O To Be Useful!

It is a great privilege to be involved in pastoral settlement. I get to work with pastoral candidates and search committees on a variety of levels.

In a recent conversation with someone who has similar responsibilities in another denomination, he stated he often meets people who quickly state they are gifted in preaching and pastoral care. In response to such an admission the denominational leader sometimes replies, “So what do you do that’s useful?”

That may sound like a cynical statement, which at times it might be, but there is some insight here with the changing role of pastoral ministry. If we go back sixty years ago, pastors were often among the most educated in a community, among the few brave enough to speak publicly, among the few with the resources of good materials for Biblical research, and among the few with inter-church relationships. Bring that forward to 2015 and we have on average more educated inter-connected congregants, people raised to speak their mind with less fear of public speaking, people with access on their smartphones to excellent Biblical resources, and people with a broader understanding of the Christian church beyond the walls of their own church. I can add to that list the broad availability of knowledge and teaching which is online, on television, on the internet, and in a plethora of books and podcasts. The average congregant now has the potential to be less uninformed about less and less.

Church families need preaching and pastoral care, but those giftings are not found only in the paid pastoral role. Seldom does a church approach me for pulpit supply while their pastor is away on holiday. More and more there are budding preachers within the congregation itself eager to share what God has revealed to them. Many churches also coordinate their pastoral care around a few volunteers willing to give their time for such efforts.

As churches grow they often look for individuals who are able to lead teams, or are gifted in administration, or are able to form local missional outreaches, or are able to motivate toward a specific meaningful ministry. A unique track-record with these skills can pique the interest of a search committee. Not to take this away from anyone, but pastoral care by an educated, skilled pastor is rather expensive if one looks through the lens the hourly wage. For those around 50 and under, time is a particularly important commodity, so visiting for the sake of visiting is not like those who are elderly who had the tradition of a pastor stopping by from time to time. Each church and pastor needs to devise what works well for them in this area.

For those in pastoral ministry or in church leadership positons, it will be helpful in the future if we all enhance our skills and develop new ones. The church needs equippers, encouragers, administrators, motivators, outreach workers, servants of the poor, strategists to reach target ministry groups, youth workers, crisis workers, friends of immigrants, evangelists of all types, hospitality specialists, and manual labourers.

May God give us all a sense of what He has called us to be and to do, and might we have the freedom to use our unique gifts!