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16 Often Unknown Roles of a Pastor

By March 25, 2019Church, Leadership

This post is more real to me today than it was during my 16 years as a pastor.

Pastor, have you ever heard?

What is it you have to do when you’re not preaching?

Must be nice to only work one day a week.

I’d like to come see you this afternoon. Since it’s not Sunday I’m assuming you’re free.

Believe it or not, I’ve heard all of those. Most are simple misunderstandings. Sometimes people are just trying to be funny.

I must admit. It’s not always funny — not laugh out loud funny at least, because the jokes grew stale over time. They are still new to someone I suppose.

But when it was said as an indication that pastors have it “easy” it can even hurt. That’s probably true more for my pastor friends in smaller churches where they carry the weight of multiple staff positions and have more than one job.

What does a pastor do when not preaching?

That is a valid question. This is not meant to seem as a complaining post, but an informational post. You only know what you know. I don’t know what the doctor does when not seeing patients or all the things that teacher does when not in the classroom. Every job has its own responsibilities that are not clearly known until you do the job.

The answer for pastors is — they do lots of things. Lots. A day is seldom the same.

The pastor wears many hats. Some of them of which you may not even be aware.

Here are 16 often unknown roles of a pastor:

Counselor. All pastors do some counseling. Many pastors, I might add most pastors, are not qualified to do extensive counseling. They can’t commit the required time nor do they have the expertise. Still, some counseling is a part of nearly every pastor job.

Career Coach. One of the most frequent requests for my ministry help had to do with people’s career steps — from school to employment. I’ve heard similar from other pastors. Because work — or lack of work — greatly impacts a person’s life it is a huge part of the pastor’s life. In fact, I kept a file of people in our church who were looking for work or looking for someone to hire and opened it frequently.

Business Advisor. It may be because I have a business background, but I think it also comes with the role. Business leaders, especially self-employed business owners, want help discerning the right decisions. (I admire that about them.) One place business people consistently seek input from is the pastor.

Custodian. As pastor I couldn’t stand a piece of paper on the floor. If I saw a trash can overflowing I didn’t call someone – I did something about it. Most pastors I know want the facility ready when people arrive. So they do what they have to do. In fairness, I didn’t do much of this. Mine was more of a supervisory role. We had a large facility and an excellent team to keep it clean and ready. I do know pastors, however, that have to help on a larger role in facility maintenance or custodial care.

Arbitrator. I’ve stood between a few people before trying to work through division and build cooperation. It could be in a marriage or even been between business partners in the church. People often want a third-party objective and many times they look to the pastor for that role.

Social worker. I read a definition of social worker recently. They “seek to improve the quality of life and subjective well-being of individuals, families, couples, groups, and communities through research, policy, community organizing, direct practice, crisis intervention, and teaching.” Yea. That.

Volunteer coordinator. Every pastor must learn how to coordinate the efforts of different people, who communicate uniquely, and have their expectations of volunteer leadership.

Events manager. I need to be honest. I didn’t fill this one often, although I did have some responsibilities with events. I am not good at details and thankfully there were people in our church who could fulfill this role better than me. But most pastors, including me as a pastor, have responsibility for events at some level.

CEO. Let me be very clear that Jesus is the CEO of the church. (Some may argue Jesus is the owner and He left us to provide everyday leadership — under His direction.) If I get critics on this one criticism it will be because you misunderstand what I’m saying. Maybe on my ability to say it where you can interpret it. But make no mistake about it – the pastor is expected to lead so many aspects of the church. On every major decision of the church most churches want the input of the pastor. Regardless of the structure of the church it can feel very much like a CEO position. (And I’ve been one in my previous business career and serve there again now.) This was one of the larger uses of my “non-preaching” time. By the way, I have talked with dozens of pastors who don’t feel prepared for this role.

Fundraiser. Ministry takes money. And most of the church looks to the pastor to be the primary solicitor of contributions. (Honestly, it’s a huge burden to most pastors and one they don’t feel comfortable doing.)

Recruiter. No church can function without volunteers or leaders. Most pastors are consistently looking for new people to get involved and lead ministries of the church. And the search for volunteers is a continuous effort.

