Now, I've really only worked a few jobs over the course of my life. In high school, I cut lawns on the weekend, dragging my dad's push mower down our long dirt road and knocking on the doors of the elderly neighbors in the hopes that I would earn at least $10 a yard. Later, I worked in the shop of an industrial pump company. In college, I worked at a car wash, served as a custodian for a couple of churches, and even painted houses with a professional painting team. Along the journey of being in full-time ministry, I have also been a school teacher, a Dean of Students, and a campus pastor. In fact, most of my other work experience is in the church world. This disqualifies me from saying that my current "job" is the hardest or "dirtiest" job in America. After all, I've never been the captain of a nuclear submarine, a brain surgeon, an air traffic controller, or an SEC college football coach, all of which seem like very intense positions.
However, I have been a full time pastor for over 30 years. Working through the ranks, I started out as a youth pastor — with a rather impressive salary of $35/month — and then went on to serve at a Christian church, a Missionary Alliance church, Baptist churches and Independent churches.
There was a time in our country when being a pastor was far easier than it is today. There was a time in America when being a minister of any level at a church was easier than it is today. The calling of a pastor is a truly amazing thing. God chooses a man — foolish, weak, without much power or honor (1 Corinthians 1:26-30) — to lead, train, and disciple a fold full of similar sheep, in order to change the world and to live out Kingdom values. He is supposed to build up a body of Christ-followers so that they will deny themselves, die to themselves, and proclaim Christ's death, burial, and resurrection to their community. (Luke 9:23-24, 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
As our culture has slowly fallen away from the traditional Judeo-Christian values — and fallen deeper into the bowels of humanism — ministry efforts, responsibilities, and procedures have changed. And not just a little. Allow me to give you some examples. One of the easiest ways to explain this is to think about how a music minister's role, even at a small country church, has changed. In the 1970's and '80's and '90's, a worship pastor at a small church only needed to know about one-third of the hymns in the pew hymnal and learn a few "specials" that were becoming popular on Christian radio. In fact, when the music minister arrived at church on Sundays, he could simply stand next to the pianist about 40 minutes before the service, pick three hymns for the day, and maybe select the two needed for the evening service. The "work" for the week was in teaching the church choir the "offertory" song that would be sung each Sunday. This was usually rehearsed on a Wednesday evening. Sixty-percent of the time, this "special" was also a hymn (usually one that was not quite as common among the congregation.) Moreover, the music minister did not necessarily need to play an instrument himself.
Music leaders today, though, have a dramatically different role. Each week, 20 to 30 great worship songs are written, published, recorded and promoted on radio and every form of social media. Music leaders have to evaluate song keys and singers. He has to be able to able to work with a band, sound system problems, staging challenges, and a wide array of vocalists. He has to pre-select music for themed services, mix music with media presentations, and juggle which singer is leading verses as supporting singers. It's not nearly the same job that it used to be!
In the past (back when I was a teenager, longing to follow in the footsteps of my pastor David J. Jones), leading a church had a short list of responsibilities, most of which were expected by congregations. Here's a simple bullet list of ministers' roles back in the 1970's or 80's:
- Preaching Sunday morning and evening
- Teaching a devotional on Wednesday and leading prayer service
- Counseling families or teens who are wayward
- Performing marriages and funerals as needed
- Additional responsibilities might include driving kids to summer camp, teaching a Tuesday morning study group.
Today, a lead pastor at a small church has a vastly different role. Here are some of the things, in addition to the list above, that he must do in order to be effective as a good shepherd to his congregation:
- Study cultural trends and generational trends
- Study contemporary outreach methods
- Research local community needs and demographics
- Design Bible-based messages that appeal to the specific local community
- Evaluate hundreds of authors and online resources in order to protect his flock from false teaching.
- Counsel families (which has changed dramatically over the last 30 years thanks the collapse of the nuclear family in modern society.)
- Train committee and team leaders in cultural issues and Christian values
- Determine the specific vision for the church family and cast it in a compelling way in order to inspire families to serve.
- Build bridges between the generations (Millennial to Boomers and Busters, X, Y, Z's to Millennials and Boomers)
- Evaluate and/or create social media promotion for church
- Establish community presence for the church
- Evaluate and/or design media for messages
- Research videos for sermon illustrations (Millennials and Gen X need this.)
- Update personal social media with inspirational content, quotes, Scripture, etc.
- Develop and train young staff and volunteers
- Administer key teams and/or committees.
- Keep the music guy from running people off (Just kidding...sort of....)
And remember, all of this assumes that other key leaders are handling the building, finances, grounds, maintenance, budgets, etc. Otherwise, that falls on the pastor's shoulders as well.
If I thought harder, I could likely make this list much longer. In fact, if you're a fellow minister, you're welcome to add to it in the comment section below. I would love to see what I've left off. Small churches like the one where I serve often require a lot from a pastor. Excellence in ministry requires a lot from a pastor. I am writing all of this down, not as a complaint, but because I love my work responsibilities and my calling. However, I believe that, at times, the average congregation forgets what a pastor is really trying to accomplish and how cultural shifts dramatically change the role of any good minister. Ministers who just want to "coast" through life will be able to work off the first bullet point list and likely do some good at a small church. Ministers who really want the church to be a beacon of grace and hope in a dark and dying world will need to work through most of the second list on a weekly basis.
I know for a fact that it's never been harder to move a fellowship of Christ-followers toward ministry and service and full devotion to Christ our Savior. If you're a pastor, I know it has never been more complicated and challenging to preach and teach the glorious and life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that is effective and inspiring (Acts 20:24). If you're a pastor, I know it has never been harder to care for the souls of of those who you serve (Hebrews 13:17). I would encourage you to guard your heart and soul with rich doses of the Word. Find sweet fellowship with Christ first before trying to understand or lead your fold. Let Christ be your leader as the head of the Church and work to be a good "under-shepherd" caring well for the fold that has been entrusted to you.
If you need some encouragement, reach out to my team at 614ministries.org.
If you are a church member, lay-leader, or volunteer at your church, bless you and your kind. Serve your pastor. Honor his efforts. Stand alongside him and help. Remember, he has a very hard job. Perhaps the hardest in America.