The Pastor’s Role As Manager

By Robert N. White

From conversations with hundreds of ministers and lay leaders I know that this question often perplexes and frustrates both groups. It is perplexing to pastors who must feel their way in their individual church environment in order to define for themselves a niche that is acceptable to the lay leadership. It is frustrating for lay leaders who are accustomed to the well-defined organizational structures of their companies.

Is the pastor the chief executive officer of the church? Or is the pastor first among equals , the equals being the wardens , deacons , or elders? Or is the pastor somewhere in the middle, taking directions from lay leadership on some matters and asserting leadership in others? Many pastors say they are in the middle , and it’s no fun.

Any textbook on organizational effectiveness will tell you that a clear definition of executive authority and responsibility within the organizational framework is essential. Yet this kind of clarity and definition seems to be missing in church organizations with respect to the person at the top, the pastor. Let’s go back to basic management concepts and organization theory to see if we can find some guidelines for dealing with this common church management issue.

What is the Manager’s Role?

According to basic managerial theory managers are involved in a policy process. That is, within their assigned sphere of responsibility they either formulate or implement the appropriate policy and sometimes do both. Managers also function within an organizational framework. They are responsible for a segment of the organization, such as a department, a section, or a division. Furthermore, they coordinate their unit with other components of the organization to ensure progress toward the overall goals of the enterprise.

The managerial process provides a description of what managers do. The process includes planning, organizing, staffing, directing, leading, communicating, and controlling. The techniques used in the managerial process will vary according to the size, complexity, and sophistication of the enterprise itself.

Managers’ work is measurable in terms of results, both their own results and those of their subordinates.

Do These Apply to a Pastor?

These concepts tell us what managers do. Do they apply to what pastors do? Let’s compare:

1. Pastors are involved in formulating and implementing administrative policies of the church.

2. Pastors engage in all of the elements identified as components of the management process, but their involvement varies with the individual church situation, their personal management style, and the working arrangement they have with lay leadership.

3. Pastors’ work is measurable in terms of results to some extent. In many churches the administrative responsibilities are diffused among various committees. The pastors’ responsibilities for these activities, as well as their relationship to the various committees, are often ill-defined. It may be difficult, therefore, to measure their accomplishments in some administrative areas.

So we find that applying conventional managerial theory to the pastor’s role doesn’t give us clear-cut answers. Why is this?

One clue is that a clear definition of the authority of the pastor is not always desired. This attitude may or may not be valid, but it exists nonetheless. Leaving some gray area around the pastor’s authority and responsibility seems to cushion the conflicts that arise when a pastor asserts himself or herself to get things done in the church.

Also some pastors enjoy managing; others do not. The person’s individual interests and capabilities influence the particular administrative role and managerial style the person adopts. When a pastor’s decision-making role is not clearly defined, the lay leadership may move in and fill the gap, back off to avoid infringements on the pastor’s perceived authority, or simply flounder helplessly and wonder why the church can’t be run like a business.

A final clue may lie in an interesting aspect of the church as an organization-the fact that the goals of a church are never fully realized. In a business it is expected that both short-term and long-term goals will, to some reasonable degree, be achieved according to a timetable and that a new set of targets will then be adopted. But the church is different. Its basic mission is to keep striving until Christ has come again.

All these factors may contribute to a kind of haziness about the pastor’s role as manager. But despite these problems effective church functioning requires that a wide variety of administrative tasks be well managed.

In this paper we examine the central managerial tasks of the church, including planning, marketing, financial management, human resources management, and others. We explore how a church can approach each of these tasks in an effective manner. In each area we note that the extent to which the pastor assumes responsibility will vary from church to church.

What we have discussed thus far with respect to the pastor’s managerial role simply confirms the difficulty of prescribing a set management posture that can apply to any pastor. Nonetheless, pastors must define their particular role in their current church in an acceptable manner. When no effort is made to define who is responsible for what, the result is inefficiency and conflict.

Let’s examine an approach whereby any pastor and the governing board of the church can work together to define an appropriate managerial role for that particular pastor in that particular situation, with provisions for continued monitoring and adjustment of the role to meet changing circumstances. The suggested approach has the merits of objectivity, open communication, and clarification of issues without posing any threats to the pastor.

As outlined here, this approach can be used by pastor and board to improve their effectiveness at any time during the pastor’s tenure in the church. Also a church board or pulpit committee may want to work through the process with a candidate or a new pastor so that both parties may come to a common understanding of what will be the pastor’s role in the management of the church.

Defining the Pastor’s Job’

What does a pastor do? How should he or she go about the job? What results should he or she achieve?

Questions like these are guaranteed to start an argument between pastor and lay leaders, within the lay leadership, or even between pastors, for that matter. However, finding an acceptable way of answering them is important to a healthy relationship between a pastor and the lay leadership.

