What tools must be in every pastor’s toolbox? What skills must he possess? Or to put it baldly: what must a pastor do reasonably well to be a good pastor?
Notice what I’m not asking. I’m not asking about the theology of the pastor. Or the pastor’s personal holiness. These are both essential, more important than particular gifting. Every pastor must keep a close watch on his life and his doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). But what must a pastor do? That’s the subject of this post.
In other words, let’s assume the first two C’s are in good shape (Character and Convictions). What is required by the third C–Competence?
The following is not an exhaustive list, and I certainly don’t claim to be excellent in each area. But from my experience, a local church pastor–I’m thinking in particular of the role of “senior pastor” or solo pastor–must be competent in five areas.
1. A pastor must be able to teach. One of the few differences in the qualifications for elders and deacons, and the only skill in the list, is that an elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). If the elder is the senior or solo pastor he will labor especially in preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17). Churches will put up with a variety of deficiencies, but most churches will quickly grow impatient with a pastor who can’t teach.
Granted, teaching and preaching are skills we develop over time, so it can be hard to determine if a young man is “apt to teach.” But certainly before someone enters the ministry he should be able to communicate the word of God with some measure of confidence and clarity.
A few things to look for:
- Does he like teaching? If he doesn’t like it, he won’t get better at it.
- Can he communicate with children? It would be great training, and a wonderful proving ground, for pastors to teach first graders before they enter full-time ministry. Good teachers know how to make deep truths understandable. Conversely, if you make simple things confusing, you may not have the gift of teaching, not yet.
- Does he like to read? Some pastors read a lot. Others will read slowly or not as often. But if a pastor doesn’t like to read (assuming he has access to good resources), it will be hard for him to grow in depth and breadth of insight. If a pastor isn’t hungry to learn, he probably won’t help others learn.
2. A pastor must be able to relate to people. There are many ways for a pastor to connect with people. He could thrive on hospital visitation, or enjoy one-on-one mentoring, or excel at leading a small group, or work hard at engaging the staff. There will always be people around in ministry, and a good pastor must make an effort to be around at least some of those people.
Relationships take many forms. You could be a gregarious extroverted pastor or a pondering introvert. Some of us are good with chit-chat. Others loathe it and prefer an intimate quiet setting with one other person. I’m definitely not saying pastoral ministry is just for the out-going. But if a man cannot deal kindly, gently, and not-too-awkwardly with people, he should think twice about being a pastor.
One good question to consider: does this man make friends easily? I’d hesitate to call a pastor who struggles to make or keep friends.
3. A pastor must be able lead. This one is tricky. By “lead” I don’t mean every pastor must be an entrepreneurial go-getter. But a pastor must be someone with followers. He must be willing to take a stand, to be unpopular at times. He needs a spine and the ability to make tough decisions. If a man needs to be liked by everyone all the time, he’s not ready to be a pastor. A pastor must not be afraid to influence. And if he is not a bold visionary, the pastor must be the kind of leader who empowers others with more pronounced leadership gifts.
4. A pastor must stay relatively organized or surround himself with those who can do this for him. I wanted to use the word “administration” for this one, but I decided against it for fear of being misunderstood. I don’t think pastors need to be administrative gurus. In fact, I imagine no one has ever entered seminary with the dream that he might one day be able to keep a church running smoothly. Administration is not what ministry is about, at least not what it should be about.
But there’s no way around it: a pastor must have some basic organization skill. He can’t forget appointments all the time or show up late to every elder’s meetings. He needs to return phone calls and understand how a meeting is run. Of course, we all forget things. We all drop the ball from time to time. Being a pastor does not require omniscience or omnicompetence. But we must be responsible. Right or wrong, your church may not notice right away if you’ve stopped being with people or if you can’t lead, but the congregation will notice quickly if you are not dependable.
Basic administrative competence is required for pastoral ministry in North America. If you don’t have it as a pastor, find the people who do and let them take care of you.
5. A pastor must pray. If this tool gets rusty, no one will know. At least not at first. It is impossible to survive as a pastor without the other four skills. But, sadly, it is easy to survive, even thrive, without this one. But the pastor that can thrive without prayer is not the pastor I want, nor the pastor I want to be. We can accomplish a lot on our own, but the stuff that really matters requires prayer because it requires God. A man who does not pray should not preach.
As you can tell, these five competencies are not equal in importance. 1, 2, and 5 are essential and should be the focus of ministry. 3 and 4 can be fudged a little, but cannot be ignored. In my experience, all five abilities are necessary for pastoral ministry in the United States. Some pastors will be excellent in several categories. Some will be very good in one and pretty good in the others. No pastor will be a model in all five areas. But if I were evaluating a seminary student about to enter the ministry, or if I were in a church looking for a pastor, I’d want to see basic competence in each category.