With any vocation, a set of skills is necessary to do your work. Is this true for pastors too? Doesn’t God enable a pastor to do his work? Yes, He does. He makes you able to do what you could not do in your own knowledge and strength.
But there is a human side to pastoral work as well. A pastor grows in his understanding of how to do pastoral work and in his skill at performing the work. Preparing for ministry includes learning skills for effectively doing pastoral work.
This post is part of the Pathway to Pastoral Ministry series which starts here. My purpose is to encourage young men who are considering the idea of being a pastor.
When Paul instructed Timothy about the qualifications of a pastor in 1 Timothy 3, he said, “These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15, NKJV). Paul encouraged Timothy to learn how to function in church life. You also need to learn how to “do ministry.” Part of this is learning pastoral skills.
What I mean by “pastoral skills” is not so much how to preach, how to share the Gospel, how to perform a wedding, etc. Of course you need to learn those too. What I’m talking about here are finer points of conducting yourself in your pastoral responsibilities. Let me explain.
We’ve already discussed three primary areas of a pastor’s responsibility. Do you remember what they are? The ministry of the Word (public and personal); spiritual care for the people; and leadership and oversight of the church.
Pastoral skills are connected to those areas of responsibility. The three kinds of pastoral skills I will focus on are speaking skills, people skills, and leadership skills.
You can begin developing these skills now. You will grow in them as you continue on the path to pastoral ministry. In fact, you will mature in these your whole life.
Let’s start with speaking skills.
We’ve already talked about taking steps to learn to develop and deliver sermons. You can do this with your pastor before you start formal training, and you will have classes on preaching in college or seminary. But let’s think more broadly than just preaching.
Pastors are, by nature of their work, communicators. As a pastor you will do a lot of speaking in front of a group of people.
That might scare you. It does most people. Public speaking ranks high on the list of people’s greatest fears. But you can grow in your confidence and in your ability to speak to groups. When you have something important to say, you can overcome your fear and nervousness.
My purpose here is not to give speech lessons. I’m going to highlight areas to focus on and give a few words of advice as you learn to communicate effectively to a group of people.
First, learn to prepare thoroughly so you know what you’re going to say. This applies to everything from announcements to sermons. If you have something to say, you’ll be able to get it out when you’re in front of a group of people. Think through the details you need to communicate. Select the best wording. Jot notes down so you will remember. Use these as a cue sheet when you speak.
Second, learn to format your content for effective communication. When you’re speaking to a group of people, you want to connect with them personally. You’re not an audio book reader or a scientist sharing research data. You’re speaking from your mind and heart to theirs.
Whether you’re preaching a sermon, welcoming attendees to an service, or introducing a speaker, be warm and personal. Think about the people you’re going to be speaking to as you prepare to speak. Your notes may look good on paper, but how will the words and ideas sound as you verbalize them out loud to real live people? Don’t just offload information. Communicate.
This third area might strike you as a little weird. That’s okay. Just think about it and let it grow on you. You’re going to have to learn poise. I’m not talking about walking with books on your head. Dictionary.com defines it as “a dignified, self-confident manner or bearing; composure; self-possession”. I would describe it as overcoming your discomfort to put others at ease.
See, you’re going to feel awkward standing in front of people. It’s okay for people to know that, especially when you’re starting out. But you need to quickly get over your discomfort because it distracts your listeners. If you are comfortable being up there, your listeners will be comfortable with it too.
Also, distractions and disruptions go with public speaking. Anything can happen. Cell phones ring. Babies cry. People walk out. (They’re probably not mad at you, just going to the bathroom!) The sound system screeches. If you let these rattle you, everyone gets uncomfortable and distracted. If you respond with patience and grace and recover quickly from the disruption, everyone else will too.
Being comfortable in front of people doesn’t mean you’re overly casual. Plant your feet, stand up straight, and lift your voice. Your delivery conveys the significance of your message. If you’re slouching all over the podium, mumbling, and fiddling with your phone, people won’t take you seriously.
Poise also includes handling difficult matters with tact. As a pastor, you will speak to your flock about sensitive issues. At times the church will engage in a process of church discipline and you will need to communicate with the congregation about it. There may be division in the church that you must address firmly but with grace. You’ll need to develop wording for these occasions that deals with the problem as directly as needed, but without causing people unnecessary embarrassment. The spirit you convey should reflect the seriousness of the situation but not be unduly harsh.
One more area of speaking skills to develop is creativity. Here’s the reality: pastors say the same things to the same group of people week after week after week. Sure, you preach a different sermon every week. But think about what else a pastor says during a 60-90 minute worship service.
“Good morning everyone, it’s a beautiful/cold/rainy day out there. Welcome to our church.”
“Here are a few announcements . . .”
“Would the ushers please come forward to receive our offerings.”
“Turn in your Bibles to . . .”
People naturally lose interest when the same things are repeated using the same words. Using your imagination a little when planning what you’re going to say will help them pay attention.
Even with your preaching, remember you’re not just repeating information you found in a bunch of commentaries. You’re communicating truth to transform people’s hearts, minds, and lives. Take time to think about the best way to help them process that truth. Think of how Jesus used examples from nature, culture, and life to illustrate truth. Don’t just say the first thing that comes to your head. Develop fresh wording for familiar ideas.
Now, don’t go overboard with creativity. Too much can distract people from the information you’re announcing or the truth you’re preaching. Just be interesting enough to get and keep their attention.
There’s a lot more you will learn about speaking effectively in front of people. Pastors talk a lot! That’s what shepherds do. Jesus said of shepherds, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). He was illustrating His relationship with His people. He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
In a similar way, your people will get to know your voice. You will lead them by what you say. It’s essential that you speak accurately and clearly so they will understand you. It helps to speak a little creatively so they’ll continue to listen to you. Keep developing your speaking ability as you follow the pathway to pastoral ministry.
In addition to speaking skills, you’ll also need people skills.