Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pastoral Qualifications and Assignment

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Pastoral Qualifications and Assignment:

Q: How does one become a pastor, and how do they become the pastor of a particular congregation? How is it decided if/when pastors will move from one congregation to another?

The assignment of pastors to particular congregations is a subject for which there are no commands in the Bible. As a result, there are a wide variety of processes and arrangements by which this occurs.

The apostle Paul does give several qualifications which pastors must meet, which are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These include that married pastors have only one wife; that they be capable of teaching; exhibit self-control; avoid drunkenness, violence, and greed; that they manage their family well; that they would not have become a Christian only recently; and that they have a good reputation.

Various Christian traditions develop and verify these qualities in different ways. The traditional route in modern Christianity has been that a pastor attend a seminary in order to receive Masters level theological education and spend time under the supervision of the faculty to verify pastoral character. This typically meant 7 years of classroom education along with at least 1 year dedicated to supervised experience in the field.

In more recent times, some denominations have required only attainment of a Bachelors degree, or attendance at a specialized Bible College in order to enter ministry. In a small number of denominations and in some non-denominational congregations, pastors may be accepted with no formal theological education, in which case their qualifications and character would be judged only by the leadership of the local congregation.

In the Bible and the history of the early church, we see many models by which pastors come to lead particular congregations. At times, a man seems to have risen up from within the congregation to become its pastor. On other occasions, Paul has assigned one of his students to pastor a congregation under his care, and at other times, it appears one of the Apostles may have come to lead a congregation, either because they were called upon to do so, or because they happened upon the congregation and saw their need.

So today, the means of assignment to a particular congregation also varies widely among the various branches of Christianity. In my experience, which included the traditional 8 year educational route, the leadership of my denomination compared my strengths and qualifications with the needs of several congregations seeking pastors and assigned me to my current congregation.

In many denominations, assignment by denominational officials continues to be the norm throughout a pastor’s ministerial career. In others, such as mine, the process is different for later ministerial calls than it is for the initial assignment. In the case of my denomination’s churches, congregations take the initiative in calling pastors. Pastors then prayerfully consider the needs of their current and prospective congregations, and accept or decline the request to become their pastor.

In other traditions, the process resembles that of the corporate world. Congregations make known their need for a pastor, and candidates submit applications, interviews are conducted, and a pastor is chosen.

In a small number of denominations, as well as some non-denominational congregations, pastors are not sought from outside of the congregation. Instead, they identify a candidate for ministry from among their own members, and either send him off for training, or even immediately raise him up to be their pastor.

Regardless of the model by which one becomes a pastor or a pastor arrives at a particular congregation, what matters is that congregations seek pastors who meet the Biblical qualifications, and that pastors are faithful to carry out the God-given work assigned to their office—namely to preach Jesus and bring His forgiveness to the people of the congregation through the means He has specified.

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