One of the many fascinating aspects of professional ministry is the wide variety of tasks it involves, as well as the uniqueness of each individual God calls to it. I believe anyone in ordained or commissioned ministry would say two things: It is exhilarating for any of us when we experience a moment where we are undoubtedly using one of our God-given gifts. On the other hand, it is exhausting when ministry seems to be demanding more than you currently have to give and your gifts do not seem well-suited for the task. How can we as congregations help our workers to serve our communities in their highest capacity, while honoring who they are as very individual and unique workers in God’s kingdom?
In 2010 a study was published by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church. The study was led by Dr. Richard DeShon, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology at Michigan State University. Dr. DeShon is considered one of the leading experts on job analysis, a discipline which seeks to determine the primary activities, tasks and responsibilities of a job.
In the study, Dr. DeShon states that the diversity of tasks performed by local church pastors, as well as the necessity that they switch between tasks and roles quite quickly, makes the vocation unique and complex. Some of the diverse roles he describes in the pastoral ministry include mentor, preacher, counselor, spiritual leader and prophet. He concludes with the observation that all of this is not a substitute for a pastor’s sense of calling, but that very sense of calling is fundamental to each of the pastor’s roles and tasks.
The study found 13 task clusters of parish pastors, with an average of 10 specific tasks in each cluster. Here are the task clusters, in no particular order:
- Relationship building
- Preaching and public worship
- Rituals and sacraments
- Denominational connections
- Facility construction
- Development of others
In addition, the study defined various areas of Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Personal Characteristics, or KSAPs, needed for work in pastoral ministry. Many of these areas also apply to the commissioned or lay leaders within our congregations. Why? Because some 13 more areas of knowledge were identified, along with 21 skills (things you need to know how to do), 11 abilities (gifts and talents you should have), and 23 personal characteristics! Wow! Pastoral ministry, and church work vocations in general, require a high level of professional and personal skills. These are not lists of what “they should be doing” or “they need to spend time on.” It is not helpful to overly elevate or tear down any one vocation over another or any one worker within a vocation over another member. This study instead reminds us that there are many needs and demands in our churches. Ministry professionals and those who support them and work alongside them for the Kingdom are called to be mindful of “making the best use of our time” as we are exhorted to do together as God’s church in Ephesians 5:15–16: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
We are not meant to do everything and do it all well, but rather we are called by God to do what we can do and do it with wholeheartedness, allowing God to do His work through us in every part of our lives (Col. 3:23–24). Our pastors are human, our commissioned workers are human, just as every member of the Body is human. No individual is intended to handle all these task clusters with excellence, and no one possesses all the KSAPs in full measure. So, what do we do now? How do we function well within our limitations as human beings, trying to serve the Lord with gladness? I suggest that we need to do three things: decide, distribute and develop.
Decide what matters most at present, with an eye to where God is moving you in the future. Set individual, as well as congregational, priorities in terms of the pastor’s responsibilities. This priority-setting should be done in a cooperative way between the pastor and key lay leaders. This will help each invested party to be on the same team for ministry in this season, as well the next.
Distribute the remaining tasks, starting with those of highest priority, among lay leaders and other staff who are appropriately gifted. This might inform you that you need more staff, either full time or part time, to serve on the team in certain areas. Every task may not be able to be done. Coming to an agreement on what can be done will help the worker and congregation move forward together “on the same page.” You may need to re-evaluate what tasks to focus on in a given season. This work also can and should be done together, in prayer and discernment with God and one another.
We are continuously growing in Christ and we are gifted with the ability to continue learning in our vocations. We can be encouraged and ignited for ministry as individual servants, and also as a congregation serving, by learning new knowledge and skills. We might also take the time to develop personally to understand ourselves better and be able to contribute in the Body of Christ with new insight into our gifts, passions, communication styles, etc., by God’s leading.
As Paul exhorts the congregation of Corinthians in his first letter: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor. 12:4–6 NIV).
God’s calling in our lives is a fantastic gift. Nothing replaces knowing that we belong to Him and our work, any work, does as well. It is healthy to engage in discussion together about what exactly that calling is and what we need in order to carry it out to the best of our ability.
This article was written jointly by Rev. Dick Koehneke and Deaconess Heidi Goehmann. Pastor Koehneke served for several years in the area of worker health in the Indiana District. He is a member of the LCMS Ministerial Care Coalition. Deaconess Goehmann currently serves the Office of National Mission as a contract worker in the area of Mental Health and Worker Wellness.