The answers are particularly important in the early years of a pastor’s service in a church. In the beginning expectations are being adjusted to reality on both sides. But too often lack of communication about expectations of the pastor or the lay leaders leads to dissatisfaction or to resignation to an unhappy situation for years to come.

This problem concerned me as chairman of the board of deacons in our small church. After an extensive search by our pulpit committee, a young minister was hired to replace a much-loved older man who had left us. Naturally the new man embarked on his new assignment with considerable uncertainty as to his responsibilities and authority. The governing board, not knowing the leadership capabilities or interests of their new pastor, was equally uncertain. Each expected the other to take charge.

The first year of the new pastor’s call was particularly frustrating because he inherited some long-standing problems involving the need to increase funding and membership in the church and some more elusive problems having to do with demographic changes in our small town. As we struggled to find an effective working relationship on these problems, it became apparent that we needed to define the respective roles of the pastor and the board.

The process used to accomplish this has applications for many churches because it improves communication between pastor and lay leadership. Better communication is a primary need in a
great many churches as our surveys of pastoral concerns have shown.

This material (to the end of this chapter) was originally published as an article in the March-April, 1979, issue of Your Churches Religious Publishing Company, King of Prussian, Pennsylvania.

Developing a Job Description That Communicates

Defining the pastor’s job is not inherently difficult, but simply. drawing up a list of duties is just a beginning. Making the list starts the process of breaking down misconceptions of what is expected of the pastor. Expressing the duties in terms the pastor and the leadership understand in the same way begins that process.

How do you go about it? This is one simple but effective approach :

1. Lay leaders and the pastor agree on the desirability of developing a job description and on some simple ground rules for its format and content. (The lay leaders may be represented by a  personnel committee or some other unit of the lay leadership. The process is unduly complicated if it involves the entire board at each step.)

2. The lay leaders draft a description embodying their perspective on the pastor’s job.

3. At the same time, but independently, the pastor drafts his or her own description.

4. Pastor and leadership exchange drafts , then meet to discuss and reconcile differences.

The purpose of step 4 is to highlight not only the differences in viewpoints but also the reasons for the differences. Reconciling conflicts may not be easy, but not facing them is worse by far.

What emerges from the meeting is not only a document but also a clearing of the air between pastor and board. They have talked their way through the church’s overall program and its various administrative activities to determine the pastor’s responsibilities in each area. This discussion will also involve exploring the responsibilities of the various church committees in the same areas.

Problems that cannot be specifically resolved in that meeting are noted , and plans are made for settling those differences within the appropriate committees.

This process results in a written job description. An example is shown as Exhibit 1-I , found at the end of this chapter. Note that the format identifies areas of responsibility rather than listing duties or procedures. The “how to” is left up to the pastor as a trained professional. This format minimizes nit-picking and endless discussions over wording.

Setting Standards of Performance

Now let’s move to the second component, setting standards of performance for the pastor’s job. Here again some pastors will say, “Lay people are not in a position to set standards for me and my work.” They may have a point, but an exchange of views on what lay people expect and what the pastor intends in the way of results from his or her work is vital to their continuing relationship. This is just as important as the job description.

The process of developing standards can follow this sequence:

1. In the meeting in which the two job descriptions are exchanged discuss the standards desired, taking up each area of responsibility and its standard individually. This discussion is aimed at mutual understanding of what standards of performance are, how they are to be used (as discussed later in this chapter), and at finding ways of expressing standards for two or three areas of responsibility. Nothing should be written down at this stage. What you want to achieve is a mutual understanding of what a standard of performance is and how it can be expressed.

2. The pastor and leadership retire to develop their respective versions of standards of performance, one for each area of responsibility of the pastor.

3. At the same time both pastor and leadership agree to prepare statements on the responsibilities of the lay leadership in helping the pastor carry out his or her role as expressed in the job description. This assignment will alert both parties to an awareness that the pastor cannot be expected to perform his or her role in a vacuum, that there is a team relationship that needs to be enunciated.

4. Then the pastor and leaders meet to review, explore differences, and formulate mutually agreeable written statements of standards.

Exhibit 1-I is an example of a job description, standards of performance, and leadership responsibility statements. The reader may disagree with the manner of expression, degree of specificity, or other elements in this sample. Keep in mind that the real benefit lies in the process of discussion, in identifying and reconciling differences in perspective. The real benefit is in the communications-the document is a means to this end.

This appraisal process also provides the basis for identifying changes in the leadership’s expectations of the pastor. As the church grows  as programs change, and as priorities shift, these changes can be reflected in revised standards of performance. When performance standards are used, the potential for conflict between the pastor and the lay board is minimized.

The main benefits of adopting this approach accrue to the pastor. I know from many discussions with pastors on church management that communication with lay leadership–in terms the laity can understand and the pastor can accept-is vital. This approach to pastoral performance appraisal stimulates that communication in a realistic, factual, and supportive manner.

