Readers responded to a "Tell us!" earlier this year that asked, "What is your hope or expectation for the ideal pastor? What skills or characteristics are important?" Here are three responses.
Relate! A pastor needs to be able to relate to me, my joys, my sorrows, my problems. I need to be known by the pastor. A pastor who preaches but doesn't relate will lose people. A pastor needs to be able to show me how God is working through me and in me.
Allen D. Polich
Grace Lutheran Church
Empathy over degrees: The most important skill/characteristic hoped in a pastor is empathy, as well as the ability to faithfully share the word and sacraments. While inspiring sermons are nice, they're not essential. Friendliness, biblical insight and a willingness to treat all members with respect and concern are more important than profound scholarship or advanced degrees.
Faith Lutheran Church
Stories & love: It took me almost three years in the parish to learn what my members were really looking for — down-to-earth stories like Jesus told. And years later, all that people remembered of my sermons was the stories I told. They learned our doctrine through those stories. I also learned that the message I should give to my members was not just in words, but in a life of caring love. Jesus demonstrated his message and his love through what he did as well as through the parables he told. Preaching and teaching are important, but the two most important things a pastor should know are: 1) the people must know he or she loves them and 2) that he or she is most effective by couching sermons and classes in stories and language that will be remembered long after he or she is gone. I was disappointed that the church never suggested that in my undergraduate classes I should take courses in business, music, psychology and, yes, even theater.
Robert S. Ove, retired pastor
Rio Rancho, N.M.
There is something stark and strange about a recently vacated office. The empty walls and shelves, the cleared desk, and the absence of memorabilia and ubiquitous coffee mug all make it undeniably clear that the erstwhile occupant is gone. And if that room was the pastor's office, it's also abundantly clear that the congregation is entering the call process.
The call process: these words can strike fear in the hearts of the hardiest congregation. Where will we find a new pastor (or associate in ministry or deaconess or diaconal minister)? What will the next pastor be like? What should the next pastor be like? How long will it take? What will happen to us? Is there anyone out there?
And out there are pastors, associates in ministry, deaconesses, diaconal ministers, even newly graduated seminarians all wondering about their next (or first) call. Where will I find a call? What will, or should, it be like? How long will it take? What will happen to me? Is anyone out there?
This space between the ending of one call and the beginning of the next is charged with possibility, anxiety, hope, uncertainty, renewal and grief — sometimes all swirling around at once.
And out of this mix (though not from any of our congregations, of course) can come difficult-to-fulfill expectations: if we just get the right pastor our 20-year slide in (choose one: membership, attendance, giving, youth participation — OK, you can choose more than one) will be reversed. We will again become the leviathan of our golden age (pick a decade) when the Sunday school was full, all the youth belonged to the Luther League, everyone was in church, the hymnal was red, stores were closed on Sunday, no one played soccer, T-shirts were underwear not fashion statements, acolytes wore hard-soled shoes, and there were so many women's circles that after they went through all the good girls of the Bible they had to go back and start naming circles after Jezebel and Tamar and Gomer.
Yeah, that's when church was church!
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© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers