There is certainly much more pastors must do but here are the first few big things that came to mind and doing them well will ensure more effective ministry and a longer tenure at your church. I didn’t forget the Gospel here – it is the foundation of all 6 of these. I understand the necessity of these and realize I’m not perfect AT ALL in any of these. I desire to grow in them all. I must put them into practice and never forget they are foundational to pastoring.
- Benevolence – Benevolence means doing goodwill, acts of kindness, or a desire to do good to others. It is usually presented in the form of food, clothing, helping with real financial needs like utilities or rent, or some other legitimate financial need. Feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and ministering to the hurting will always be something pastors expect to do (John 12:8). Jesus said doing or not doing benevolence is actually doing or not doing it to Him (Matthew 25:40-45). Most pastors become skeptical when faced with benevolence because they have been taken advantage of in the past. Don’t give up being benevolent because there are crooks and lazy bums out there. Be wise, be thorough in your screening, plan what you will and will not help with, and trust the Lord. There are some real tough situations and times ahead of the church when it comes to budgeting for benevolence. The demands seem to grow faster than you can keep up. I’ve learned some principles over the years when it comes to benevolence. You can’t help in every situation that comes your way. Listen to people before automatically saying no. People need boundaries and accountability. Don’t give people cash. Require them to fill out a form, give references, and show bills they need help with. If people ask you for God’s money, ask them tough questions to ensure you being a good and faithful steward (1 Corinthians 4:2). Above all remember benevolence is a way to show compassion and love to a hurting world and a means to share the Gospel.
- Counseling – People are always looking for advice and wisdom when it comes to life, relationships, sin, calling, career, and a vast array of minor and complex issues. What a huge honor that people would come to their pastor for advice! It’s also a huge responsibility. Giving counsel doesn’t mean you are the expert of all topics or a Bible whiz but it does mean you must know some counseling basics about subjects like marriage, divorce, unity, parenting, doctrine, and finances. Some pastors abdicate their counseling responsibilities and I think giving up all counseling is a huge mistake. While you can’t do it all, not doing any counseling makes you appear irrelevant uncaring and disengaged. Pastors must take time for a foyer “minute” of counseling or several weeks of intense meetings. Know when you’re over your head and need to refer. Remember you aren’t the Savior – Jesus is. The ultimate counselor is the Holy Spirit so point people to Him (John 14:26). If applicable, I ask people to do homework in counseling. This shows they are willing to put in the work necessary to grow and not just expect you to fix their problems for them. I actually tell people I can’t see them again until they are done with watching a sermon, reading a book, or finishing a workbook. Counseling is a great opportunity to offer caring, hope, and point people to Christ and His Word! Plus a pastor who hates meeting and dealing with people may need to think about a different career because he may not be called. Pastoring is the people business! Whatever the counseling need, point people to Christ and the Gospel.
- Weddings, Funerals, and Hospital Visits – I heard a pastor once say he was never doing weddings again. He had a bad experience and decided they were not for him. A pastor not doing weddings, funerals and hospital visits is like a doctor not writing prescriptions or doing surgeries. I’m not sure you can be one without doing them. Some do more of these than others but they are the best opportunities to impact lives. Funerals will probably be the best opportunity you have to share the Gospel with those facing their own deaths during grief. I’ve learned that as the church grows I cannot do all the weddings, funerals, and hospital visits. A few weeks ago I did two weddings, two funerals, and 6 hospital visits in the same week! I’ve had other weeks similar. Trying to balance the demands of pastoring (studying, counseling, meetings, etc.) is tough. Sometimes you’ll have super busy weeks like that but know as your church grows you must empower and train others to help you in these vital ministries. We have a system of pastoral staff and small group leaders who work hard to ensure everyone in crisis receives pastoral care. There are tons of ministry opportunities weddings, funerals and hospital visits bring which makes them essential to being a successful pastor. I share the Gospel at all funerals, weddings, and most hospital visits.
- Feed the sheep – In order to fulfill the command from Jesus to feed His sheep (John 21:17) you must study the Word. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 to, “Study to show thyself approved – a workman that doesn’t need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Pastor, if you don’t want to fall flat on your face you must study Scripture DAILY. Study isn’t the normal devotional or occasional scripture of the day. It means spending at least a couple hours in digging in the Word daily. For sermon preparation you have to block off hours of time in your schedule and protect it. I block off 10-12 hours a week for sermon prep – for one sermon. That much more time is necessary for any other teaching opportunities that week. Study time is work time and we must never push it to the back burner. After studying you must preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). Scripture, and scripture alone, is what feeds and satisfies sheep. Everything revolves around Jesus and His Gospel. Don’t offer supplements, slimfast, or snacking. Prepare a feast! Feeding the flock isn’t fast food. Become a gourmet chef and prepare the Word in an appetizing an nourishing manner. Be consistent and rightly divide the Word of truth. Give them more than the popular topic and shallow three point sermon. We are called to feed the sheep not entertain the goats!
- Discipleship training – Pastors must lead by example but they must also raise up leaders. Ephesians 4:12 says pastors are to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Most churches fail to grow beyond 75-100 people because that’s really all one pastor can handle well. If a pastor will find capable, trustworthy, maturing believers and invest themselves in these they will in turn do the same (2 Timothy 2:2). This is the discipleship making process and is a direct command of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). A pastor who fails to train their staff and raise up leaders will fail to reproduce themselves and multiply their effectiveness in ministry. Discipleship training is essentially leadership training. Instead of doing it all yourself, delegate to others and give them opportunity to do ministry and grow in their calling. This is effectively putting the whole body to work – each member doing its share (Ephesians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 12:27). There should be a system in place to grow people from saved to serving. Whether it’s Sunday School, small groups, Bible Studies, or some other type of growth track every pastor needs a system to mature their church members into fully devoted followers of Christ.
- Admit when you are wrong – This is probably the downfall of most pastors. It doesn’t matter if you are the best counselor, preacher, or theologian you’ll lose your flock by refusing to admit when you are wrong. Now don’t play semantics here with me – admit it, say you’re sorry, and make real efforts to correct your wrong actions. Admitting wrong doesn’t make you a bad leader – it actually makes you a better leader. Everyone already knows you not perfect so don’t be the last to admit. If you just can’t stomach defeat then know pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Admit wrong in whatever platform that communicates humility, teachability, and sincerity the best. Perhaps it’s a letter but most likely it’s face to face. Don’t let a lot of time pass if you know you’re wrong. Make the phone call or set up the meeting quick. Don’t half-heartedly or indirectly apologize. Nothing says, “I’m still right and I’m only doing this because I have to” like going through the motions of repentance. It’s a poor example to body of two of our greatest tools of unity – repentance and forgiveness.
I realize this list isn’t exhaustive. What else MUST pastors do?
Stephen and his wife Haley have called Arkansas home all of their lives. Stephen has served in several ministry roles over the last 25 years and as a lead pastor for the last 8 years. Stephen attended Williams Baptist College and earned a BA in Biblical Studies from Ouachita Baptist University, an MA, MDiv, and DMin in Christian Leadership and Pastoral Ministries from Liberty University. When not pastoring, Stephen enjoys running, cycling, reading, writing, camping, fishing, and spending time with his family.