One afternoon while I was rifling through backed-up periodicals, the tag line for an advertisement caught my attention: “Think Differently about Ministry in Order to Minister Differently!” The ad showed three pastors. Two, photographed in black and white, were dressed in traditional clergy attire. The third, positioned between these two, wearing casual clothes and sunglasses, leaped off the page in living color. The ad’s subhead asked, “Ready to do something different?”

The ad was promoting a doctor of ministry degree program, claiming that this particular seminary could point the degree seeker in a new direction. Most of us know that it takes more than forsaking clerical collars to be effective in ministry today. It requires an ongoing consideration of what should remain at the bedrock of ministry and where change should occur. It requires that both pastor and congregation truly struggle to discern what’s working and what’s not, what needs to be added, and what has to be retired to make room for God’s new vision of ministry.

Martin Copenhaver, senior pastor of the Wellesley Congregational Church in Wellesley, Massachusetts, calls pastors “the last generalists” in a world of increasing specialization. In “The Good Life,” Copenhaver says, “A pastor’s work is not simply distinct tasks performed at different times. Rather, the various tasks relate to each other in dynamic ways, setting each one into a richer context.” He calls for a revival of pastoral imagination to help pastors, once again, fall in love with their vocation. Gil Rendle, senior consultant at the Alban Institute, also believes that congregations can best be served by those whom he calls “deep” generalists. In his excellent article “The Leadership We Need—Negotiating Up, Not Down,” Rendle says this about leadership for the future: “We would need to move outside of cultural norms to value the strange gifts our new leaders would bring. Those leaders would need to be exceptionally mature and able to stand outside of cultural norms, knowing that their gifts are valuable.” I agree with both authors that the vast majority of 21st-century pastors will need to be generalists. The fast-paced, constantly changing world in which we find ourselves demands diverse skills. Pastors who want to specialize may simply be out of date by the time they finish their training.

Through research, personal observation, and interviews with clergy who are widely acknowledged to be effective in leading the modern-era church into a postmodern ministry, I have developed a list of 12 characteristics of an effective 21st-century pastor:

  1. The ability to maintain personal, professional, and spiritual balance.
  2. The ability to guide a transformational faith experience (conversion).
  3. The ability to motivate and develop a congregation to be a “mission outpost” (help churches reclaim their role in reaching new believers).
  4. The ability to develop and communicate a vision.
  5. The ability to interpret and lead change.
  6. The ability to promote and lead spiritual formation for church members.
  7. The ability to provide leadership for high-quality, relevant worship experiences.
  8. The ability to identify, develop, and support lay leaders.
  9. The ability to build, inspire, and lead a “team” of both staff and volunteers.
  10. The ability to manage conflict.
  11. The ability to navigate successfully the world of technology.
  12. The ability to be a lifelong learner.

Excerpted from When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st-Century Church, copyright © 2004 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce, go toour permissions form.


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Featured Resources

AL279_SM When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st Century by Jill M. Husdson

Approaching the postmodern era as a tremendous opportunity, Hudson identifies 12 characteristics by which we can measure effective ministry for the early 21st century. Based on those 12 criteria, Hudson has created evaluation tools to help congregations improve their ministry, help members and staff grow in effectiveness, deepen a sense of partnership, and add new richness to the dialogue about a congregation’s future.

AL268_SM Completing the Circle: Reviewing Ministries in the Congregation  by David R. McMahill

Based on sound principles of effective communication, this simple system of asking for descriptive feedback about various aspects of a congregation’s life together takes into account the specific setting and the unique relationship between minister and congregation. The results are a respectful, constructive, helpful review of leaders and ministries in a congregation and the creation of a culture of healthy communication.