What Does a Pastor Do?
If you are fortunate enough to have a job, then you probably also have a job description.
A job description outlines what is expected of a person in a position of employment: “When at work, these are your duties, the various tasks that you are responsible for. Here are the requirements that you need to meet.”
A job description is helpful in providing direction and focus for your work, and hopefully in preventing you from becoming overloaded with additional duties. Whatever your task, whether a stay-at-home mom, an employee in a fast food restaurant, a carpenter’s assistant, or an accountant, it is beneficial to have a clear idea of what the expectations are for your daily work.
It is little different for a Christian pastor, yet this is an occupation that has often been saddled with a job description that is unhelpfully vague and ill-defined—if there is a job description at all! Even when a pastor’s basic duties are outlined in a book of church order or mentioned during an ordination service, there can remain an impenetrable aura of mystery around what a pastor does.
In the past, children in my congregations have asked me in all seriousness, “So, what do you do all week?” They saw me at church for a couple hours every Sunday, but wondered how I filled the other six days.
These are important questions for a pastor to reflect on:
What ministerial activities should have my attention?
How do I set the priorities for my work?
What am I really supposed to be doing?
For, to be sure, a pastor who is very busy every day is not necessarily a pastor who is working effectively or intentionally. Without a firm sense of his duties, a pastor could waste a lot of time on frivolous or peripheral activities, and he could neglect the work that is necessary for the congregation’s spiritual well-being. In the same way, it is helpful for a congregation to be clear on just what their pastor is supposed to be doing among them from week to week.
It is precisely this issue that Paul addresses in 2 Corinthians. He is writing this letter as the “part-time pastor” or adjunct minister of the church at Corinth. Having first preached the gospel to the Corinthians, Paul continued to be involved with these believers through periodic visits and letters.
Paul and this congregation once enjoyed times of mutual blessing when he labored among them and they gladly received his preaching and pastoring. But such happy days were a fading memory, for the Corinthians had changed their expectations for him and his ministry while comparing him with ministers who were seemingly more capable. Some people in the church were now concluding that Paul was not up to the task. In this letter he defends himself against their allegations and criticisms, while also teaching them about the true job description of a gospel minister.
And importantly, he is trying to persuade the Corinthians to take a view of ministry that is consistent with the true message of the cross of Christ. He desires that the Corinthians will come to appreciate his pastoral view of them, that he loved and cherished them (1:13-14):
Now I trust you will understand, even to the end (as also you have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus.
As Paul explains the nature of his ministry to the Corinthians, he employs a few key terms that collectively describe his identity. He sees himself as an apostle commissioned by Christ, as an ambassador sent by God, and as a slave of the churches for Jesus’s sake. Each of these terms conveys a different aspect of his work, and together they provide insight into Paul’s understanding of his pastoral labors among the various congregations that he established.
Through Paul’s portrait of ministerial identity, the Holy Spirit focuses our attention on what is most important for pastors today:
· For whom is your daily work as pastor being done? If you have the conviction that it was Christ who called and sent you, are you laboring for Him?
· As you work, what is your ultimate desire for the congregation? Do you long to see people reconciled to God through faith in Christ Jesus?
· In what spirit are your labors in the church being carried out? Are you a humble and dedicated servant of the congregation for Jesus’s sake?
[Excerpted from my forthcoming book Weak Pastor, Strong Christ]