What I expect of a pastor

In February we published Lawrence Downing s article as to what he, as a pastor, expects of a conference administrator. In this article Philip Follett gives the complementary view what he, as an administrator, expects of a pastor. He discusses what he expects a pastor to be, what he expects him to do, and he indicates some of the means by which he measures the pastor's performance.

Philip Follett is president of the Northern California Conference of Seventhday Adventists.

A young man just returned from the Seminary asked for an appointment. "What do you expect of me?" he inquired. I've been watching some of the other pastors, and I wonder if I can match their performance. I believe God called me to the ministry, and I'm convinced that I can be an effective pastor. But I want to know if I can meet the expectations you have of me in this conference."

That was a wise young man. His very asking of that question impressed me positively. Many of us are not brave enough, or secure enough, to voice such a question openly.

Of one thing we can be certain: Everyone has expectations of us. And everyone discusses them with other people. After a Sabbath morning sermon, church members talk about how well we met their expectations. Fellow pastors discuss what they expect from their peers. Conference office personnel talk about what they want to see from pastors, just as pastors share with each other what they need and expect from conference office staff.

MINISTRY has asked me to share what I expect of a pastor. That question is difficult to answer because it is so broad. I have different expectations of a pastor of a large institutional church than I have of a pastor of a district of two small churches. Because every church differs, as does every pastor, I must adapt my expectations of each.

Generally, I expect a pastor to be (and I believe he also wants to be) faithful, competent, well-rounded, and growing.

A faithful minister has a consistent dedication to God, His church, and the ministry. Church boards frequently ask about a prospective pastor, "Is he spiritual?" My answer is, "What do you mean?" To some people the word spiritual seems to refer to a mystical aura that is hard to define. I believe that the spiritual person is thoroughly dedicated to God and His service, that he places God's will above personal advantage, and that he loves God's Word and seeks to live by its principles.

A faithful pastor loves God's church and seeks its good always. "Christ . . . loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:25). Husbands are admonished to relate to their wives as Christ does to His church. That requires an attitude of respect, protective nurture, and care. While it is our responsibility to protect the church from being wronged or mistreated, we must be cautious lest our zeal to correct mistakes results in harm rather than healing. I expect a pastor to build up the church of God.

I expect pastors to function as members of a team, not as loners. Pastors need to develop a spirit of collegiality, a willingness to build each other, and they need to have enough security in their own work so that they can learn and benefit from one another's strengths. A strong pastor refuses to join in criticism that undermines his fellow pastors or other church leaders. I see his participation in, and attitude toward, workers' meetings as one index of his relationship with his fellow pastors.

I expect pastors to be competent in their practice of ministry. Our church members sometimes have the impression that those who have been employed as ministers feel that the church owes them a job until retirement regardless of their competence (or lack thereof). Laypersons who serve on committees of the church voice concern about our protecting incompetence in both office personnel and pastors. We must perform our work effectively if we want continued support by our members.

Pastors should be competent in preaching, soul winning, teaching, leading in worship, counseling, relating to people, planning, organizing, and leading a congregation—the list goes on and on. Which of these skills is most important? Different assignments require a different mix of skills. The pastor must be sensitive to his members and his own abilities in order to have the proper emphasis in his current assignment.

No pastor can function well for long unless he develops personal study skills and time-management ability. One of the most frustrating decisions for beginning pastors to make is how they will utilize their time, particularly how they will protect time for personal study. In school, bells and class schedules ruled their lives. In their first district they quickly learn that they have no one to tell them when to study, when to visit, when to plan, and when to give Bible studies. They must plan their own program, follow that plan, and maintain proper priorities. Some degree of frustration over that responsibility will probably continue throughout their lives!

A pastor does not become effective just by accumulating a series of skills. How he exercises these skills for the upbuilding of the church is the real measure of his ministry. This requires sanctified, sound judgment. That quality of judgment leads the pastor to exercise flexibility without compromising principle. A pastor who is too idealistic becomes unyielding and loses his ability to lead his congregation. On the other hand, one who reflects only the opinions and convictions of influential members loses the respect of spiritual leaders.

I want a pastor to be well rounded in his life. A pastor should give proper attention to his family, his personal needs, and all of life around him. His companion and children should know him as one who is interested in them and who meets their needs. A wholesome sense of humor is an asset. While he should be serious, a pastor should be fun to live with.

A pastor should not be closed off from his community and its concerns. He can contribute more if he has some interests apart from the books in his study. Jesus immersed Himself in all of life. His teaching reflected His acquaintance with farming, fishing, marketing, and finances. A pastor who is willing to share in the life of the people he serves will be better able to lead those people to Jesus.

As long as he lives, I expect a pastor to keep growing. I admire a pastor who is never satisfied with his present effectiveness, who is constantly taking steps to improve his skills and relationships. He sets goals for himself and works to achieve them.

Thus far I have dealt with what I expect a pastor to be. What do I expect in terms of his performance? God desires the church "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). Accomplishing this goal requires the church to serve its community, to lead people to commit their lives to Christ and His church, and to nurture and train believers in witnessing and service. The pastor should evaluate all of his activities and functions—preaching, teaching, counseling, and leading—in terms of their effectiveness in accomplishing this purpose. His primary task is to develop the congregation into a redemptive community in which Christ's life and will are known and practiced and from which people reach out to others with the message of His salvation. In accomplishing this task, he himself ministers, and he facilitates the ministries of his fellow believers.

In view of this, I expect a pastor to nurture the unity and brotherhood of the members of his congregation. I expect him by his own activity and through the ministries of his church to teach God's Word and lead people to make decisions for baptism. 1 expect him to nurture the personal lives and community spirit of the believers so that they will grow in Christ and become active in service for Him.

How do I measure the performance of a pastor? Not by any single criterion. One cannot easily measure the spiritual strength of a congregation. A healthy church has a good feeling of joy, optimism, togetherness, and commitment. And loyalty to Christ and His message should be evident. Statistics help reveal a church's health because they frequently reflect the spirit and involvement of a congregation. Worship service attendance, baptisms, financial giving, the reclaiming of inactive members, and total membership may all be indicators of the spiritual well-being of the church. For that reason the good pastor-shepherd counts the sheep and searches carefully after any that is missing.

Every year in our conference we ask pastors and lay leaders to establish objectives toward which their congregations work during the coming twelve months, and to develop plans for reaching these objectives. Something of a pastor's effectiveness is revealed as we review these targets with him and measure the church's work for that year against the objectives.

When I talk with pastors returning from the Seminary, I express one more expectation—I expect every pastor to make some mistakes. No one person can be and accomplish all that a pastor wants to. Because I know that I have limitations, I cannot expect any pastor to be without them. I am more concerned with how he handles his limitations and mistakes and how he learns from them than I am with whether he makes them. I want him always to feel secure in sharing with me the mistakes he has made, and I want to deserve his trust by helping him to grow as a result of that experience.

Pastoring is one of the most demanding, sometimes frustrating, yet deeply rewarding, experiences God has entrusted to humanity. My task is to be an enabler of pastors so that they can be more effective in their service and experience more satisfaction and joy in their lives. To that end I have expectations of pastors, but I also want deeply to meet their expectations of me. For as servants of Christ, we are all called to work together for the building up of the body of Christ.

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Philip Follett is president of the Northern California Conference of Seventhday Adventists.

April 1984

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