When Pastors Become Experts in the Wrong Things

Pastors experts in church

There were two precise moments in my life that drilled home the message: You, Ed Cyzewski, are not a pastor. At least, I’m not a pastor in the traditional North American Evangelical pastor sense of the word.

Here’s One Moment:

Standing at a bulletin board littered with pastoral job descriptions in my seminary cafeteria, I saw the lists of requirements for pastoral positions. I remember thinking, “No human being can do all of this. They want to hire Jesus.”

The lists were something like this:

  • Strong spiritual life with commitment to daily Bible study and prayer.
  • Supports our doctrinal statement which is based on biblical Christianity.
  • Will preach at least 40 Sundays each year.
  • Available in the evenings for committee and ministry meetings.
  • Plans Sunday services.
  • Manages staff hiring.
  • Leads church meetings.
  • Participates in elder meetings.
  • Set up and coordinate small group ministries.
  • Oversee office staff who develop website, bulletin, and other communication.
  • Available to counsel individuals.
  • Recruit, train, and lead volunteers.
  • Responsible to lead evangelistic outreach to community.
  • Ensure church has thriving ministries for children, youth, and college students.
  • Provide ministries to every possible niche in a white suburban setting, including but not limited to seniors, singles, parents, athletes, gamers, introverts, and rabbit owners.
  • Must repair or at least kick all broken office equipment, including the copier, fax machine, and wireless router.

You get the idea. The level of commitment and expertise is staggering. There are MANY areas of expertise that pastors are called to embody.

They have to be expert managers, spiritual directors, Bible scholars, communicators, evangelists, volunteer coordinators, and technical experts. Oh, and pastors are also expected to be counselors—as in, helping people with major, major life problems.

The problems pastors are called to address in a counseling setting could include teenage rebellion, childhood trauma, marital difficulties, depression, and plenty or other severe issues that they may not even realize they’re dealing with. Sometimes people walk into a pastor’s office presenting one issue, when there’s really something else simmering under the surface. Are most pastors even qualified to handle these types of counseling situations?

I attended a really great seminary for my Master of Divinity where I could have added a few counseling electives to my requirements, but let’s just say that I coasted through my one required counseling class with a B and called it a day. I was completely out of my depth in counseling situations. When I had to counsel a friend for part of my coursework, I had no idea what to tell him about his problem.

“Pray?” (I know! Right?)

The session was supposed to last twenty minutes. I made it to fifteen by ending our session with a REALLY long prayer.

The vast majority of the pastoral positions out there came with the expectation that I would teach the Bible, counsel, manage, and micro-manage at the very least. There weren’t too many places where my gifts as a creative introvert could help churches that were calling for extroverted jacks-of-all-trades.

I may have noticed this discrepancy because I grew up in a church that had a “counseling pastor” on staff. That’s literally all he did—except for the occasional Sunday when he was dragged kicking and screaming up front to preach a sermon. Another pastor was hired to handle all of the meetings and volunteer stuff. Another pastor handled all of the community networking. While every church has their issues, I really appreciated the focused nature of each pastor’s role.

The pastor who provided counseling actually had significant training and experience when it came to recognizing abusive situations, walking with people through seasons of depression, and guiding couples through difficult seasons of their marriages.

There’s a burden on pastors to do many different things well. They’re expected to be theological experts, master communicators, well-grounded counselors, and so on. This mindset is only encouraged because pastors with no formal counseling experience write books on topics like having a healthy marriage. It’s like we’ve said, “Hey, if you have enough people attending your church, take a swing at any topic you like!”

Most of us struggle to do one thing well. The exceptional can do two things well. Pastors have to do 10 things well.

And if a pastor passes someone off to another person with more expertise, people sometimes feel shortchanged. Many want the pastor to handle it.

“What are we paying this person to do, anyway?”

I’ve seen this over and over again while working and volunteering at different churches. People want the pastor to handle things—even in the areas where they don’t have experience or knowledge.

I know that pastors feel this burden. Some pastors want to be needed. They want to be essential, so they take on more things than they can handle. Others feel duty bound to take on as much as possible, lest someone send an angry email.

There’s no shame for a pastor to pass responsibilities to someone with more expertise.

There’s also a significant need for churches to scale back their expectations for pastors. A seminary can only teach so much, and much of what pastors learn in seminary is how to teach the Bible, not how to herd cats/lead a congregation.

My friend David Henson, an Episcopal minister, tweeted:

“Pastors need to remember sometimes their job is to lovingly steer folks to professional help. We walk with, not fix & solve.”

May we recognize the fits of each individual pastor and surround them with people who can help them minister effectively without burning out or having to become experts in things they know nothing about.