These days I am thinking a lot about what the role and job description of a pastor is. As many people as you ask, different answers will be found. The greatest factor I have found in how people understand the pastor is age. Understand this is not an exclusive or exhaustive study, only what I have experienced in my corner of the world and life.
For those who have mainline church connection from before 1960, the view of the pastor is very different than those from 1960 to 1990. Likewise when we move from the 90's to present there is yet another understanding. Before taking a brief look at each area I need to communicate this is not about right or wrong, rather it is about the changing era, and the reconnection of what it means to be a servant leader to the people of God.
For those connected to the church pre-1960 the pastor is viewed in some specific roles. In this grouping the pastor is seen as a care giver. Pastoral care is often seen as the most important role of the pastor. Being nice is a premium, it is acceptable to sacrifice missional development for the sake of keeping people happy. With this era of understanding the pastor functions more as a chaplain, than a leader. The image of the shepherd and the flock is key among this group. The primary role of the pastor is to care for those who are members of the church, and the church was focused around the pastor.
The next 30 years, 1960-1990, the pastor was the purveyor of spiritual goods and services. Consumerism exploded in the church and the pastor was there to provide for the programs, classes and worship services people were looking for. Pastors became more entertainer than care-giver. The seeker driven model was established and focus was placed outside the membership of the church. Congregations were pushed to care for each other, and invite others to meet Jesus. The primary role of the pastor was to equip the members seek the lost, and the church was still focused around the personality of the pastor.
Once we hit the 1990's the baby boomer bubble was beginning to burst. New generations of people emerged looking for more than goods and services, and looking for more than a nice pastor who would be their chaplain. The understanding of the pastor pushed for the recapturing of the pastoral office. Highly relational, there was not a need for someone to care for them, they had that covered. No longer would programs and rote responses work. Members, used loosely, wanted someone who could guide them in the process. A leader who would lead, who would answer questions and wrestle with life's tough questions. Thinker and scholar were reclaimed, not as a giver of knowledge, rather as a coach pointing to sources of knowledge. The primary role of the pastor is to challenge and guide people on the journey, and the church focused around knowledge and debate.
It is time once again to redefine the pastor. The pastor as chaplain model resulted in an ingrown church with very little witness to Jesus Christ. The Boomer church was high on witness to Jesus Christ, but shallow in depth. The post-boomer church focused on relationship, but lost sight of the Jesus behind it all. The church of today and tomorrow needs leaders who will recapture the essence of church. Pastor as leader, as teacher, as guide into mission. The most important thing a pastor can do today is live a live deeply rooted in Jesus Christ, and lead others to do the same. This will mean those locked in a different era will become discontent with pastors who lead for a new reality. Pastors must break out of outdated molds. It will do not good to rethink church, if we do not redefine pastor.