Pastor as Spiritual Leader - Part I

In the past few days, I have been blessed with casual conversations with two lay persons, neither of whom are members of the church I serve (one a Southern Baptist). In our conversations about church and faith, they both stressed to me the importance of a pastor being a spiritual leader. So I got curious and looked up my job description as it’s outlined in the Book of Discipline. Here’s the gist of it:
All pastors have the same general responsibilities that fall into four main categories, described as Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service. This fourfold ministry includes (but is not limited to) preaching; worship; studying and applying Scripture to daily life; celebrating the Sacraments; developing congregational leaders; attending to the day-to-day business of the church; caring for the spiritual and temporal needs of the congregation and community; modeling for and leading the congregation in acts of compassion, mercy, and justice; and nurturing the congregation for mission and ministry in the world as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. – from The Book of Discipline ¶331, and Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2005-2008: Pastor (Abingdon Press, 2005), p. 6

When you look up ¶331, you find that the Discipline lists at least 15 different responsibilities of the pastor (¶331), which can be clustered into seven major areas:
  1. Spiritual leader: The pastor is the primary spiritual leader in the congregation and is responsible for helping members grow closer to God through worship and spiritual disciplines. 
  2. Worship leader, preacher, and teacher
  3. Trainer of laity: The pastor seeks to equip lay persons to discover how they have been called to ministry in the world and to accomplish those ministries. 
  4. Administrative leader and steward of the congregation's vision of how they are called to accomplish the mission of making disciples.
  5. Custodian of institutional integrity: The pastor protects the integrity of the reputation of the church in the community—as a place of honesty, safety, hope and reconciliation—and upholds the traditions, polity, and beliefs of The United Methodist Church. 
  6. Participant in the United Methodist connection: A United Methodist pastor is part of an extensive network of ministry as a member of an annual conference, a district, and the denomination. He or she has responsibilities to participant in and support these connections and to inform the congregation about its participation in this connectional system. 
  7. Minister to the community: Pastors are in ministry beyond the walls of the particular congregation to which they are appointed by being involved in the life of the community in ways that witness to the mission of Christ in the world. 

Being "the primary spiritual leader in the congregation" seems to be a priority - and not just because the Book of Discipline says so - laity certainly think so... and not just Methodist laity, I might add.

The question is: are we as UM pastors presently equipped to be spiritual leaders?

My answer is, it depends on the pastor. But I will risk a sweeping statement - in the UMC, a pastor must prepare him or herself for the role of spiritual leader, in helping people get closer to God and teaching spiritual disciplines to do that for life. For the most part, seminary doesn't do that. Before we start slamming seminaries, we need to be objective and to realize that seminaries - and indeed the UMC and Boards of Ministry - have not seen that as a priority. It's one of those things that you're just supposed to "get" on your own. And, in all honesty, in the truest sense of the word, our seminaries are really schools of theology. I know that I got a very good theological education. But what I learned about spiritual disciplines, direction, and leadership were not required courses. I was prepared to be a worship leader, an in-residence theologian, an educator, and a chief administrative officer for a church. All certainly important things.

But do they trump being a spiritual leader for the congregation you are appointed to serve?

More to come...



This is a great post, that points to a deep need. I'm afraid that the consumer culture in which we live allows us to think about and practice theological education as if it is an academic buffet - pick a few bible courses here, take a theology course or two there, and sprinkle a little pastoral care on top.

What if our seminaries more closely resembled monasteries, where we were committed to three years of life under a rule that shaped our daily habits of work, rest, prayer, and study? Such a form of spiritual formation might help us as pastors be better prepared to serve as spiritual leader in the communities to which we are sent following graduation.