The Pastor's Job Description

James Cassidy


My dad (who, sadly, is an unbeliever) thought that being a pastor was quite the "racket." He said, "Yeah, seems like a good deal. You get up once a week, say some things, and you don't do anything for the rest of week." Now that I have been a pastor for several years, he is coming around to know that isn't the truth! He sees that I am busy. He knows I am not always available because I am working. Yet, he often wonders: "busy doing what?"

The Pastor's Job Description

In talking about the pastor's job description, we must speak both positively and negatively. That is, we must say what the pastor should be doing and what he should not be doing. First, we will begin with the positive side of the pastor's work. And to do this we will look at several Scripture passages.

First, consider 2 Timothy 2:15, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." Often this verse is used to encourage men to pursue formal theological training; and rightly so. A man must be properly trained for the ministry so he may properly interpret and apply God's Word. But this verse applies equally to the ongoing work of the pastor. The pastor-worker must "do his best." He must work hard to spare shame. And the way he avoids shame, showing himself approved, is by "rightly handling the Word of truth." That is a week-by-week work, in between Sabbath days. The pastor is first and foremost a theologian: a handler of the Word of God.[1]

Today most people tend to see a gap between pastors and theologians. Many believe that theologians are the seminary professors—the ones who write the books. Or, they are the pastors who have a radio program or a para-church ministry. To be sure, there are different men with different gifts. What Paul is saying, is that every pastor must properly handle the Word of God (and this is what a theo-logian is: one who handles the logos of theos—the Word of God). That means continual study of it. It means reading it, sharpening language skills, consulting commentaries, reading systematic theology, and studying many other materials. In other words, the pastor's main base of operation is his study.

Second, the pastor does not stay exclusively in his study. In Acts 20:20 Paul says, "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house." The pastor takes what he learns about the Bible in his study and he brings it into the public and private realms of the church. The primary task of the pastor-theologian is to declare, proclaim, teach, and preach the whole counsel of God both publicly from the pulpit on the Lord's Day (or, wherever else God providentially leads him to do so) and privately when the pastor pays house visits to members of the congregation. In Matthew 28:19ff the commission of our Lord is fundamentally a teaching commission. We are to make disciples by baptizing and teaching all Jesus has taught his disciples. This means being a faithful Bible expositor.

To aid us in this task, we have the catechisms of the church, which are wonderful teaching aids. If we lead our covenant children in memorizing the catechism, and teach it to our adult members, and use it to help disciple new converts, we are well on our way! But these tools are never an excuse for the pastor-theologian to be slack in his study, rightly interpreting and teaching the Bible itself. The catechisms are important to the nurture of the church. We need to regain, as a church, a regular discipline of using the catechisms to teach the congregation (young and mature alike). But the catechisms are not comprehensive documents. They teach the system of doctrine contained in the Bible. But they don't teach everything in the Bible.

Third, in Acts 6:4 the apostles explain that the reason the church is to set apart certain men to serve tables is so that the apostles will be free to pray and minister the Word. Prayer is work. Prayer takes time. Prayer takes energy. As Americans, it has been drilled into our heads that we have to be "doing something" all the time. Unless we produce some tangible results, we're useless—and we're lazy. So, we feel guilty for sitting there too long not pumping out a sermon, or visiting someone in the hospital, or whatever. Yet, by all indications, the apostles were busy all day praying and doing the work of the ministry of the Word. Prayer, as a means of grace, is essential work for the pastor-theologian. It is so easy to get to the "busy work" of a pastor's office time and never get around to praying. If you find you don't have substantial time to pray during the day, you need to cut something(s) out of your schedule.

