October 25, 2020

How Many Different Kinds of Pastors Are There?

Part II of my thoughts about Gillispie and your pastor. I just got a bit carried away.

(Read in best grumpy old man’s voice.)

Gather round the ol’ Internet Monk, you young whipper snappers.

What the heck have you kids done with the pastor?

No, not where did you tie him up, but what did you do with the name? The job title. What you call it for gosh sake.

When I was a boy, we walked to school backwards in the snow for 16 miles.

But we also called the pastor….”pastor.” Or “Brother” or “Preacher.” That was it.

Then things started to change. (You confounded heatherns!!)

First it was “Pastor Emeritus.” That was the old pastor who wouldn’t leave, but hung around to get a nice income from funerals and weddings.

Then it was “Youth pastor.” Give me a break…. (and a nitro pill….over there in the blue bottle. Give me two.)

On to associate and assistant pastors. Those guys aren’t pastors. That’s the point. Their “half-pastors.” If they visit you in the hospital, it only counts as half a visit.

Now look at what you’ve got!!

“Preaching pastor.” Well isn’t that nice. “I’ll just preach, and call it pastoring. The rest of my hired dummies can actually pastor. I’m going in the study for 40 hours”

When I was your age I could prepare a sermon on horseback riding in a thunderstorm while being shot at by angry Methodists. But these sissies now have to be the “preaching pastor” because doing anything else is toooooooo hard. Well whoop tee do.

Then, what is this? “Pastor for Vision?” What is this? An optical doctor?

That !#$$# Mcmanus called himself a “cultural architect.” Huh? WHAAA?? If you want to be an architect, then go be one dagnabit.

Now we’ve got “discipleship pastors,” “children’s pastor,” “worship pastor” and “small groups pastor.” Have you guys run out of things to do, so you just think up names?

I suppose that if God told you to preach and not pastor, it was perfectly fine for you to tell the church that you were the preaching pastor. Don’t call me until after 5, and then don’t call if you have any church business.

Looks like being the pastor is a job everyone is trying to get out of. We’ve got so many specialists, you have to have a seminary degree to keep all the titles straight.

But that’s big churches for you. Always finding a new way rename an old thing.

I don’t think I’m an old geezer. I’m a “high mileage human.”


  1. So, is it still 1955?

  2. In God’s calendar Yes…you whippersnapper.

  3. I attended an event with Lyle Schaller a few years ago where he wore a shirt with the words on the front, “We’re ready….” On the back were the words, “If next year is 1955.”

  4. My first encounter with a Preaching Pastor occurred about 18 years ago. We had moved to a new city and the Professor of Pastoral Methods at the seminary was also preached in a local church. At the church his responsibilities included preaching, some counseling, and attendance at board meetings where, as I recall, he did not have a vote. With his full time job at the seminary he did not have time for any other responsibilities.

    But he was certainly gifted in preaching/teaching where the other Pastor was not… And Sunday morning was wonderful.

    The elders in the church were responsible for Pastoral care, about 8 families per elder, and that was pretty wonderful too.

  5. O boy! Now I wish I could just get a real job and volunteer to do ministry work in my spare time.
    Then I wouldn’t have to be the _____ Pastor. I could just be Miguel. And I wouldn’t have anymore awkward moments when somebody asks, “So, what do you do for a living?” Um, I’m a failed pop star that entertains religious people on Sundays…
    Because Worship Pastor makes just as much sense, right?

    Too bad I can’t get a real job right now.

  6. Here in Australia there are small churches even in Sydney who cannot get a pastor because students are coming out of Bible college with no intention or desire to be the sole pastor of a church.
    Team ministry is all the rage (and much easier). I was talking to one graduate who was going to a big church where he would be ‘the pastor responsible for the small group leaders.’ Not responsible for the small groups, just the leaders. And that was the beginning and end of his responsibilities (we don’t want a demarcation dispute between pastors, do we?).
    Meanwhile small churches in poorer areas of the city are closing because no-one wants to pastor them.

