It’s a job description that even Superman might think twice about: executive, counselor, soldier, manager, coach, teacher, legal expert, friend, master of ceremonies and, at times, construction worker and janitor. Who could possibly be expected to do these things as part of a normal routine? The local pastor! Maybe he didn’t bargain for all this. No doubt he feels inadequate. Sometimes he fails. But all of these areas of expertise are indeed part of a pastor’s job.
I once saw a cartoon picturing a small boy looking up at his pastor after church and saying, “What do you do with yourself the other days of the week?” Nearly every pastor would give much the same response: “If only you knew!” A pastor’s weekly routine includes these duties:
Executive. Important decisions must be reached as to church policy on a variety of issues. Sometimes policy is made in conjunction with boards and committees. At other times, decisions must be made on the spot with little time for consultation.
Counselor. Without a doubt, the most sought-after givers of advice and guidance are still the clergy. Pastors, priests and rabbis help millions every year, and usually do so for free. Did I hear something about clergy being mercenary?
Soldier. The Bible speaks of spiritual warfare involving people’s souls and the unseen forces of evil. Foremost in this conflict are often pastors who are regularly expected to be fearless, skillful in combat, slow to retreat. Our weapons are God’s word, persistence and prayer. Our ally, the Holy Spirit.
Manager. Every church, large or small, has a program. Programs can be as simple as the order of the Sunday worship service, or as complex as a full-blown Christian educational system. The pastor is usually a key figure in enabling these church programs to run smoothly.
Coach. Everyone needs someone to motivate and develop the important skills it takes to compete in the game of life. A minister is often one who stands on the sidelines providing pointers and encouragement to improve the individual and advance the team.
Teacher. The Bible is an amazing textbook on the realities of the world around us. It speaks of God and people; choices; attitudes and world-views. It brings a message of reconciliation between God and people through Christ. This supremely beneficial course is offered at your local church without tuition costs. The pastor is to teach this course material in a way that is interesting, relevant and in-depth.
Lawyer. The local clergy can also be counted on to come to the defense of their people in times of trouble. They visit the jails, write letters on parishioners’ behalf and argue the case for the gospel before the jury of the world.
Friend. Your pastor or minister is the one you expect to be concerned for you even when you haven’t been around for awhile. He is the one who will look you in the eye and tell it like it is–in love. He is the one who urges you to become more than you have been and to follow Christ wholeheartedly. It is this role in which the pastor often shines brightest.
Master of Ceremonies. He is the host, the comedian, the one who officiates at important events for you and your family. He must have the charm of the talk show host and the decorum of a head of state.
Oh yes—don’t forget the variety of other jobs which, in some churches, simply go with the position. It is not unusual for the pastor to clean a restroom or two, fold bulletins, work with youth, participate in a construction project and secure the building after services. While there are some exceptions, the Christian ministry is still an honorable profession. It is served, for the most part, by honorable men and women. Now more than ever, with the image of clergy tarnished by a few highly publicized bad apples, it is nice to know that you really can trust that amazing man behind the pulpit!
What is the hardest job in the world? This question is debated in workrooms, taverns and coffee shops around the world. One position which is usually overlooked but which should be considered as a serious contender for the honor is that of pastor’s wife. Living quietly in this world are a small company of women who are married to men in ministry of one type or another. They receive far too little credit for what they do. By the way, there are some men married to women in ministry who deserve some long-overdue recognition as well.
The pastor’s wife: you can often see her after worship, standing with her husband greeting people or sometimes visiting with scattered groups of folks. At other times these women are not seen because they are working in the nursery, recruiting volunteers or counseling privately with someone.
Wives of ministers come in all shapes and sizes: young and not-so-young; vivacious and reserved; creative and methodical, punctual or late; musical and tone-deaf. Some even play the piano. The proven truth is that a minister’s wife can make or break him. Men who survive in ministry almost always do so because their wives are supportive and regarded as an asset by the congregation.
