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   the roles of a pastor

by Rev. Frank Schaefer

One Protestant church recently posted an opening for a senior pastor's position, boldly stating a long list of characteristics: "We want a Pastor who is well-organized, dynamic and youthful in outlook: one who is not afraid of innovative ideas or of risk taking; one who takes strength from and is strong in preaching and teaching the Word; one who is open and inventive, able to find new and different ways to worship God. Our Pastor will look for ways to develop consensus . . . "

Realizing, perhaps, that these characteristics sounded much like a description of Superman, the pulpit committee added a note at the bottom that read:

"The ability to walk on water would be nice, but is not required."

This may be humorous because it often rings true in parish life: a minister is often expected to be all things to all people, and do all things with near perfection.

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More so than any other professional, the minister needs flexibility for there are many hats pastors wear throughout any given working week, ranging from administrator over educator to counselor, etc.

In the following discourse we will look at some of those roles clergy need to fulfill and how the variety of roles might affect the performance and life of a minister. First, let us identify some pastoral roles.

A Biblical Perspective on the Roles of a Pastor in the Faith Community:

1. evangelism / missions ("making disciples of all nations" Matthew 28: 19)
2. administering the sacraments ( "baptize them . . ." Matthew 28: 19)
3. teaching  ("teaching them" Matthew. 28:19; "and teaching" 2Tm 4:2)
4. preaching  ("preach the word" 2 Tm 4:2, "feed my sheep" Ez 34:2)
5. pastoral care / healing ("heal the sick / bandage the hurt
" Ez 34:4)
6. social outreach ("strengthen the feeble" Ez 34:4)

From Acts 6:1-7 we can extrapolate two more pastoral roles (the appointment of deacons to help distribute aide):
7. lay empowerment
8. administration

Additional Roles
As though these were not enough hats to wear, there are often more roles to be assumed by pastors--of a social, political, and secretarial kind.  An example is the small church setting, where pastors are known to be treasurer, secretary, janitor, etc. in addition to the traditional pastoral roles.

The Minister on the Pedestal
Many scriptural passages suggest that a pastor ought to be a role model in the community, married to one spouse, have control over their children, demonstrate an attitude of wisdom, temperance, respect for elders, etc. This scriptural requirement has doubtlessly over the centuries contributed to the idealization of ministers.  Being on such a pedestal in the public eye could be seen as a role in its own right.

All of these roles are very important and exert an enormous pressure on the minister, not least because the minister is expected to have the right words at the right time at all times--speaking with the voice of God.

Next, I would like to highlight some challenges that ministers face as they attempt to juggle all these roles in addition to being family members and . . . themselves.


Pastors face several challenges given the multitude of roles they have to assume.  First, the multitude of roles represent various jobs which require more time than is available. Consequently, ministers never feel that their job is done, or done satisfactorily.  This often results in a feeling of inadequacy which is heightened by the idealization of the office and person of the pastor.

Secondly, ministers often suffer from a low self-esteem partially because the assumption of different roles often challenges a person to be just themselves.  This can bring on a crisis of integrity and identity.   The professional "role play" 8-10 hours per day can easily eclipse a minister's personal self-understanding, especially in light of the fact that ministers are on call 24/7 and must be able to slip into a pastoral role on the ring of a cell phone.   In extreme cases, this can lead to role and identity confusion.

Not surprisingly, a Fuller Institute of Church Growth survey (1991) shows the following results of interviews with ministers from various denominations:

  • 90% work more than 46 hours a week
  • 50% felt themselves unable to meet the needs of the job
  • 90% felt inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
  • 70% say they have a lower self esteem now compared to when they started in ministry
  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend

What advice can we give?  What can a minister do to alleviate the pressures and the stress that comes with having to assume multiple "God-roles?"

I don't purport to be an authority on this issue, but there are a few things I found helpful during my ministry years:

  • Keep strict boundaries--make good use of vacation times and days off
  • Let your guard down, try to be yourself when you're around family and friends
  • Don't be afraid to let your personality shine through in your pastoral roles (this will encourage a feeling of integrity)
  • Try to read the Scriptures and devotional literature without thinking: "how does this preach?"
  • At the end of the day, tell yourself: "I did the best I could do and that is all God asks of me (it may be less than what parishioners ask of you--but never mind that!)"

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