    The college I trained at were very specific: ‘We are training you to be (in medical terms) General Practicioners not Specialists. You cannot afford to be a specialist.’
    Perhaps all these sub-types of pastors are a symptom of the professionalisation of the pastorate, which is not a good thing.

  7. That one was laugh out loud funny. But you’re point is right on. Titles were never the point in the NT. Paul was an apostle, but I’m still looking for the verse that addresses him as “Apostle Paul.” There were also prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, but they were descriptions of the gifts Jesus left for the church, in the form of people, after He ascended (hence, they are also called “ascension gifts”). The title of “pastor” has gone the way of the simple “family doctor.” Now, everything is specialized. Besides, if we don’t have a title, how do we know what we’re supposed to do?

  8. Eh, my church has four pastors, but they all have rather interchangeable roles despite their specific focus. I think it’s a pretty good system.

  9. When I graduated from Seminary I still had a moderately severe stutter. I was told by one District Superintendent, “Mike, if a church gets 100 resumes, and the other 99 can speak well, then yours will go at the bottom of the pile.”

    Basically sole Pastoring was out for me. So I tried to get a job as an associate, but either churches weren’t currently hiring, or the ones that were couldn’t see past the stutter.

    So I ended up working for a Mission agency for three years and then in the secular workplace.

    My stutter has largely disappeared over time. I am sure that I would find it much easier to get a church position now. But it would still be quite difficult for me to have to preach every week.

    Leading worship. Training small group leaders. Teaching a Sunday School class. Planning Missions conferences. Counseling. Working with Youth. These are all things I can do, and do reasonably well. But a team is a much better place for me. And if we look at scripture, don’t we see teams all over the place? Disciples sent out by two… Paul and Barnabas are two examples that immediately come to mind.

    I have also seen team church planting be much more effective than that of a single church planter go out on his own.

  10. So I take it from this that Baptist churches don’t have curates?

    We have the parish priest and (formerly several, but nowadays maybe only one) curates; the idea being that, fresh out of seminary and still wet behind the ears, they need some training-in before they get a parish of their own.

    It’s generally the bishop that appoints priests to parishes, and the curates (used to be) moved around every five years or so, though once a priest is appointed to be the parish priest, he’s immoveable thereafter.

  11. Yep — you nailed it. Well done again.

  12. Eugene Peterson notes that you can tell when a noun gets weak by its need for an adjective. The noun “pastor” is clearly no longer a stand-alone noun.

  13. ProdigalSarah says

    Is a Worship Pastor what, back in my day, we knew as a song leader?

  14. Cultural architect.

    That is so missional.

  15. After you write your first book, Michael, you may want to consider a novel. You have a good sense for dialogue.

  16. ProdigalSarah,

    I think you are right one, only I am not even old enough to know the term in it’s original context.
    We have a former song leader in our church. She is a much better singer than I and so I let her do that as often as possible.
    Is a song leader like the Baptist version of a choir director?

  17. We’ve got a Rector and two Parochial Vicars – yeee ha! I’ll raise you a Vicar General if you get froggy on me. 🙂

  18. What’s all this pastoring going on? How about some ministering, which would be done by the minister I suppose.

  19. Whether you call ’em assistant pastor or associate pastor, they both start with the same three letters! Be careful how you abbreviate these guys. For some pastors (like me) the title just might fit!

  20. +Alan, our former parish priest was a Canon, and the parish church across the bridge (or, as we say, “over the town”) has a Dean 🙂

    We also have an Augustinian friary, to boot. As in “The order Luther decided he was too good for” 😉

  21. Wait, wait, you forgot the Internet Pastor and the Internet Monk. Oh, wait, we have an Internet Monk already. 😉

  22. Hmm, follow up thought. If I partner with Internet Monk, can we have an Internet Abbey? I will even let him be the Internet Abbot!

  23. Fr. Ernesto,

    I volunteer to be your first Oblate. 😉

  24. Not a big deal to me, personally. I’ve known a lot of pastor types who make lousy teachers, and vice versa; and most of the people I’ve known who go up and preach at the front of the church every week don’t have a gift for that either. If they preach one good sermon for every 52, they’re in rare form.