So why do I insist that the job of a pastor’s wife is so hard? There is no labor union exposing the plight of these women; no news expose on the difficult life of a pastor’s wife. These women rarely complain. Most have achieved a level of excellence in which they go about their work with seeming effortlessness. So, most people never give their situation a second thought. That’s where I come in. I am married to a pastor’s wife, so I have special insight into what these dear women often must accomplish (pardon my excursions into exaggeration for effect).
First the pastor’s wife must maintain a level of spirituality at least equal with that of the most spiritual person in the congregation. She must be able to quote scripture with little hesitation on almost any subject. She must never have serious doubts about any article of faith cherished by her husband’s congregation. She must actually pray for the dozens of prayer requests she receives monthly. The ability to walk on water is helpful, but not required.
The pastor’s wife should be in reasonably good shape physically and should maintain a modestly attractive appearance. Her home must be neat and well-organized. Her cooking should be on a gourmet level with at least several dishes which are the favorites at church dinners. She must be cheerful about unexpected guests for dinner. She is to be an excellent manager of family finances, a smart shopper and able to hang pictures tastefully. At the same time she is never to draw attention to herself or her abilities. It is a good idea for Proverbs 31:10-31 to be prominently displayed somewhere in her house.
It goes without saying that she needs to raise near-perfect children. From her they should be learning respect, good manners, cleanliness, theology and perhaps even Hebrew and Greek. She should seriously consider homeschooling in order to ensure that her children are trained properly and not exposed to unduly harmful influences. The children should be able to sing or recite poetry to any group on short notice. They must earn excellent grades, never get in trouble, never bicker among themselves and never show disrespect to neighbors or members of the congregation.
The wife of a pastor often listens patiently to concerns and hurts of several people each week, while sharing her own inner life sparingly (if at all). She should be prepared to forego close friendships in the church for long periods. She should smile a lot. It is indespensible that she should know whose jokes to laugh at and whose humor to blush at. She must be willing to put in many hours of volunteer work in ministry only to have others get much of the credit. She has to be able to take constructive criticism with good humor, humility and a large grain of salt. She should never show anger; always be humble; never gossip. She should have the constitution of an ox, the hide of a rhinoceros and the disposition of a dove. She is to be the servant of all, yet find time to put her own life in perfect harmony—and maintain all of this over a lifetime.
Most importantly, this woman has to live with a very difficult man—the pastor. He is much in demand and often not home in the evenings or on weekends. She must be able to figure him out when he is unsure of himself and quietly support him when he is criticized or attacked. She must also tolerate him when his head is twice its normal size after a particularly good sermon. When he is tired or away, she is to keep the family together without a trace of bitterness.
Though not as extreme as this exaggerated description, the wife of a man in ministry is, without doubt, one tough job! My own marriage to one of these amazing women has given me some inside information on this unsung group of people. I thank God for my wife, Melinda. When she married me, she also married ministry. She is raising four amazing children, while serving alongside me. She is creative, attractive, intelligent, hard-working and the life of the party wherever she goes. Her singing is the envy of angels. I could not have done what I have been privileged to do without her. She makes me look very good. Thank you my dear.
I am confident that I speak for thousands of other men in ministry when I express my thanks to all these dear women who serve with us. As far as I am concerned, they deserve the award for the hardest job in the world!
The very nature of much of what we do in ministry is that it is often done by people who do not receive payment in the form of money, goods or services. In other words, most of the time, ministry is done by volunteers. Sometimes these volunteers are supervised by paid ministry staff; sometimes they are supervised by other volunteers. In either case, in order for volunteers to be successful in doing the work they are called and gifted to do, those who lead them must ensure that they are properly equipped, trained and motivated.
Equipment. Ministry requires certain facilities and tools. Such things as an adequate and comfortable space in which to do ministry, necessary supplies, technical equipment, etc. are essential to getting the job done.
Training. Much of the time, volunteers are inadequately trained to do ministry. Long term and effective ministry can only occur when people are properly prepared to serve. Conversely, inadequate preparation is a recipe for frustration and possible disaster.
• Volunteers should be given adequate instruction in the whys, whats and hows of the job at hand.
• They need to understand who they are responsible to and how much authority they will have to carry out the details of their assignment.