Fourth, in Acts 20:28 Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders to "Pay careful attention to yourselves and all the flock." The pastor (along with the ruling elders) is to spend his week paying close attention to church members. This happens when the pastor ministers the Word of God to them in their homes and in the hospital, but it also happens in the context of session meetings. Sessions ought to have regular monthly meetings to—if nothing else—talk over and pray for the spiritual lives of the members. And the pastor-theologian's work in this regard usually goes beyond a meeting once a month. The ruling elders of the church usually have full-time secular jobs and so will look to the pastor for help in carrying out the work of the session. One of the ways a pastor can assist the session in its work is to be well acquainted with the Book of Church Order (BCO) so he can lead the other men effectively during the meetings. Caring for the flock includes having well run session meetings,[2] and disciplining sheep that go astray.

Also, knowledge of the BCO helps the pastor to faithfully administer the sacraments. Our directory for public worship is an indispensable resource for caring for the flock through God's means of grace. A thorough knowledge of the sacraments and the issues surrounding the regulative principle of worship will help the pastor administer the sacraments smoothly, effectively, and (most importantly) faithfully.

To summarize, the pastor-theologian's work focuses on the means of grace and the marks of the church—Word, sacrament, prayer, and discipline. If my dad looked at me, he would see me spending a lot of time in the study. He would see me with head bowed and eyes closed, he would see me reading the Book of Church Order, reading the Bible and theology books, and he would see me visiting members; and he might conclude that I have a pretty cushy job.

What the Pastor's Job Description Is Not

Some church members may feel similarly. They may think you don't do anything all day, saying: "What an easy schedule! Let's get our money's worth out of him and put him to real work." And, so, follows the pastor's chore list, from community activism to changing light bulbs.

But, the pastor's job is not to maintain the church facilities (no matter how convenient people may think it is for him to do those things because he is local to the building, or because he has a flexible schedule, etc.) It is not to get involved in politics, or the community, or the soup kitchen, or the thrift shop, or to save Western Civilization, or to transform culture.

It's almost a given in the study of urban ministry that the pastor is supposed to be a community leader, an activist, and mercy minister. Of course, soup kitchens and mercy ministry in a community can be good things! But they can so quickly and so easily take the pastor-theologian away from his study and from rightly handling the Word of truth. If he hands out soup and clothes, but on Sunday morning he preaches a lame sermon (or worse—a heretical one), what good is he?

This is why Christ gave deacons to the church. Let the deacons do the mercy ministry. And let the trustees take care of the building and property.[3] But as for the pastor-theologian, let him pay attention to the ministry of the Word and Prayer.

And what the people of God need to know is that this is exactly how the church is built and grown. Notice what it says in Acts 6:7 was the result of the deacon's work: "And the Word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith." If the people in the church really want to see growth, then the biblical "method" is to free the pastor up to be about the ministry of the Word and prayer.

Unfortunately, many ministers are easily distracted from the ministry of the Word and prayer because they have adopted the modern Evangelical approach to the church and her ministry. This approach is more concerned with transforming culture than with the church and, within the church, it is more concerned with ministries focused on cultural transformation than with the Word and prayer. However, Jesus didn't say "feed my culture." Don't get me wrong, I believe that Christians will impact culture as they go out into the world and live consistently with a biblical world and life view. But the church's job is to train faithful expositors of the Word. If we have pastors who are intellectuals and "go-getters," but who cannot rightly divide the Word of truth, we've surrendered our greatest weapon against the world. According to John 16, it is the Holy Spirit that will bring conviction to the world—but he will do so through the apostolic ministry of the Word, for he is the Spirit of Truth.

The pastor is not the CEO of the church. He is not the CEO, nor the CIO, nor the CFO. He is not a "chief officer" of any kind. The pastor is not a savvy businessman, a guy who knows how to successfully apply the principles of the best MBA schools to building the church. Business principles are not necessarily church principles. The church is not a business. The pastor's job is not to increase the bottom line. In fact, it's not the job of the pastor to be "successful." Isaiah 55:11 says it well, "so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." The Word of God is what succeeds. God makes the growth and the increase. God grows his church sometime in numbers, but he also grows his church spiritually through his Word—his Word will succeed. The pastor needs but be a faithful instrument-vessel in the hands of the Word-sending redeemer.

