"The Pastor: Chaplain… or Rancher?"

Am struggling with the role of the pastor—and especially his/her role in a “transforming” community.

It’s a debate that was kindled well before I came here to Pollard—back to the time when, as pastor of 900-member Chapelwood UMC in Lake Jackson, I came to realize that I could not do it all… nor was it what the church really needed of its pastor. The voices of “coaches” (Bill Easum and George Brookover) confirmed that conviction.

Work over the last few years here at Pollard (first with Beeson studies [through Asbury] and more recently with Conference consultant Don Nations [of DNA Coaching]) has only heighten these impressions.

Most recently, Don was meeting with our Strategic Mapping Team—discussing the report that is currently before our Administrative Board… and its recommendations for the Pollard Parish.

Along the way, he described the role of the Pastor in a church like ours. With broad strokes, he described the way a pastor should allocate his/her time in a setting of “transformation:” a day spent with the targeted unchurch, a day spent in developing internal church leadership, a day spent in his/her spiritual growth,… a lot fewer meetings, etc.

He drifted off before I caught the whole picture, the whole plan. Admittedly, it wasn’t his agenda that night to nail down the specifics as much as paint a picture for the SMT: of a church family in which the pastor is more of a “rancher” than a “shepherd.” (Ranchers, you see, know the undershepherds but not every sheep and lamb. They know the hows and whys of “husbandry” [i.e., making more sheep] and ranch development but do not micromanage every single movement of every single flock.) I heard him saying that, Biblicly speaking, the pastor is to be a lot more than the chaplain who caters to, panders to, and/or placates the whim of every single soul inside the walls.

Because I did not hear him fully, though (and wanted to make sure I was really hearing him [and not myself… and my wishes and wants]), I wrote him—asking him to clarify and expand: “Don… wondering if you’d give me a snapshot/summary of that ‘average week in the life of a Transforming Pastor’… Okay, I have 7 days (Monday thru Sunday)… Tell me how I might live those 7 days… How did you live an average week?”

With his permission, I post his reply.

It may not be what I specifically wanted. (In some ways, I would have liked a more straightforward answer that didn’t mean so much processing on my part: “on Monday, I’d….; on Tuesday, I’d…; on Wednesday….” Be that as it may, his response does provide real food for thought… and further discussion. And that may be far more valuable than the simplicity I immediately seek and want.


Please send me a link to your blog. You are welcome to use my response as part of an ongoing dialogue.

You asked, “what does an average week in the life of a transformational pastor look like?” Allow me to paint with a broad brush and make some foundational statements/assertions/beliefs/thoughts/ideas first.

  • The Church exists as much for those outside of it and for those inside of it [did Don mean “as it does” here rather than “and”?]
  • People do not owe us a visit but we owe them a visit
  • Most people who don’t go to church aren’t looking for a church but they are open to a relationship with someone who happens to go to church
  • People can smell a sales job from a mile away so a relationship started simply to be able to “sell” Jesus likely won’t be effective
  • Church people typically are not that good at building relationships with new people, especially people who don’t go to church
  • A real relationship with someone is a better foundation for sharing Jesus than cold calling on someone
  • Too many pastors are so locked into taking care of existing people that they leave little time for unchurched people
  • So many of the things that many pastors do have little to do with the long-term success of the church

In new church start situation we typically encourage pastors to spend at least 50% of their time with those who do not go to church. In an existing church this should likely be 20%-33% (or more). This may seem like a lot and the pastor may have to “negotiate” with his/her church but it is necessary if the church is to grow. Not that the church should simply rely on the pastor to reach new people but it is important that pastors become better at reaching new people. It would be even better if the pastor could take people from the church on outings to interact with unchurched people.

I believe that people should spend 80% of their time in the 20% of things they do best. This means that it is essential that the pastor know and understand his/her spiritual gifts. Certainly there are some things that pastors have to do that may not be in the areas of their best gifts – making hospital visits, managing staff, filling out denominational forms, attending meetings, etc. These, however, should not occupy the bulk of the pastor’s time. Unfortunately, there are many churches which seem to value these things – taking care of us – above almost anything else.

I think the pastor needs to be the best spiritually prepared person, have a great sermon, have a heart that beats with God’s vision for the church and be a great spiritual leader. Beyond these things, everything else is secondary. The pastor may or may not have great spiritual gifts in each of these areas but the larger the church, the more these are essential. At the very least (and in many ways this is an essential task) the pastor should be good at identifying “spiritually pregnant people” and recruiting, developing and deploying new leaders.

In my last church I attended almost no meetings. I averaged being out less than one night per week with meetings. I met with leaders and they met with their committees. I met with people who I thought were emerging leaders and these gatherings often occupied a total of a day per week. I didn’t spend much time in sermon preparation (literally less than 5 hours per week) but I invested significant time in keeping up with the headlines, knowing my community, understanding the issues with which the people in the church were wrestling, etc. I consider those things as part of my sermon preparation. I spent time with staff and I think that is important, especially if the time is spent in mentoring them, helping them grow and getting to know them better. Sure I had to do some administration, reviewing of financial records, etc. I had a very part-time associate pastor who made almost all of my hospital visits; I only made about 11 hospital visits in 5 years. That is just me and I am not saying that this should be true for all people but many pastors invest a lot of time making visits and have very little to show for it. I invested some time helping people be accountable to the membership covenant they signed when they joined the church. I did invest one night per week playing on the worship team but (1) I was not the worship leader, (2) many of the key leaders of the church were on the worship team and (3) I really wanted to help craft the worship service and move it in a particular direction.


  • What are you spiritual gifts?
  • How much time do you spend in the 20% of things you do best?
  • Who really sets you agenda – the church, you or God?
  • With how many people who do not attend church do you have a relationship?
  • When is the last time you shared your faith in Jesus and what happened?

I also believe that all leaders need to tithe and be involved in some form of spiritual growth. Is this happening in the life of the local church? Are most leaders participating in continuing education during the course of a year?

There is much more that can be said but allow me to stop there for now and see what questions and comments emerge.

God’s peace,

Admittedly, my struggle, now, is not so much with Don’s conceptions. I am sold… and could find myself in this radically different role in a heartbeat. (Maybe I am deluded here? I really don’t think so.)

No, if there’s any real struggle that abides it is that of how to sell the leadership and laity of the local church on this adjusted role and job description of the pastor–leaders and laity who have their conceptions, who are largely used to and want a chaplain, a shepherd who coddles, placates and panders.

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