When I was in seminary and throughout my ministry, I’d hear the refrain that pastoring is one of the hardest jobs because it requires you to know how to do a lot of everything. Pastors must be skilled not only in spiritual matters but also finance, marketing, counseling, conflict resolution, management, education, and many other areas. Although it may sound hubristic there is an element of truth that pastoring requires the integration of several different types of skills. But the mindset that pastoring requires ministers to be the individual carrying out all these responsibilities has led to some unfortunate consequences. Whenever we have a new committee or initiative, it is often led by someone whose technical experience is limited to pastoring a congregation. The danger is that someone with more knowledge, who would be better suited for that role, is excluded from using their talents in that area. Not only does the Body of Christ have to settle for non-professional expertise, but we are being bad stewards. God gives talents within the Body that go unused or underutilized because we don’t allow those who can really excel in these areas to do so. Here are some prime examples:
Marketing: Yes, pastors can make flyers and even announce things, but marketing is serious business. If we’re really concerned about reaching people beyond the walls of our church, it behooves us to look toward those who deal in public relations professionally. Several of our churches and schools are barely known within our neighborhoods – much less outside. Meanwhile we marvel at the fact that Willow Creek and Saddleback are household names. Little do we realize that their existence has a lot to do with intentionality of publicity. While pitching a tent in a vacant lot was great advertising in the 19th and early 20th centuries, that’s not the most effective way to draw a crowd now. And a church announcement isn’t going to sufficiently boost enrollment in our dying schools. Having Kirk Franklin wear an Oakwood sweatshirt on social media did more to boost the profile of OU – even among HBCU afficianados – than the past decade worth of alumni weekends combined. If we’re serious about raising the profile of our institutions, let’s act like it.
Counseling: This is near to my heart. I obtained my PhD in Clinical Psychology specifically because I know people tend to go to their clergy before they’d go to an external mental health professional. So I determined that if congregants are coming for my counsel, I’d better know what I’m doing! Many pastors find themselves in this dilemma and don’t have the benefit of a clinical education. It’s not their fault that they are reaping the decades of church hostility towards mental health. So many misconceptions abound within the religious community about what mental health entails. And some have been perpetuated by clergy past. As a result, clergy present are inundated with people who would best be served by professionals. Nevertheless, instead of exacerbating this cycle, the responsible thing is to educate the congregation and build bridges for members to connect with professionals who can treat them properly. I actually work with churches and pastors to establish these external partnership networks, referral systems and in-house ministries. All pastors should know mental health professionals to whom they can give a warm hand off. Otherwise, pastors may inadvertently do more harm than good.
Recently I learned that Southern Adventist University was establishing an MMin program in Christian counseling intended to teach pastors to tackle this challenge. Commendable as that may be, it is not designed for pastors to become licensed therapists. Instead, the curriculum is guided by the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) model developed by David Powlison. Though their stated philosophy that the Bible is the answer to every problem sounds very spiritual, it can unintentionally deepen the damage it was intended to heal. Yes, Christ is The Ultimate Healer. And we know Our Miraculous Creator can recreate and restore. The accounts of the healings of the man born blind and the ten lepers all testify to that. At the same time, God has blessed our church with individuals who have the skill to attend to these injuries. Case in point, if your loved one gets hit by a car, will you take them to the hospital first or to the pastor’s office? The answer is obvious because we recognize the urgency to get their physical needs attended to. Sadly, because many of us are less familiar with the biological underpinnings of mental issues, we view them through a different lens and are more likely to allow a pastor to “treat” us with prayers and Scripture. There are many situations that can be worsened by being improperly addressed. “Christian counselors” aren’t tested, licensed, boarded, required to have continuing education or held accountable by an ethics committee. There is not only a potential for harmful mental health mistakes, but also potential for deliberate abuse and mismanagement. Just as I would warn against non-medically trained pastors who try to dispense medical advice, pastors need to steer clear of dispensing mental health advice unless trained to do so. Referring is the ethical and moral thing to do.
Education: Because of our extensive emphasis on education, many of our churches have schools or are constituents of a school “shared” by several churches. Because everyone has attended school, it can be easy to think such familiarity qualifies anybody to run one! But that’s as crazy as thinking I’m a pilot just because I’ve flown in a plane! More often than makes sense, pastors with absolutely no educational expertise are placed in positions of overseeing our educational institutions. Becoming a teacher, principal, superintendent, or dean is not something that anyone can do. Our educators have invested in significant amounts of training and practice to hone their craft of teaching students. Yet there is an embarrassingly high number of pastors filling positions that are better left up to someone who understands learning, education, and school administration. Creating curricula, managing teachers, providing staff support – and so many other easily overlooked responsibilities – fall under the purview of an educational administrator. And although pastors are leaders, that doesn’t make them well suited to lead in every context. Our children’s future shouldn’t be left in the hands of people who don’t know the intricacies of what makes a good educational model.
These are just three of the more common examples. But pastors have also been tasked to do the job of fundraisers, architectural planners, multimedia technicians, and so much more!
Obviously not every congregation has individuals who are experts in all of these areas. And there are also many people who may not want to come to church only to do the same things they do at work. But in those places where people exist who are able and willing, we should fill ministry roles with knowledgeable folks. Various Christian denominations outside of Adventism employ this strategy to much success.
But there’s another barrier: money. Often, we want people to labor for free. While many people are willing to donate time, services and goods, some simply can’t afford to provide a professional service on a completely pro bono model. This often leads us to either go without someone in that role or to stick a pastor in that slot – after all, he or she is already employed, so it doesn’t require an additional paycheck. But this strategy of using amateur talent often leads to amateur outcomes. I would encourage people who are able, to give their services as an act of ministry, as far as possible. But also I would urge churches to recognize that “as far as possible” may not always mean $0. And if we have experts in our churches who can’t offer totally free work, it makes no sense to begrudge them in favor of paying full price for a similar service in the secular domain.
God has blessed this Body with so many gifts! As 1 Corinthians 12 states, they are diverse – but each member is needed. How much more effective could we be if we tapped into the right gifts for the right tasks, and allowed pastors to pastor, instead of expecting them to be a jack of all trades and master of none.
 Only limited information has been released about Southern’s new program. In inquiries about the program, it has been conveyed that their intention is to specifically employ the CCEF model. As this is a program still in development, it is altogether possible that this may still be in flux. However, my familiarity with the CCEF model gives me concern regarding what has been shared this far.
Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is a clinical psychologist and ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found at:
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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