Trainer. Pastors consistently help people learn how to do something. Whether it involves life skills or how to function within a ministry of the church, one of a pastor’s primary goals is to help people improve in areas of their life.

Scholar. I was not the smartest person in our church. But at the same time, the church had a certain level of expectation regarding my understanding of history, the Bible, and current events — locally and around the world. Most expect the pastor to be well-spoken and well-read.

Writer. I estimate I averaged five to seven writing assignments a week beside my message and my blog. Bulletin articles. Church-wide emails. Letters of recommendations.

Manager. Every pastor manages someone — even if they are volunteers. In fact, volunteer management may actually be more difficult.

Public relations. This part of a pastor’s role is increasing daily. The days when a Sunday announcement or bulletin announcement would get the word out to the church are gone. With so many mediums to communicate and people’s divided attention among them — not to mention the frequency of attendance for many in the church — communicating to people has become a huge challenge for pastors.

There’s my list. I’m sure there are others. And it’s a labor of love — certainly of calling — for most pastors I know, but it requires more than preaching.

And I didn’t even mention politician. 🙂

Granted, the size of the church will often determine the amount of time spent on anyone of these. But except in exceptionally larger churches, the pastor wears multiple hats. Certainly more than a Sunday job. And many pastors, myself for one, spend up to half or two-thirds of our week preparing for Sunday.

It should also be noted (and this is an edited addition resulting from a comment) — the pastor shouldn’t do ALL of this. I spend much of my energies helping pastors learn to be better leaders which ultimately means learning to delegate. I believe in the Acts 6 and Jethro models of pastoral leadership.

Thankfully, I was blessed to serve in churches where most of these tasks were primarily assigned to other staff members for direct oversight. I actually had other pastors in mind when I wrote this more than myself. But in all of these roles, at some level, in most churches they are under the pastor’s purview. If there is a need for or problem with one of them the pastor will be looked to ensure it is addressed. Therefore, whether or not the pastor does all of these personally, there is a level of responsibility. To ignore this and point to an “ideal” job description of a pastor would be naive, in my opinion.

One final thought, considering these roles imagine how that plays out for bi-vocational pastors. Say an extra prayer for those pastors.

Pastors, any other roles we serve?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 28 Comments

  • Tim says:

    Thats a very nice one pastor!!

  • Our Heavenly Father does all these things and more for us. As disciples of Jesus I believe it is an honored part we do when we do all these different things for congregations or for each other. It is a natural flow for a disciple of Jesus who is having a nurturing and serious relationship with God to do like the one they spend time with. This is why we are able to have relationships with each other because we spend time with God. So the roll of the pastor is a natural thing for them. Or it should be. I spend my time pastoring pastors. Caring for them and encouraging them. I also spend a lot of time with God. Thank you Pastors for all you do for the kingdom.

    PS Ron I have admired and followed along with you at different times for many years. Thank you for the ministry you do.

  • Larry G says:

    Father. A pastor is a father to his family congregation.

  • Mike says:

    Thank you for the reminder. I have just been reminded about all these titles I have these 24 years as a bi- vocational pastor. I wouldn't exchange this for anything. It has been spiritually rewarding.

  • Neil says:

    I will add to this list items I have either done or been expected to do and be: Plumber, Taxi Service, Legal Adviser, Lawn Mower Repair Service, Transportation Philanthropist, HVAC Service Tech, Moving Service, Dial-A-Laxative Delivery Service (because when you gotta go but you can't and it's 9:30 at night who else would you call but the pastor to go get you some ex-lax and prune juice and deliver it to your front door!?), creative genius, entertainer, miracle worker, (I know The Miracle Worker – Jesus – but I am not God so please do not be offended if I cannot wave my hand over your lottery ticket and make you a multimillionaire), etc, etc, etc…. Thank God for all those in the church who serve each other and the community! No one can do the work of the ministry alone. One Body, Many Parts y'all
    smile emoticon
    1Cor 12

    • ronedmondson says:

      Wow! 🙂

    • Mark says:

      YUP. I feel I need to ask you to add to all this: many small church pastors are bi-vocational, working part-time or full-time occupations as well. We do as you have stated (and Neil) all that needs to be done in the ministry, and with all the other hats we wear. 60-80 hour work weeks are not uncommon for the bi-vocational pastors. But we carry on, preach the Gospel and serve the Risen Lord for His glory….. that some might be saved!