    But that has a lot to do with our sense that a minister is supposed to be a jack-of-all-trades, capable of teaching, preaching, organizing and running a service, counseling, visiting, and generally caring for an entire community. Real Live Preacher has written about the dangers personal and spiritual for any mortal who presumes to do all this.

    But that said, I think there’s an equal error in insisting on making everything in church professional. I marked time for more than a year at a church in central Jersey where all ministries were run by paid staff, with the result that a number of people who could make made a huge difference and offered a lot to the church, either were shoved to one side and reduced to being cogs in a giant ministry machine, or forced to sit in the pews until mildew and rust had ruined what they had to offer.

  25. This hit home for us about 18 years ago when our pastor said that his goal was to be “a rancher, not a shepherd.”

    By saying this, he was inadvertently articulating for the church board what they saw as the main concern that they could not express.

    So armed with this new vocabulary, they informed him that they would not be needing his services, as they were going to hire a shepherd.

  26. I usually have a pretty good sarcasm detector, but I lost track of where this complaint is focused…the concept of multiple pastors or those who would complain about multiple pastors. I think a single pastor needs all of the help he could get. We were going over our church’s pastor/church covenant yesterday and it struck me that the pastor has to be good (not just acceptable or adequate) at at least five different skills/gifts: 1) preaching; 2) teaching (they are not the same thing–our pastor is a better preacher than teacher); 3) administrating; 4) evangelizing (it’s not as if the church MEMBERS are going to go out and do that); and 5) shepherding/personal needs caring (even if the other members do it, the pastor is expected to do the same things). It makes far more sense to have multiple people, each of whom is good at one or two of these things, than put the pressure on one person to do it all.

  27. I serve in a church with three pastors. I’m the Associate Pastor of just-about-everything-that-nobody-else-wants-to-do. One advantage I see to the multiple staff approach is actually related to the previous “Gillispie” post. People complain to my Senior Pastor about me, they complain to me about him. They complain to me and him about our Youth Pastor. In my experience, when the pastors on a staff have good relationships, it is far less likely that a church can chew up and spit out one of them.

  28. Michael,

    My favorite is the Internet or Web Pastor for the “online campus”

    While I don’t discount that you can pastor people electronically it’s still freakin’ hilarious.

  29. ProdigalSarah:

    “Is a Worship Pastor what, back in my day, we knew as a song leader?”

    One way to look at is that the Worship Pastor does for a salary what a Song Leader did for free 🙂 (I know it’s not that simple)

    Paul Wilkinson:

    “This hit home for us about 18 years ago when our pastor said that his goal was to be “a rancher, not a shepherd.”

    By saying this, he was inadvertently articulating for the church board what they saw as the main concern that they could not express.

    So armed with this new vocabulary, they informed him that they would not be needing his services, as they were going to hire a shepherd.”

    There’s a lot to think about in that comment!

    What’s the world coming to when the sheep “hire” the shepherd?

    Christ is the Great Shepherd, a Pastor is a shepherd, but the term could also be thought of as more of a metaphor than a job description when it comes to a Pastor.

    What does a Rancher look like as a metaphor for a Pastor? Is it a bad metaphor? (or even really different than the shepherd metaphor)

    Would unruly sheep follow a rancher better than a shepherd, or does it really matter, since they can just hire another one at will?

    This is another great thought-provoking post.

    Thanks iMonk

  30. Christopher Lake says

    It’s funny because it’s true. 🙂

    Also, as I wrote in the comments section for Part 1, a plurality of elders is the Biblical model for leadership. It’s a crying shame that so many Baptist congregations don’t realize that even Baptist churches used to adhere to the Biblical model (not all but at least some)!

  31. Don’t forget the ‘Executive Pastor’, who heads up all things financial and administrative.

    I long for the day when we have a more healthy understanding of the function and gifting of pastor, or maybe better worded as ‘shepherd’. It is sad we have turned the gift of shepherd into a title and a position. We’ve lost sight of Scriptures’ teaching on this area.

