No “Preachers” Please

I have been reflecting on the term “pastor” in the last few months. Part of it is because sometimes people here call me pastor (even though it is not a title or role I seek), but also because our group promotes, trains on, and writes about “pastoral care.”  Not all Christian groups use the term pastor, of course. Some use bishop. That is a perfectly good word, but I don’t care for it because it has commonly be redefined in terms of hierarchy. Some use “priest” or “vicar.”  I don’t care for that because it suggest acting as a necessary mediator between God and people. Some groups use the term “apostle,” I have real problems with that because the NT idea of churchplanter/missionary gets replaced with a totally disconnected idea of authoritative (or even authoritarian) denominational boss.

However, the term I like least is “preacher.” I know that preacher is almost never thought of as official title… but it is a common term and most people would understand immediately who is being meant by the term “preacher.” An obvious problem I have with this is that one’s occupational title is narrowed down to a narrow role, there is a tendency to redefine the occupation in line with that role. It may even be that people will will select that occupation based on the role. I used to be a mechanical engineer. If the occupation was renamed “computer drafter” there would be a great deal of confusion since the occupation would now be primarily titled by only one aspect (not even the most important aspect) of the occupation. It is also possible that such a role may start attracting people who like drawing on computer out of proportion to those who may be best suited for the role.

Symptomatically, I see this problem with the term “preacher.” I took preaching in seminary and I remember the instructor saying that he believed that “preaching” is the most important role of a pastor. I liked (and still like) our professor, but I don’t believe it is Top-5… maybe not Top-10. Additionally, for a pastor at our seminary, he is required to take 3 preaching classes, 2 ministerial leadership classes, 2 music classes, 2 Christian education classes, 1 missions class, 1 pastoral care class, 0 dialogue classes, and 0 apologetics classes, Of course, one can take electives… but the priority of the class requirements certainly suggests the priority given to preaching.

I would like to suggest otherwise.

1.  The term pastor is tied to the Biblical metaphor of the shepherd. The central concept is caring not preaching, and leading not talking.

2.  In this post-modern age, dialogue is a more important skill than preaching. Listening is a more critical skill.

3.  In dealing with people of other cultures (even cultures in one’s own neighborhood), the key skills are anthropological… particularly “participant-observation.” Interaction and observation or more important skills.

4. The best pastors I have seen show definite concern and care for their membership… as well as the community around them. Some of these pastors are perfectly fine preachers. However,, often the best preachers are unempathetic social misfits. <This one hits close to home for me considering my general lack of social skills.>

5. Mentoring (a relational/modeling function) is more effective in holistic transformation than discipleship, and discipleship (a teaching function) is more effective than preaching (a proclamation function).

Clebsch and Jaeckle saw four basic functions of pastoral care:

  • Guiding (a teaching/helping role)
  • Healing (a caring/helping role)
  • Sustaining (a relational/comforting role)
  • Reconciling (a relationship/healing role)

Pastoral care does not fully define the role of a pastor. There are many things that pastors need to do that does not fall within the general concept of pastoral care. However, if one was to prioritize the functions of a pastor, I would have to suggest topping it off with “pastoral care.” Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that the title pastor should be replaced by “pastoral carer.” But it would be better than “preacher.”



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