Thursday, June 6, 2013

What is the Pastor's REAL Job?

Many pastors are on the edge of burnout. This is especially true for single staff pastors and bivocational pastors. The goal of many of those pastors is to finally grow their church large enough so they can be either “full-time” (if they are bivocational), or hire additional staff members (if they are a single staff pastor). They imagine that when that day finally arrives they will suddenly have more time to spend with their family, or go fishing, or attend their children’s softball games. While that may be true in some situations, I fear that many of them will be frustrated when they realize that a larger church requires them to work even longer hours and attend more meetings and do even more visitation. The problem is not the size of our churches, nor the size of our staff, nor the fact that some pastors are bivocational. The problem is how most ministers, and the congregations we serve, view ministry altogether. Somehow, we have gotten the mistaken idea that the pastor is the one who must do all (or most) of the teaching, visitation and decision making. That idea is not rooted in scripture, instead it comes from the warped view of the “professional clergy” that Western civilization has attempted to super-impose over scripture.

Pastors have forgotten that our primary ministry is not to visit the hospitals or the shut-ins or chair committee meetings. According to Ephesians 4:11-16, the pastor’s primary ministry is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. Until that happens, the saints are not yet mature and they will continue to be tossed about by whatever the latest religious fad is blowing in the wind. Pastors have somehow gotten confused in their thinking and instead of quipping the saints to DO the ministry; many pastors are doing the ministry themselves. Because of that, pastors are exhausted and near burn out. They think that hiring another staff member or giving up their part time job will fix it. But that is only a symptom of the problem. The problem is that we have not equipped the saints.

When I share this idea with pastors, they often tell me that I do not understand their situation. Their church EXPECTS them to do the entire ministry and if they do not, they will get fired. My response to that is that the pastor should be teaching the whole counsel of God to the congregation, not just the parts that itching ears want to hear. We must teach the congregation to expect the deacons and Sunday School teachers and small group leaders to handle much of the day to day ministry of the church while the pastor focuses on equipping leaders and the study of the Word. Some will not like that being the pastor's main duties. But when did we decide to only do ministry that everyone likes? Some do not like the pastor being paid a full time salary, but most of us are willing to fight to get it. Some do not like paying for extra staff members, but pastors ask for it anyway. Some do not like the color of the carpet or the style of the music, but the pastor pushes for these things if it is needed. Why not also push to release the lay people to DO the work of the ministry instead of just having professional clergy do it all? Anything we do will have someone who does not like it, but if it is the right thing to do, then we must be the leaders God has called us to be and lead.

I am not saying that it will be easy. But if this is what God has called us to do, we must do it. We are not the hirelings that have been brought in to make the sheep fat and happy inside the pen. We are shepherds who lead the sheep to good grass out in the pasture (and they have to walk out there themselves if they want to eat that grass). It will take effort but it can be done. It is time to stop doing everything on our own and start doing the main thing God called us to do, equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.
In response to the great need for pastors to train lay people to assist them in high level ministry, Dr. Terry Dorsett wrote the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. It is being used by over 4,000 churches across North America and is helping both bivocational and single staff churches gain a whole new perspective on what the pastor's job really is.
Click here for more details:


  1. A good word Terry and a must in the bi-vo church.

  2. Agree 100%. This is why the Presbyterian tradition has Elders, to do all the things not assigned to the minister (the teaching Elder) - whose ministry is, like you said, to equip ALL the saints for ministry. I can say that the Presbyterian Church where I serve, that is exactly what we are doing. My challenge now is, the saints don't always want to be equipped, and that challenge can lead to burn out as well. Peace.

  3. Bernie, that is a great tradition (elders). Though I did not grow up with it, once I learned of the biblical concept, I led my church to use such a system. It was not always easy, but it sure worked better than doing it all myself. And yes, many congregations do not want to be equipped, because we live in a consumer driven culture. But Jesus calls us to be counter cultural, and this is a good place to start.

  4. Counter culture. hmmmm... that just reminded me of something. Thanks. Our Elders only have 3 business meetings a year, to do the "official stuff" required by the Presbytery and denomination, but we meet every week for prayer and discernment as it relates to pastoral care and ministry. Best thing we ever did. The other issue about equipping that is our challenge is that the Lord has directed us to a ministry with the elderly and disabled, we have those physical issues to contend with as they can become excuses. Thanks Terry.

  5. Very good points made in this article, thank you.

  6. Thanks Scott, glad it was a blessing.

  7. Some very good points. However, at least with most pastors I know, it's not that they are expected to make all the decisions or anything like that. In fact, they have been stripped of biblical authority(not as a Lord over someone but as a biblical elder) and have little imput in to the decisions the church makes. As we have gone through our by laws process one of the things I hoped to accomplish was to biblically define the "job description" of the pastor and deacons. *I went through the pastoral epistles and obviously Acts 6 and Eph 4 for the pastor and listed the things Paul told Timothy and Titus to do. The committee felt it gave me too much authority. As for deacons I went through Acts and showed them what the deacons did(not much listed). They stuck with the traditional job descriptions we see in most churches. We must teach them, and encourage them, and rebuke and reproof if needed. But ultimately the congregation has to want the pastor to function as God intended and not as their hired hand.

  8. It takes time to change an unhealthy or unbiblical church culture. If you decide to lead your church into an "equipping pastor" mode be sure to get buy in from your leadership and then begin the process. There will be early adopters, late adopters and non adopters so be ready for that. The older folks may need some hand holding through the process, and the pastor may have to phase it in over a number of years, but it will be worth it. Preach it, teach it and live it. It is worth the wait...

  9. Very true and very sad that this is what many churches and pastors believe. I have often wondered how will a pastor asnwer the Lord if he had to explain that he viewed the calling of his life as a career where he was hired by a church over living his life for God where he had to totally trust in the Lord to supply his needs.

  10. Good article ---- Many consumers don't want to be equipped to do anything. They already have their life planned out for themselves. They simply want to fit in the hour or two of God, 3 times a month. This is their level of commitment to the local body. Bottom line in American society, there are too many better options than church that don't require that much effort. We are a lazy generation to be sure.... and so if we can pay someone to mow our lawn we do so, to educate our kids we do so, and to live the Christian life for us, we do so.... we abdicate our responsibility and then complain about the results not being what we would like to see....

  11. Brother, for many of my early ministry years I was afraid to do anything that the church did not like or want. In fact, I worked lots of hrs as a bi-vocational and did everything by myself alongside my wife for fear of being fired as many churches tend to hold that over your head. Finally I decided by the Grace of God, I would do whatever God wanted of me despite the fear of being fired. I told them you either fire me or allow me to do what God wants.
    They did not like it and some forced me out but others adjusted their attitudes. For nearly 20 years now, I have enjoyed most of the years God has graced me with to serve Him.

  12. I believe that one of the most neglected assets that we have is the privilege of fellowship with other pastors. This blog is a great example of that being done.
    It lets you hear what others are thinking,
    lets you express your own thinking,
    lets you ask questions,
    lets you give answers,
    and takes so little of your time.
    WOW !
    Thanks Terry for this awesome blog . . .