    I remember being at a leadership conference and one of the guys doing the teaching talked about how we, as leaders and pastors, need to give more time to the word and not as much time to the people. I, then, thought back over how Jesus said He was the good shepherd (pastor). And Jesus loved being with the sheep. Pastors, or shepherds, truly love being with the sheep. So to tell pastors to not spend as much time with the sheep might not be the best advice.

    And, this might be a breath of fresh air – one doesn’t even have to be recognised as a pastor and given the title to get on with being a pastor. I’ve seen it. It’s possible. And it’s beautiful. I think Jesus wasn’t so bothered about people calling Him Pastor Jesus. He just got on with shepherding.

  32. Very challenging article.

    In the Stone-Campbell Churches of Christ we generally have one minister, who does the work of a pastor without the title. The elders, of which the minister is generally not one, are supposed to do most of the pastoral care, although they end up acting as a board of directors for the church. This leaves the pastoral care for the minister, who must preach/teach at least 3 times every week, and sometimes 4, in most CofCs, as well as carry the evangelistic duties, and now the pastoral care duties.

    Sounds to me like we need to recover the biblical idea of the priesthood of believers and the gifting of believers for edifying ministry.

  33. Reading some of the comments, I think that it behooves me to make a couple of serious comments. I do not think that the problem is either that we have made a mistake by making the pastor into a title/position or that we have made a mistake by forgetting the priesthood of the believer.

    Rather, in this I agree with charismatics, or rather, I should say, charismatics agree with the ancient church. We have lumped too many gifts, callings, and offices, and their respective responsibilities and authorities, into one all-encompassing office, gift, and calling, with all responsibility (but little authority) lumped into that one office and then wonder why the poor pastor seems to be overwhelmed and incapable. And, having forgotten the ancient (and Scriptural) divisions, we wonder why that one office is again being split into so many titles and offices.

    Unfortunately, in some ways our Church is not much better in that it retains the titles but has tended to centralize the functions just as much as the rest of Christianity. But, to this day, we have both the “minor orders” and the “major orders.” We have tonsured readers and subdeacons, as well as deacons, archdeacons, priests, archpriests, bishops, archbishops, etc.

    No, I am not saying you should adopt all these titles. Rather, I am saying that–too often in frozen form–the Church retains a memory of different people having different places in the Church according to their gifting, their calling, and their ministry. The levels of responsibility, and even the levels of commitment required, varies with each one of the “orders” named above.

    In the ancient scheme, not everyone is required to be a pastor-in-charge in order to fulfill their ministry and calling. Frankly, the responsibilities of a subdeacon are rather light when compared to those of the parish priest. But, there are worthy people in that slot doing very helpful things in the Church. My subdeacon started an intercessory prayer group of four people. I go to them and “sick them” on problems and needs in our mission parish.

    I think the fear of clericalism or of too much hierarchy have often blinded us to the ancient wisdom that different levels of responsibility and public recognition for that, yes with a title and even liturgical privileges, and different levels of required commitment are healthy things that help a church to grow. And, note that not everyone needs to be seminary trained in order to hold some of these positions, although all who hold positions need to be educated to a level appropriate for the amount of responsibility they will have for other people.

    I could go on, but you get the idea.

  34. As a worship leader (not a worship pastor) I generally take 7-8 hours per week to prepare and plan for a single service.

    So as to not take too much space on this site, here is a break down of that time.

  35. Fr. Ernesto –
    Great post! I couldn’t agree more. I love this sentence:

    “We have lumped too many gifts, callings, and offices, and their respective responsibilities and authorities, into one all-encompassing office, gift, and calling, with all responsibility (but little authority) lumped into that one office and then wonder why the poor pastor seems to be overwhelmed and incapable. And, having forgotten the ancient (and Scriptural) divisions, we wonder why that one office is again being split into so many titles and offices.”

    Add to this the phenomenon of clergy “burnout” which is not only a spiritual malady, but also the result of being overwhelmed by an office that has absorbed virtually every duty of the parish for which no one man could possibly be gifted or capable.

