Finding Your Pastoral Niche
“What kind of pastor are you?” Have you ever considered that question deeply? In a church leadership role we all have preconceptions and ideas of what a pastor should be. Add to that the plethora of blogs and books and conferences (including this one) which proclaim constantly what a pastor ought to be. The fact is, many pastors have yet to consider their own talents, gifts and abilities in light of their role to help determine what kind of pastor they are actually capable of being.
I worked with two very different pastors in a consulting role years ago. One was a tremendous man in the pulpit—a mesmerizing preacher with a great command of God’s Word whose reputation as a teacher was well known. But he was not especially personable, distant at times with church members and staff, and very few people in the congregation knew him closely. The other was a tremendously personable man who enjoyed one-on-one conversations, loved to make visits to his members and was among the kindest and most humble men I’ve ever met. As you may already guess the point of the illustration, he put people to sleep when in the pulpit. Nevertheless both men pastored what I would consider to be large and vibrant churches. Two complete opposites in terms of gifting and personality, yet God used both men effectively.
You may be a great preacher, or you may not. You may be a great minister to individuals, or you may not. You may be a great vision caster, administrator or evangelical. Rarely but sometimes God blesses men with multiple gifts in these categories. But not every pastor is good at all the things that pastors are expected to be good at. Frankly, most pastors are only good at a few things.
Throughout Scripture, thankfully, we don’t see God calling the natural born leaders with long pedigrees to be His men for the lead role. In Moses, David, Isaiah, Abraham, Noah, the Disciples, Paul the Apostle, and so many others we see great characteristics of leadership—but we also see flaws. They had blind spots, got angry, were disobedient, full of questions, ran from God, lied, killed even. Often we study these men to emulate their leadership characteristics in a biblical sense. In doing this, don’t miss what we instead learn about God’s character through the lives of these men. God never expected His leaders to be perfect—just available and obedient.
What are you good at? Really, seriously, very good at? Every one of us has certain things we do better than others. Look at the New Testament. Not every apostle was a great writer. Paul gave us half the New Testament, and thank God for his tremendous talent with the pen. Some we undoubtedly better preachers than others. Some were better in relationship roles in the church than others. In the appointing of deacons and elders we see people of different strengths coming into leadership roles in the early church. We must not be afraid to mimic what we clearly see in the Bible as the example of church leaders working through their various individual strengths.
For a pastor today, this means seeking out what you do well and capitalizing on it. If you can teach, then teach. If you can cast vision, do it. If you can share and care on a more personal level, then fill up your day with office appointments and lunches and opportunities to disciple. Spend at least a portion of your time each and every week doing what you do best.
As for the things you do not do well, there are two approaches. One is to delegate. Look for key lay leaders (or staff if you have the resources) to help in the areas where you are not as strong. Another approach is to improve your skills in those areas. If you are not a great orator, but must preach each Sunday, you’re going to have to spend some time developing that speaking skill. Often pastors are hard pressed to admit weakness in any area. You cannot be superhuman. You can only be human, and you’ll only be most effective when you choose to be yourself.
I know a very prominent pastor in the United States who is among the most gifted teachers I’ve ever heard, as well as strongly suited to personally discipling those around him. But he’s not especially talented at the personnel and staffing process (hiring and managing), nor administration. He has the good sense, though, to delegate to trusted individuals those tasks where he’s not especially talented. And in his relationship with those delegates, he listens to and learns from them. So he’s building his skills in those areas while he concentrates on teaching and discipling, which are his strengths. He has found his niche.
Like it or not, you have a niche. It’s a combination of your position and your gifts and abilities. It’s the “sweet spot” of what you can do best where you are. You may improve your skills in other areas as you go, but you are going to be most effective as a pastor when you hold to your strengths even as you develop your skills in other areas. What is your niche? What kind of pastor are you? A teacher? Preacher? Evangelist? Discipler? Vision caster? Administrator? Man of grace and mercy? A helper? A strategist?
Find out. If your personal inventory fails you, ask your spouse, or those around you. Take time to define your strengths instead of trying to adhere to an unwritten group of expectations that you may, frankly, never be able to measure up to. When Paul said he would be “all things to all people”, that did not mean he expected to be good at everything. God has prepared you for a unique place of ministry that only you can accomplish. Rise above being a “generic” pastor and be the original, gifted and individual man of God you were created to be!
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.