I’ve been asked by many this question, “What makes a good pastor?” This is a hard question to answer because it depends on your definition of “good” and “pastor.” I can make some observations though.
I’ve seen two kinds of pastors lately. I’ve seen those who network well and are making a name for themselves, and I’ve seen those who faithfully work within the church but do not network. The dichotomy between two styles is just this obvious. Which one is best?
The former has some advantages in that they can become quite famous very quickly. This happens for many who have networked themselves into speaking in important conferences, writing in important magazines and hooking up with influential groups. Their advantage, when examined, is inadvertent marketing success. The disadvantage however can outweigh advantages because networking can be endless and can occupy hours upon hours of work time. Since all of us only have 24/7 equally, something has got to give. Often, family time, sermon preparation and even pastoral visits can take a backseat. I’ve known of one case where the church administration has suffered tremendously because of the networking preoccupation of the senior pastor. One elder remarked in frustration, “If he wants to go out and speak so much, he should just freelance like you.” My reply of course is, “You guys tolerate him. Freelancing does not make good money and he knows it. You guys have provided the perfect setting for him to freelancing while taking up a stable salary.” I’ve heard the preaching of one particular networking pastor. He clearly does not do enough sermon preparation.
Let me address the second group, the pastors who focus solely on their own flock and their own churches. These pastors have great advantages as well. Their work schedule is very regimented. They tend to be loved by the flock. Their preaching often are very solid. They are often not the most famous speakers, but they sure do a great job when they have to preach. They also suffer from the lack of support from the outside though. Many such pastors are in charge of smaller or medium size churches. They haven’t exchanged enough ideas to grow their churches creatively because they lack outside connection. Often, if their churches are not denominational, their preaching also suffers because they use limited resources without finding out what else is out there. The same pastors are often hesitant or even suspicious of outside speakers simply because they hardly know the good ones from the bad. They’re often overworked.
Is there a balance between a network approach and the lockdown approach to ministry? I think there is. When I look at one model minister, the apostle Paul, he was a man with many networks. He was also a solid biblical teacher. Rarely has the history of the church been blessed with someone as gifted as he. What is the key to striking the balance?
For the network pastor, someone needs to help him to do an honest evaluation in terms of how many hours he needs to do an adequate job in sermon preparation and pastoral care along with church administration to make sure the flock is taken care of and then do the networking as the lowest priority. I’ve seen a few who have networked so much that their preaching has drastically gotten worse than even when they first graduated from seminary, if such a scenario is even possible (they weren’t great preachers to begin with when they graduated). Networking should be the byproduct not the main stable of their ministry.
For the lockdown pastor, they also need people around them to keep them accountable in terms of what is reasonable time spent on sermon preparation, pastoral visits and church administration. He too needs to find the leftover time to network. In order to determine what leftover time he has, we need to ask hard questions such as these. Does the minister really need to visit every healthy member at least once every two years? Is the minister getting adequate resources to better himself in his preaching? Is he spending enough time building up his own family? Is the church motivating enough volunteers to help him accomplish his tasks? Someone in leadership needs to ask these questions because all these questions affect the long-term health of the church.
In other words, when we are faced with such a question about what makes a good pastor, we need a whole other set of questions before we can come to an adequate conclusion. The pastor can’t function by himself. He needs people around him to help him to become better. In a sense, the church leadership often determines whether the pastor ultimately would grow into a good or bad pastor. The focal questions I ask above points to one key question: does the pastor really care about the overall health of his flock?