On Pastoral Work

Okay. I’ll admit it. I’m a pastor. It is what I do. It is who I am. I can’t get away from it. Every Monday morning I get up and I start the week doing the work of a pastor. I know I’m not alone. There are a lot of pastors out there. Perhaps you are one…or know one. But what does it mean to be a pastor? What is our work really about? How do we know when we are doing the work of a pastor? How do we know if we are doing the work of the pastor?

The Book of Discipline has some things to say about pastoral work. Even though pastors are ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order and Service there are many things that potentially includes. Here is what 2004 Book of Discipline says (I’ve condensed some of this so it isn’t ‘word for word’ but it does include all of the responsibilities listed in paragraph 340):

  • Word
    • Preach, lead in worship, read and teach the scripture and engage the people in study and witness
      • Ensure faithful transmission of the Christian faith
      • Lead people in discipleship and evangelistic outreach
    • Counsel persons with personal, ethical, or spiritual struggles
    • Perform the ecclesial acts of marriage and burial
      • perform marriages after due counsel in accordance with state laws and rules of the UMC.
      • With funerals/memorials provide care and grief counseling
    • Visit in the homes of the church and community, especially the sick, aged, imprisoned, and others in need
    • Maintain all confidences inviolate except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, or in cases where mandatory reporting is required by civil law.
  • Sacrament
    • Administer the sacraments of baptism and the Supper of the Lord according to Christ’s ordinance
      • Prepare the parents and sponsors before baptizing infants or children, and instruct them concerning the sacrament’s significance and their responsibilities.
      • Encourage reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant and renewal of baptismal vows at different stages of life
      • Encourage people baptized in infancy or early childhood to make their profession of faith, after instruction, so that they might become professing members of the church
      • Explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and to encourage regular participation as a means of grace to grow in faith and holiness
      • To select and train others to serve the consecrated communion elements
    • Encourage the private and congregational use of the other means of grace
  • Order
    • To be the administrative officer of the local church and to assure that the organizational concerns of the congregation are adequately provided for
      • To give pastoral support, guidance, and training to the lay leadership, equipping them to fulfill the ministry to which they are called
      • To give oversight to the educational program of the church and encourage the use of United Methodist literature and media
      • To be responsible for organizational faithfulness, goal setting, planning and evaluation.
      • To search out and counsel men and women fo rthe ministry of deacons, elders, local pastors and other church related ministries.
    • To administer the temporal affairs of the church in their appointment, to the annual conference, and the general church
      • To administer the provisions of the Discipline
      • To give an account of their pastoral ministries to the charge and annual conference according to the prescribed forms
      • To provide leadership for the funding ministry of the congregation
      • To promote faithful, financial stewardship and to encourage giving as a spiritual discipline
      • To lead the congregation in the fulfillment of its mission through full and faithful payment of all apportioned ministerial support, administrative, and benevolent funds
      • To care for all church records and local church financial obligations, and certify the accuracy of all financial, membership, and any other reports submitted by the local church to the annual conference for use in apportioning costs back to the church
    • To participate in denominational and conference programs and training opportunities
      • To seek out opportunities for cooperative ministries with other United Methodist pastors and churches
      • To be willing to assume supervisory responsibilities within the connection
    • To lead the congregation in racial and ethnic inclusiveness
  • Service
    • To embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministries and servant leadership
    • To give diligent pastoral leadership in ordering the life of the congregation for discipleship in the world
    • To build the body of Christ as a caring and giving community, extending the ministry of Christ to the world
    • To participate in community, ecumenical and inter-religious concerns and to encourage the people to become so involved and to pray and labor for the unity of the Christian community.

That is quite a list. It is important to notice that while there are many responsibilities, they also vary greatly. For example: Pastors are supposed to be counselors and administrators along with teachers and in some respect scholars. Added to those four roles, pastors are also to be able to communicate, that is preach, effectively. Is it any wonder why pastors can find their task challenging and at times frustrating. I also wonder if there is any one person who can adequately, let a lone successfully, fulfill all of the varied roles.

Yet, there is another aspect to pastoral work. The Discipline can say all it wants about pastoral roles, but most pastors believe they also have a calling from God. One of my wonders is whether it is possible for one person to be all the Discipline calls him or her to be and all God calls that person to be. Is it possible that if a person fulfills the calling of the Discipline they may fail their calling of God? How can one know? How can a pastor know he or she is being faithful rather than shirking his or her responsibilities?

It would be easy for a pastor to get by with doing little or not much at all. Most pastors don’t have anyone holding them accountable for how they spend their time. While some pastors spend as much as twenty hours on sermon preparation, others could just ‘wing’ it. There may be a segment of pastors who know that and exploit it for their benefit. That being said, I find the vast majority of pastors have a strong work ethic and probably do more than their congregation ever knows about. They are diligent workers because they are trying to please their Lord.

I’m planning on posting several articles exploring what it means to be a pastor. I want to explore the ambiguity, difficulties, loneliness, joy, struggle, emotions that are connected with being a 21st century pastor. These articles will be my perspective and opinions. You can feel free to disagree and you probably will. I am also interested in your experiences, thoughts, opinion and stories. How are you doing in ministry? Is it a joy or burden? Are you doing well, or are you struggling? I don’t plan on posting anything you send to me unless you give me specific permission to do so.

If you comment on this article it could begin a conversations.

The next article in this series will be Pastors and Expectations.

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