      • ronedmondson says:

        Amen. I've done bi-vocational. Can be one of the hardest jobs in ministry. 

  • I might add "Worker" in the sense that some pastors do all of the above in connection with congregational ministry plus they are bi-vocational and have employment in the marketplace.

  • BenE says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful article!
    Something that this topic brings to mind for me: is it possible that most/all of these roles are not always specific to a pastor, but rather to any upper leadership/management role? I have found that many of my pastor friends and connections have lenses on that believe that this intense hat juggling is something that pastors only experience. The result I have experienced is a repeated bemoaning/commenting how difficult the station is without realizing that the average manager/business owner/entrepreneur handles many of the same tasks, with even longer hours and fewer days off and paid trips. This can be extremely off-putting to a secular executive who also answers his phone late at night, comes in on his day off, and deals with buckets of interpersonal conflict and difficulty.
    Please know that I am not belittling the very taxing and difficult role of a pastor in any way. Rather, I am suggesting that we might be in a much bigger boat than we realize.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I can buy that. I've been in both worlds. I agree. Thank you. 

    • Russ says:

      Ben – I think you are right on as I have served in both the market place and currently Sr Pastor.
      Some of the best staff workers I have had the privilege to serve alongside has been men who have also spent time working in the market place prior to ministry. They just get it, work has to be done to get things done and many times it goes beyond the scope of the printed job description.
      BUT – I will say the leaders in the market place normally operate within a close proximity of their skill set and know when to call in help. My experience as Sr Pastor has been to go way beyond my skill set to do tasks that match the skill sets of my members because the expectation is you have plenty of down time throughout the week. I've been asked to do plumbing, electrical and trouble shoot HVAC in just the last two weeks.
      I know my Church family has know idea they are asking me to do things that I haven't the slightest idea how to do, (Youtube video's have been my friend) but these are things they could do if they "just had more time", which they don't so they ask the person whom they perceive to have more time.
      I love my Church family, I love my community and I will continue to go beyond my printed job description because that's what leaders do. Many of our volunteers work 40-50 hour weeks (a few more than that) then we expect them to commit to giving another several hrs volunteering to our Church ministries. Some of the staff's time has to be considered as volunteer work just as we expect others to give freely of their time.
      There are unique similarities to market place executives and Sr Pastors and for that reason we should be sharing information among one another on how to best bring honor and glory to God through our leadership opportunities.

  • Charlotte Cameron says:

    Thank you for this. I am senior lady from a little town in Northern Ontario Canada and go to the United Church. As a volunteer, I am very involved in our church and spend some of this help the minister. In read over your list, I have to agree that I see this with our minister as well. A great blog and I am going to share this with our minister if it is okay with you.

  • Blouise says:

    Maybe the pastor/minister is more the COO than CEO.

  • Alex says:

    Man Ron, I have taken for granted all of my skills, talents and abilities…I'm more impressed with myself. In fact, I might just tell my Board and I'm giving myself a raise! lol… Oh yeah, if you don't mind, I'd like to add another Roll of a Pastor…. Cheerleader! This one is probably one most of us do most, and some of us hate the most. Simply because not only do you have to cheer others but also encourage yourself when you're being criticized :-). Nonetheless, wouldn't trade the ministry for anything in the world! It's our calling! Thanks Ron – Good post!

  • christoph says:

    Looking over that list we should honestly ask the question: Are these really the Pastor's jobs? Much actually points out to an attitude where the pastor needs be in control of everything. There is a great danger if the pastor has all these roles, his main role, teach the Word of God with proper preparation, will fall short. Poor preparation will eventually show up Sunday morning. Perhaps another point is the Pastor should do what he's "good at" and leave other stuff to others.

    • ronedmondson says:

      And, I agree with you. In fact, I may edit my post some to be clearer as a result of your comment. I spend most of my energy on this blog helping pastors delegate better. The point of this post is to help people understand what it takes to make church work and the role of a pastor in that. At some point, most pastors play a part, even if it's in delegating, of all these roles. It may not be their “job” — and it shouldn't be — but it's under their purview. Thank you.