10 Ways the Role of Pastor is Changing

I began pastoring a church in 1981. I was young and inexperienced, but excited. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I didn’t know all that the pastoral role entailed. I served as caregiver, preacher, counselor, teacher, driver, janitor, worship leader (only once . . . ), cook, and many other roles.

Now, some 35+ years later, I see the role of pastor changing. Recognizing that a trend does not describe every church, here are some trends I’m seeing:

  1. More team leadership – Some of this change is reflective of growing interest in elders, but even pastors who are the only staff member are seeking teams.  The pastor focuses on being the leader who equips the team.
  2. Less pastoral care – It’s not that care isn’t occurring; it’s simply occurring through staff members assigned that task and through small groups who accept that responsibility.
  3. More leadership training – Pastors are increasingly viewing training the next generation of church leaders as their responsibility. Many are partnering with universities and seminaries to accomplish this task.
  4. Increased responsibility to study apologetics and world religions – Pastors who genuinely shepherd their congregations must prepare them to speak truth to a world that increasingly denies biblical truth. This need often requires more pastoral training. 
  5. Shared preaching – In my day, only one pastor did the preaching. Today, more and more pastors intentionally share that responsibility with others.
  6. Less interest in the title “senior pastor” – Some leaders see no biblical warrant for the “senior pastor” title, and others shy away from it because it implies more single authority than they wish.
  7. Less counseling – Many pastors have learned that counseling can consume their time and energy, so they limit their time for this work. Others recognize their lack of training in this arena, and they partner with more trained leaders to do it.
  8. Shepherding growing congregations via multisite – This trend isn’t yet dominant, but thousands of churches of all sizes are now adopting the multisite approach. The primary pastor in these situations learns to shepherd much more from the pulpit. 
  9. More community and social involvement – My generation sometimes shied away from too much “social” ministry. Pastors today, particularly younger ones, give much more attention to these tasks.
  10. Ministry staff considered “pastors” – For example, “Pastor of Students” is increasingly more common than “Student Minister.” Accordingly, anyone in a ministry role must meet the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

What other changes are you seeing? Let us hear from you.

9 Comments

  • Grayson Pope says:

    Do you wish there were some things that weren’t changing? Curious to know as a young pastor. By the way, I’m taking your Personal Discipleship & Disciplemaking online soon! Looking forward to it.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Good question, Grayson. In general, I think some good changes are taking place. I do think we have to be careful not to lose the shepherding component of pastoring, which to me still includes walking beside folks in times of turmoil and crisis. Few pastors can do all of that work, and I’m nor arguing for that — I’m simply saying that we cannot get disconnected from the people we’re called to lead. Glad to have you in class!  

  • wcbcpastor says:

    Since 1981 I have been a single staff pastor – with the exception of about 2 years – for four months I had a seminary student intern; and for about 18 months our church had a very part time associate pastor – I have seen many of the changes you mentioned. One thing that has changed noticeably – at least for me and many in the Northwest – is an increasing dependence on relationships with other evangelical churches – more friendships, more prayer partners, more ministry sharing and so on.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Good point. I think that pastors in more pioneer areas are wisely recognizing the need to work together. Thanks for writing!

  • Darrell Deer says:

    Great insight, but I wonder how churches are handling these changes when they expect the pastor to fill many of those more traditional roles (counseling, pastoral care, single preacher, etc)?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Fair question. Some of these churches are genuinely equipping others to do the tasks. In some cases, though, the church’s expectation and the pastor’s expectation don’t always mesh.

  • Probably much like the early church, what was once old is now new

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