  36. Is this question like how many licks does it take to get the center of a tootsie pop? 1- -2 – Crunch -3

    How about the title CVO — Chief Visionary Officer?


  37. Here are the characteristics of the Facebook Generation (via the Jesus Creed blog). These will have a huge impact on what we call pastors, and what they do.

    1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.
    2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.
    3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.
    4. Leaders serve rather than preside.
    5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.
    6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.
    7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.
    8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.
    9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.
    10. Users can veto most policy decisions.
    11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.
    12. Hackers are heroes.

  38. Bob Brague says

    Keith B @12:29 am on March 31 is obviously not a Baptist (I used to be but I’m not anymore).

    In the Baptist world with which I am familiar, the sheep always hire the shepherd. There is a “Pastoral Committee” elected who go visit other churches under cover of “visitor” to select “candidates” they can recommend to the congregation back home. Each selected candidate comes and preaches a sermon some Sunday. Then, after the congregation has had a look at all of them, they have a business meeting at which the deacons or the pastoral committee state who they prefer, then anybody else who wants to can get up and state who they prefer and why, and who they don’t prefer and why, and after the dust settles then everybody votes and then the church congregation officially “calls” a new pastor, who has the option of accepting or declining.

    At least, that’s the way it used to work in my circles.

    You mean, everybody doesn’t do it that way????

  39. Rich, your comment disturbs me in my core, as to what pastors should do: “4) evangelizing (it’s not as if the church MEMBERS are going to go out and do that);”

    If we are not doing this, as members, are we really even members of the Church? I don’t mean a registered member at some local congregation, I mean a Member of the Body of Christ. How can we call ourselves disciples if we don’t do what He called us to do – “go and preach” or to word it another way, “go and evangelize.” Sad is the day when the members pass off their Christ-given mandate to evangelize, to bring people closer to Him. We are nothing more than country clubs with less stringent membership requirements if that is the case.

  40. The pastors job is to equip the saints for good works. Paul appointed elders. plural. It is important to have a senior pastor who leads the elders. Problems arise due to a number of factors with any church model, which is why we have so many different ones. Having a pastor assigned from the Church Authorities like they do in high churches where the people have no recourse but to not attend if their assigned pastor does not fulfill his duties is one concern. Having a deacon board questioning the authority and practices of the pastor/elder hired gun like in baptist, free church, and non-denoms is another concern.

  41. Hey Bob,

    I do understand that in the US Church we do pick our own shepherds/pastors, it was just worded so blatantly that if the pastor doesn’t do what we want, teach what our itchy ears want to hear, and stroke our delicate egos, we will get another one who will. (and in the case that triggered me, it was just the Board doing it, A lot of Boards get too used to the power, or something, probably a human condition 🙂

    I’m A/G, and we also form a search committee, usually with help from our district leadership, pray, seek candidates, interview, possibly a visit to hear the candidate, an invite to preach or “try-out”. (it is better to use the whole weekend) Then we vote on one candidate at a time. If the vote is negative, it all starts over. There is a congregational vote after a year, as a confirmation, then every 3 years, a confirming vote. It’s pretty hard to vote out a pastor, if things are run on the up & up. (and it will not be just up to the Board to do it) (This might not be typical for every A/G church as they are almost all autonomous)

    I personally have the opinion that if you can’t put yourself under the authority of your Pastor, you might not be under the authority of God. (of course there are wacked out pastors out there, but a little submission doesn’t hurt, usually)

    Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

    Blessings to you.

    Go iMonk!

  42. Lance Athanasius,
    I don’t believe any reference to any senior pastor is ever mentioned in the NT. Paul did appoint elders (which are really the NT model of pastors to begin with) initially, but then churches began to appoint their own elders as best I can read/understand. Please show me where any senior pastors/elders were ever appointed or “approved” by any apostle or other authority in the Bible, as if this is wrong, I want to be corrected. I also believe we have wrong expectations when we want those who spend time preparing to preach for us to be the same men who shepard us. Should we be surprised at specialty-focused “pastors” when what we expect is not what Peter and Paul (and ultimately Jesus) taught to begin with?