Why Are Preachers Expected to Be Pastors?

Why are many preachers expected to do the work of the eldership?,” was a question in a recent email. My thoughts:

When a condition is chronic and people are upset about it, it’s because everybody likes it the way it is more than what it would take to change it.

It begins in the courtship phase.

Elders and preachers often have different job descriptions for themselves and each other. When one or both are too anxious to say what needs to be said and ask what needs to be asked, conflict will result. If we like “peace” (no discomfort) during the interview, disappointment will follow. To have a peaceful relationship later, we need to ask and answer hard, uncomfortable questions before we agree to work with each other.

A comprehensive discussion of elders’ role and preacher’s role during interviews will clarify expectations. They should record these agreements in a clear job description.

Elders and preachers need to ask and tell their understanding of the responsibilities of each. That’s followed by checking references to discover if what each said is what they’ve been doing. I’ve found few conversions during the process of selecting a new preacher — either of elders or preachers. Generally, people will continue the way they’ve been. The best place to predict future actions is to learn past practices.

Some elderships think their responsibility of shepherding the flock is to be sure the preacher shepherds the flock. I’ve seen a few preachers who like pastoring more than sermon and lesson preparation.

In checking references on churches, I ask elders, former preachers at that church, secretaries, custodians, present and past members, “How do the elders function? (administrators, shepherds, bosses, deacons, workers, etc.)”.

You can find forms containing this question and a reference checklist for prospective preachers and other information to help in the interview process at this page on my website: The Search.

Reference Form for Preacher.

Preacher Interview.

Staff Interview.

In premarital counseling, after asking what each person admires about the other, I follow with this question, “What do you not like; you think you’ll be able to change it in six months, but you won’t; and how will you put up with it?”

I don’t think a couple is ready to get married until they know that about each other. I don’t think a church is ready to select a preacher or a preacher is ready to choose a church until both answer that question.

During my “tryout” at one church in a question and answer session, a woman asked, “If you come here as our preacher, how much will you visit?”. My answer:

I’m glad you asked. The elders and I have talked for weeks. We’ve worked out a job description for me as your preacher if you select me and I decide to accept. There’s no mention of visitation of any kind in my job description. Therefore, as the preacher of this church, I’ll make no visits. Gail and I have discussed with the elders about placing membership with this congregation if I become the preacher here.
As a member of this congregation, I’ll visit because that’s what Christians do. Since my schedule is flexible, I may visit more than some who have long working hours. My answer to your question is: I’ll visit about as much as you do.
That church was my longest term as a local preacher — fourteen years. I didn’t hear criticism about my visiting during my time there. We had the understanding before I came. I also have a communication agreement: let me know how I can be helpful. Tell me when you’re going to the hospital and if you’d like me to visit: Communication Rules.

Questions to ask yourself if you’re already in a situation that’s less than ideal:

  • What am I doing to contribute to this?
  • What would it be worth to change this?
  • What would it cost to change?
  • What will others and I get out of leaving it the way it is?
  • What will it cost to leave it the way it is?
  • Do I want to continue the way I’m doing it, do what I can to change it, or do I want to learn to be content the way it is?

What are your observations about conflicting expectations?


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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

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