Discerning Our Pastoral Leadership

When pastors are whole and integrated in their faith and work, their pastoral leadership is whole and integrated as well. Yet often times, pastors find themselves frustrated with the responsibilities that leadership entails or they find themselves indwelling multiple roles in a given day.

In 2016, New City Commons set out to clarify pastoral leadership roles with the hope that pastors can clarify which role they are most gifted to do. Read the excerpt below from Pastors’ Curriculum: Becoming Pastors of Faithful Presence by Greg Thompson and Clay Cooke from New City Commons.

Discerning Our Role

Both historically and in our own lives, pastors are asked to inhabit a series of different roles throughout a given day, with little clarity about the roles themselves or about the gifts that each require. Because of this, it is important for pastors—both for themselves and their congregations— to devote themselves not only to the cultivation of universal virtues but to the discernment of these discrete roles and the specific skills that they ask us to employ. And while there are, perhaps, a number of ways to delineate these roles, we think that there are at least six major roles that the pastor will, over the course of his or her vocation, be asked to inhabit.

The first of these is that of Theological Teacher—the role of forming the imagination and the habits of a community through the preaching and teaching—in public and in private—of the Christian Scriptures and theological tradition. In this role, the pastor is asked to cultivate the gifts of scriptural and theological understanding, conceptual ordering, and of effective communication of the teachings of the faith to a specific community of the faithful.

Secondly, we take on the role of Liturgical Leader—the role of ordering the weekly worship of God’s people—in Scripture, Song, Prayer, Offering, Sermon, and Table—and of leading the people through it. In this role, the pastor is asked to cultivate gifts of liturgical understanding, aesthetic arrangement, administrative organization, and public leadership to the congregants of their local church.

Thirdly, we take on the role of Spiritual Director—the role of tending to the spiritual needs of nurture of individual men, women, and children in our community. In this role, the pastor is asked to cultivate the knowledge of spiritual growth, the skill of attentive listening, the grace of a hospitable presence, and the wisdom of sound counsel.

Fourthly, we take on the role of Relational Mediator—the role of entering into settings of profound relational disorder and seeking to bring Christ’s ministry of reconciliation to those places. In this role, the pastor is asked to cultivate the grace of impartial presence, the strength of self-control, the wisdom of discernment, and the steady hopefulness of peacemaking.

Fifth, we take on the role of Institutional Developer—the role of organizing the life of a community toward the realization of its common hopes. In this role, the pastor is asked to function as prophetic visionary, as kingly leader, and as priestly caregiver along the way.

Lastly, we take on the role of Civic Actor—the role of representing both our own congregation and the Christian community as a whole in the midst of the larger polis. In this role the pastor is asked to function as ambassador to the city, as interpreter of public events, as advocate for the poor, and as collaborator with other civic leaders.

Discerning Our Gifts

One of the great temptations in pastoral leadership is to fashion the pastoral vocation in our own image—to choose one or two of the various roles of pastoral ministry and to imagine that they encompass the whole, leaving the others aside. Another of the great temptations in pastoral ministry is to look upon these various roles and imagine that we, in ourselves, are equipped to do all of them. Both of these approaches are inherently corrosive to the pastoral vocation. This is because the church needs each of these roles exercised in its midst, and no one person can faithfully embody them all in their faith and work. Because of this, one of the great tasks before every pastor is to cultivate self-knowledge—a humble account of which of these roles we tend to pursue, which we tend to ignore—and a spirit of collaboration—a hopeful attempt to compensate for our limitations by identifying and enabling others in our community who are gifted by God to do those things which we cannot.


  1. Which of these pastoral roles do I find myself gravitating toward? 
  2. Which ones do I shrink away from or ignore? 
  3. In what ways has God equipped me to step into these roles?
  4. In which roles is God bringing forth good fruit in my ministry?
  5. Which might God be calling me to step into more boldly?
  6. Which might God be calling me to empower others in my ministry to step into?
  7. What opportunities has God has provided me to help my congregation grow, as a community, in each of these areas of leadership—through my own work and through the work of others?


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Topics: Church Leadership, Personal Wholeness

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