and believe their own press when “success” comes.  Those who like to present to groups are often not great listeners.

Christianity hinges on humility.  It’s the only religion that requires its followers accept that they are hopeless sinners in dire need of a savior.  Pastors should model humility and be shepherds who are more inclined to one-on-one listening than presentations.  Maybe pastors should be pulled into the pulpit – like Peter who never made leading his aim.  A church cannot become vibrant and healthy if the pastor is susceptible to falling into the trap of enjoying leadership and centralizing power, knowledge and responsibility – thereby failing to challenge and empower members.  All Christians are called into ministry, but few with an entrepreneurial spirit should pastor a church.

Pastor’s Role Inside the Church

If members are the church and the community is the customer, then like we outlined in the last blog post, “pastors are the coaches, strategizers and organizers, responsible for rallying and mobilizing the troops into action.”  What does that entail in practical terms as it relates to a pastor’s activities inside the church?

  • Act as the “Executive Sponsor” for the substantial changes we recommend to revitalize your church – in any organization, change projects always fail without strong advocacy from senior leadership
  • Set the example for:
    • Compassion
    • Seeking and serving the lost outside the church – not just taking care of the church “family”
    • Evangelizing and networking, even if it means venturing outside one’s comfort zone
    • Getting involved in whatever local cause(s) the pastor holds near and dear
  • Encourage the congregation to follow suit in all of those same areas
  • Unite the church (i.e. members and regular attenders) by rallying them around a mission outside of itself (i.e. the “customer” – the city where it’s planted)
  • Consistently promote the responsibility members have to lead people to Christ – many of whom would never accept an invitation to a church
  • Disciple leaders and challenge them to disciple others
  • Ensure a program is in place to help members discover their giftings
  • Engage the church in local “care and share” activities year-round, not just through occasional events – providing enough outlets for members to apply their skills, interests and resources

As Acts 6 stresses, pastors are called to be teachers, not serve tables. Yet churches have become too teaching-centric rather than compassion-centric because pastors (teachers) have become more the definition of “church” than members (the instruments of compassion).  Jesus was both compassionate and a teacher – to those among and outside of his closest followers.  Pastors no longer represent both of those roles to their communities.  They act almost exclusively as teachers and rarely as sources of compassion, as they did for 1900 years.  No wonder most “unchurched” believe churches and Christians are more about condemnation than caring.  Pastors must lead churches to reclaim a more balanced role in society, following Jesus’ model, or watch as the remaining 7% of churches that are still growing begin to stagnate as well.

Pastor’s Role Outside the Church

Imagine if a CEO of a company, an Executive Director of a charity or Peter as pastor of the first church saw their role as pastors do today.  Would the business have made a profit, the charity thrived or the early church exploded in growth if their leaders:

  • rarely networked with other local leaders?
  • only served those inside the organization?
  • didn’t adequately train those “insiders” to pursue their target audience?
  • was cautious about challenging them to step out of their comfort zones for the greater good?

To revitalize a church, the pastor must assume the external duties required of the chief executive of any organization that expects to be successful:

  • primary networker with leaders of churches, charities, city governments, businesses and schools – with no set agenda or proposal, but willing to serve however needed
  • visionary for how to demonstrate the love of God throughout the community
  • spokesperson for the church in the city
  • community organizer, assembling a consortium of diverse players to address pressing issues

That means delegating several responsibilities pastors spend far too much time on today:

  • Church administration
  • Pastoral care
  • Staff meetings about internal matters

It’s your turn…

What innovative initiatives have you seen a pastor undertake inside and outside the church to mobilize the body and engage the community?


3 Responses

  1. A pretty good article, but I would take this a step further on redefining the role of a pastor. The role of a Pastor is to lead his or her Church is the proper way to meet needs in the Church and community. For example, when most Pastors ask for those that want prayer to come to the front, and people come forward for prayer, the pastor prays or leads in prayer, but stops there.

    According to James 2:14-26 faith without works is a dead and useless faith. Pastors pray for these people, but then send them right back to their chairs with nothing but prayer. Prayer is the 1st step, but what we often miss if the works part of the process.

    For example, if a person in the Church needs food, there are those in the Church service that have food to spare. If clothing, there are those will clothes they could give. If a job, there are those in the Church that have businesses that need workers. What we miss is putting our faith and theirs into action by the meeting of those needs right then and there. Not just waiting on God, who is waiting on us.

    What we pastors often miss is putting their faith and the faith of those in our congregations into action my meeting needs both inside and outside the Church. The meeting of needs is the great evangelical revival that the Church has been waiting for, but has been staring us in the face the entire time.

  2. Applying your insights to the role of prayer, pastors need to balance “holy huddle” praying (for illnesses and activities) with outward focused praying (to impact people and influence culture in our Jerusalem, region, in abandoned/avoided neighborhoods) and across the globe.
    May the Lord equip a new generation of pastors/leaders who can equip the saints to take the work of the ministry into the community (Get us out of our pews wit the good news!)
    Pray.Network /

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Root cause for the Church's decline & its path to Revitalization

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