Closing Exhortation

Pastors, don't be afraid to be a theologian. That's not a dirty word. In the current evangelical climate, being a theologian is tantamount to being impractical—being an absent-minded professor. The Evangelical community has so dichotomized doctrine and life that you would think you can't have the former if you want to have the latter. But the Bible knows of no such dichotomy. The practical pastor is first and foremost a theologian—one who studies the knowledge of God. And the good theologian will always be a practical pastor. But the priority is with the study and prayer of the theologian. Without that, a man will never be practical in the godly and biblical sense. It begins with properly understanding the word of truth. And from that right knowledge and prayer will flow the words of life as they are correctly and faithfully proclaimed from his lips.

We know that right knowledge doesn't always guarantee faithful ministry. Sure, there are brilliant heretics out there. All the worse for them, as they will be judged doubly for misusing all that knowledge (to whom much is given, much is required). So, while a well studied pastor-theologian does not necessarily yield faithful ministry, we certainly don't expect faithful ministry without the well studied pastor-theologian. God can use a donkey to proclaim his Word, but ordinarily he does not. Ordinarily, according to the Word of God, he uses approved men who rightly handle the word of truth.

Elders, zealously guard your pastor's study time. Be sure he is disturbed as little as possible (excepting, of course, necessary things like pastoral emergencies, counseling sessions, and hospital visits). Make sure his compensation package is adequate so he doesn't have to take on part time work which takes away from his study time. Insist that he not do the little things around the church building the deacons or trustees should be doing and make sure the right people are doing the right things (in a charitable way, of course!).

Church members, pray for your pastor. And tap him for whatever spiritual resources he can give you. Expect for him to visit you in your home, in the hospital, or when you need pastoral counsel. But also encourage him to be in his study pouring over his Bible, his commentaries, his church history books, his biblical theology books, and his systematic theology books.[4] This way, as he feasts upon the Word of God he will be nourished well enough to nourish you on the Lord's Day. A theologically impoverished pastor will inevitably leave his congregation spiritually malnourished.

In the eyes of the world (and in my dad's eyes!) we pastors may not look like we're being very productive. But productivity in the Kingdom is not measured the way it is measured in the world. Nevertheless, that does not make him any less of a hard worker. The pastor-theologian labors arduously—in his study, and by his preaching, teaching, visiting, shepherding, and counseling—to show himself approved as a worker who handles rightly the word of truth. May Christ continue to raise up such men today and in the next generation for the work of the ministry to build up the body of Christ.


[1] In the words of C. H. Spurgeon, "Brethren, if you are not theologians you are in your pastorates just nothing at all." Lectures to My Students (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 1998), 80.

[2] This also means having well run presbytery meetings and General Assemblies. The church would do well to remember that the minister is obligated not just to his local church, but to his regional and denominational church as well. His work (and that of many ruling elders, as well) includes not just duties to build up the work locally, but regionally and nationally also.

[3] Deacons today are often seen as the de facto trustees. I think biblically the deacon's role is not to take care of the church's property, but the people of the church. His ministry is first and foremost to people, not things. This is why a good board of trustees is so important. A church that has no board of trustees or a defunct board will place an extra burden on the deacons, taking them away from their work. And if that happens, inevitably, the extra mercy ministry burden will fall on the pastor, taking him away from the ministry of the Word and prayer.

[4] A very important word of caution here: pastors who read a lot of theology tend to bring the language of the scholars into the pulpit. Don't do that. Leave the jargon in the study, but bring the substance to the pulpit with you.

James Cassidy, a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is pastor of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ringoes, New Jersey. Ordained Servant, November 2007.

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Ordained Servant: November 2007

Pastoral Concerns

Also in this issue

Editorial: Membership Rolls and the Book of Life

Taking Care of Your Pastor

Leading Congregational Prayer

The Prayer of Jabez: A Berean Look: A Review Article

Beale, Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians

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