By Scott Douglas
Baseball players need to be able to hit, throw and catch. Musicians need to be able to play scales and put together chords. Surgeons need to know how to cut and stitch. In every field we find a list of necessary skills in order to excel. Ministry is no different. If we want to be effective as pastors, there are a few things we need to be able to do. Scripture gives us a helpful list of character qualities in 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1 with one major skill: the ability to teach.
Beyond the biblical qualifications, developing a list of ministry skills and qualities is important so that we are able to serve the Lord and His Bride effectively. To help figure this out I polled 15 pastors, laypeople and seminary professors for what they felt a pastor needed to be and do in order to be effective. From that, a list of 21 skills and qualities came out. Then I surveyed more than 450 pastors, staff members and laypeople and asked them to rate the skills and qualities for effective ministry. From that I was able to make 3 conclusions.
- Teaching and preaching are fundamental to ministry – The top response across all demographics was that effective ministry is Word-centered. Whether it’s the public ministry of preaching or the private ministry of discipleship, a pastor’s primary work is through the Word.
- The size of a church is a big factor in determining expectations – I believe one reason pastors fail in churches is that they don’t know, meet, or understand the expectations of s congregation. In smaller churches, the skills and qualities of personal “high touch” ministry were much more important than executive/administrative functions.
- Laypeople want to know their pastor – “Pastoral Care” and “Being A People Person” were much higher for laypeople than for clergy. They want to know their pastor as a shepherd who visits and cares for them on a personal level, not just a Sunday morning speaker.
So what can pastors do to help their ministry be more effective? I want to propose five action steps that can help pastors enjoy a more productive, fruitful, and faithful ministry.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses – If we find areas where we need growth, a mentor can be a great asset to help us improve. It also helps us see our strengths so we can focus on using them more.
- Learn your church’s culture & expectations – Each congregation has its own meaning of what effective ministry is. One I know of called a phenomenal preacher who lacked in pastoral care. For that church, visitation and counseling were major expectations they failed to share with the candidate before he arrived.
- Keep the main thing the main thing – It was no surprise that preaching & teaching was rated so high. If anything it should remind us in ministry to maintain excellence in how we bring the Word each week. Remember, our first task as pastors is to regularly feed the church from Scripture.
- Make visits – A lot of us (especially younger pastors) are uneasy about hospital visits, sickness, death, and grief. But we cannot overlook how important it is to visit with our people. The Puritan pastor Richard Baxter was known to schedule visiting each family in his church every year. While home visits may be less common today, we cannot forget that our ministry is about people.
- Be people of prayer – In what best can be said an oversight, I didn’t include prayer as a quality for effective ministry. I had someone send that in as an open-ended response then it hit me: we emphasize our preaching so much we forget that for pastors our prayer lives are just as important. It’s what Peter led the early church to emphasize as the two tasks of the apostles, preaching and prayer.
The list of these qualities and skills can be found in Scott’s book Dream Teams. Scott serves as the student minister at Westside Baptist in Murray KY. He is a graduate of SBTS and did his doctoral work on leadership development. More importantly he’s the husband of Carrie Beth and dad to Sam and Gray. Connect with Scott at his blog: scottmdouglas.weebly.com.