• Periodic touching base with the ministry team provides opportunity to deal with issues and receive encouragement.
Motivation. While it is true that volunteers do not receive a paycheck for the ministry they do, they must receive some benefit from what they do or they will not serve for very long. Benefits that volunteers may receive (and that leaders can help them enjoy) include:
• A sense of having pleased the Lord by serving faithfully
• Being a valued part of a ministry team and / or church family
• Seeing at least some portions of the work done with excellence
• Appreciation from those they serve
• Occasional “serendipities” (cards, small gifts, doing lunch, get-togethers, etc.)
This is a ” tongue-in-cheek” list of pastoral duties and character qualities intended to emphasize the huge load carried by many men and women in ministry from across the spectrum of denominations, venues and locations. Hats off to my colleagues who faithfully serve through the ups and downs of ministry life. Obviously some of these points are a bit exaggerated. Reactions are welcome.
1. Preach at least forty-eight Sundays per year. Sermons must regularly touch both the long-standing Christian and the novice. Preaching must always have an evangelistic emphasis and end with an invitation.
2. Monitor and approve all music related to the worship service.
3. Lead worship as needed.
4. Officiate at communion.
5. Meet regularly with the church governing board.
6. Teach a weekly Bible study that is both challenging and practical and yet not controversial.
7. Oversee all church staff. Consult with the board and other key leaders in significant matters relating to church staff.
8. Assure the vitality and growth of the Christian education program.
9. Oversee the development of a relevant and aggressive youth program.
10. Work with families in crisis.
11. Serve as an ex officio member of all boards and committees.
12. Faithfully visit church elderly and shut-ins.
13. Enthusiastically lead the church in missions awareness and participation.
14. Teach effectively and regularly on financial giving.
15. Lead in the formulation and implementation of visionary church goals, while guarding against trendy, worldly or unrealistic ideas.
16. Conduct funeral services for members of the church, their family and close friends as requested. The pastor will contact the bereaved as soon as possible and meet with them prior to the service to finalize arrangements.
17. Conduct weddings, child dedications, baptisms, etc. as requested by church members and their extended networks.
18. Help in the recruitment of board members and other church leaders. The pastor will also train the key leaders of the church in their tasks and regularly motivate them to fulfill their duties faithfully and cheerfully. He is to be an unswerving supporter of the board.
19. Be present at all significant church functions (the pastor is responsible for knowing which functions are significant and which are not).
20. Visit members in the hospital and provide information concerning the status of any member, their extended families or close friends who may be ill.
21. Have a list of potential outside contacts to invite to church as well as a list of potential members among those who have recently visited.
22. Encourage participation in community events which are compatible with the church’s ministry and doctrinal position. Be aware of events which are not in line with church positions.
23. Be an acknowledged Bible scholar, and yet preach and teach simply and straightforwardly with only occasional references to biblical languages and ancient culture.
24. Publish and keep regular office hours, while at the same time maintaining the flexibility to respond at a moment’s notice to crises (real or perceived).
25. Present vacation plans for board approval at least three months in advance.
26. Cheerfully accept almost any annual salary package offered by the budget committee.
27. Effectively raise funds for church projects.
28. Actively participate in church building projects and work days. The pastor must encourage his or her family to do so as well.
29. The pastor must not become discouraged by low attendance at services on the part of the congregation.
30. Be prepared to cancel or rearrange days off as the needs of the flock may dictate.
31. Maintain an exemplary Christian family life.
32. The pastor must never defend himself or his family against criticism or attack, but must prayerfully consider whether any part of the criticism may be valid.
33. Maintain a lifestyle which appears to be modestly affluent, while modeling frugal living for the congregation.
34. Wear the skin of a rhinoceros when it comes to personal attack, but cultivate sensitivity to the beliefs and feelings of others.
This only slightly exaggerated list is actually a fairly accurate description of pastoral life in many small to medium-sized congregations and parachurch ministries in North America. Some would describe it as a recipe for a premature death certificate. What do you think?
* This list contains some ideas from Rest in the Storm: Self care Strategies for Clergy and other Caregivers.