Considerable improvement in the working relationship and job results has been evident in organizations where the appraisal process has been properly introduced and applied by both parties. The same kind of improvement is possible in the church situation , where the traditional barriers to communication are greater. These barriers can be overcome by thoughtful discussion of these concepts and agreement to make them work.

Exhibit 1-I Job Description

Note: Under each duty statement is a “standard of performance, “provided to assist in planning the work and in evaluating the pastor’s performance.

Overall purpose of this position

To lead the spiritual development of the congregation and foster its commitment to Jesus Christ as described in the Word of God; to guide and participate in methods to increase membership; and to guide and support religious, social, and administrative activities of the church.


Preaching and Teaching

1. Preach at regular worship services, and conduct special services as needed (i.e., funerals, weddings, baptisms, Easter, Christmas, etc.)

The standard of performance is met when sermons reflect thoughtful preparation and when sermons and other aspects of services are presented in a manner which communicates effectively their significance as meaningful aspects of worship.

2. Organize and lead the church’s youth program.

The standard is met when a meaningful youth program is generating active participation by our youth and contributes to leading them toward church commitment and participation in its

3. Conduct classes for new communicants, including children and new
adult members.

The standard is met when communicant classes are promptly scheduled as needed, and conducted with sound teaching practices on the doctrine and government of this denomination.

4. Act as resource for standing and special committees of the church ; attend committee meetings as appropriate ; serve as resource to Sunday school as needed.

The standard of performance is met when pastor is knowledgeable on the current effectiveness and needs of the committees ; and when both guidance to the committees and follow-up for action are promptly provided as needed by committees.

Visitation and Counseling

5. Provide pastoral care to communicants of this church through regular visitation and other special needs, i.e. , Communion to shut-ins, etc.; plan and carry out regular schedule of
visitations to insure coverage of attending and non-attending communicants; be available for and provide counseling to those needing help.

The standard of performance is met when the pastor is knowledgeable on the current concerns of members of the congregation; is promptly following up for action where indicated and where appropriate to his role; and when counseling help is promptly available through the pastor and is provided by him or her in a useful manner.

6. Participate in planning visits to prospective members and visit these families to acquaint them with the church.

The standard is met when the membership of this church is growing at a rate consistent with growth of the community (a suggested target for 1981-82 is -%) and when this growth reflects both addition of new members and retention of present members.

Other Duties
7. Participate as appropriate in such church-related activities as fellowship dinners, men’s breakfasts, youth athletics, etc.

The standard of performance is met when participation in these activities reflects the pastor’s interest in and support of their purposes.

8. Participate as appropriate in community and professional activities (i.e., Community Ministerial Association, Crisis Control , community drives , etc. ) as a means of representing the church to the community.

The standard is met when church and its pastor are perceived as interested and concerned community participants.

9. Participate in committees, camps, and other duties as assigned by the denominational leadership.

The standard is met when assigned duties are discharged in an efficient manner.

10. Carry out or direct administrative functions, such as those relating to the use and maintenance of the building and property, publishing church bulletin and newsletter, correspondence, files,
inventories, etc.

The standard is met when administrative functions are carried out on regular schedules and with effective delegation to volunteer staff where appropriate.


11. Set targets for self-development and engage in study, seminars, and other activities designed to assist in meeting these targets.

The standard is met when the pastor and the officers have identified areas requiring self-improvement and when targets are being met consistently.

Evaluation of Pastor’s Performance

Evaluation will take place not less than annually. Evaluation will be by an evaluation committee composed of:

1. Moderator or other designated lay leader
2. President of the women of the church
3. Chairperson of board of deacons or vice-moderator of the session

The role of this committee is to:

1. Seek evaluation input from all church organizations.
2. Prepare and conduct with the pastor the review of his or her performance against job standard; providing counsel to him or her in areas requiring improvement in present performance and
in means of self-development.
3. Develop recommendation to the congregation regarding salary adjustment.


A. Priorities and Time Allocation

Preaching and Teaching-5O percent of work week A
Visitation and Counseling-25 percent of work
week A
Other Duties-25 percent of work week B

B. Work Week

1. The expected work week would normally be forty-two hours.

2. There is need for some regularity of schedule for the benefit of both the pastor and the members of the congregation.

3. The schedule of times the pastor will be in the church office will be published.


1. Set standards for measuring progress of church toward its goals and periodically evaluate progress.

2. Determine steps necessary to remedy problems in meeting goals and direct corrective action.

3. Evaluate performance of pastor in carrying out his or her duties and communicate to him or her on needs for improvement.

4. Provide necessary resources to pastor for carrying out his or her agreed-upon responsibilities.

5. Be knowledgeable on pastor’s program for this church and work in partnership with pastor to overcome short- and long-term obstacles to achieving the program.