Who is a Pastor?

While I attended Seminary, I began to develop a compassion for pastors. I participated in several different kinds of evaluations used by churches to self evaluate, but I could not find a single self evaluation matrix for pastors.

As a result, I began to list questions I would like to ask pastors while I was studying to become one. When the list of questions grew to twelve pages and I shared this with my peers, I suddenly found pastors eager to be interviewed. Even though the interview was three to four hours long, nearly every pastor was eagerly willing to give me his or her time.

I decided I needed to interview pastors face to face. I felt that surveys via the internet were too impersonal and lacked detailed information. Phone interviews limited my ability to analyze the pastor’s gaze or body language while being questioned  (uncertainty, certainty, misunderstanding, hostility, willingness, tired, bored, eager). For decades, I focused on interviewing children with learning issues as well as their parents, teachers, social workers, principals, and psychologists, so the interviewing of pastors and the analyzing of data came easily to me.

My overarching inquiry concerned the kind of person who became pastors. More than wanting to know what a pastor did, I wanted to know who became pastors and why. Though the pastors I interviewed were African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Caucasian; citizen or immigrant; male or female, I noticed one similarity among them all. Each one felt called by God.

In fact, many came from previous careers especially in the legal or medical field. Some were previously social workers, teachers or community organizers. Some worked in a company before coming to Seminary. Only one had a political background. None were scientists. Very few came directly from college with no work experience unlike former times when a young man graduated from college, married, and had a wife help put him through Seminary.

This matrix is also different than the parents choosing s male child of a large Italian or Irish family to become a priest. These were not single people by choice who wanted to live a life of celibacy or a monastic life of prayer. Neither were they all married with 2.5 children as expected among Protestants. In fact, most did not meet the qualifications in I Timothy 3.

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭3:1-7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Though a worthy list of attributes, we know even the Apostles did not live up to this standard. So what matters?

The two major attributes of those I interviewed were patience and perseverance encased in a love for people. I believe if churches hired one with those attributes regardless of how they delivered a sermon, the church would have a worthy pastor. People overlook a lot if they feel loved and respected,

Most people would think pastors need to be compassionate. Yes. But love demands that compassion be tempered with boundaries and a discerning mind. The fruit of the spirit includes self control. And Paul’s love list includes not giving all you have to the poor (I Corinthians 13).

The other similarity was that all of them were quite aware they were not perfect. This humility was refreshing, given that most pastors try to live up to the notion that they have all the answers.

I am quite aware that male pastors need to present their best side to each other. Men are guarded even while calling each other “bro” or brother. So as a woman, I did not seem to pose a threat. I promised confidentiality which was extremely important in getting the honest answers I needed. As a pastor, I could sympathize but as a woman I could be sympathetic. And because I showed them I understood, some interviews evoked tears.

Before I began each interview, I prayed each pastor would feel the Holy Spirit tapping them on the shoulder to guide them. The sad news is that not all of them are officially still pastors. I attribute this to churches that reflect the divisive and idle society in which we live.

So I ask current pastors, former pastors, deacons, elders, church leaders, and members to pray for the ones God is leading to pastor a church. Pray diligently. God is calling people to be pastors and we need to encourage them, love them, and pray for them. ,


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