What is a Pastoral Leader?

by | Jan 14, 2022 | Resource

I’ve spent a career helping to nurture the next generation of spiritually gifted pastoral leaders. Notice I didn’t say “pastors.”

Those who do the work of ministry show up in a rainbow of manifestations these days. They practice their work both inside and outside the walls of congregations, but I’ve come to see the work of Pastoral Leaders as almost always including a combination of the following.  

Pastoral Leaders are people who...

  • nurture Christian community in one of its many forms: in a traditional in-person church, through online gatherings, in hyper-local niche communities, or newer forms of church such as social justice chaplaincy,  coffee houses, or pub ministries. 
  • creatively engage and interpret the Christian story and symbol: through music, art, ritual, preaching, education, new media etc, particularly in ways that tend to the biblical imperative to care for the under-represented, who show up in the imagery of aliens, strangers, orphans, lepers, and widows
  • attend to the search for meaning and purpose in others, including ways of helping people discern, name and live out their Christian-or-other call in the world through the wide range of careers, vocations, and life portfolios that include both paid and unpaid work, as well as leisure, family, civic and other ethical commitments.
  • naturally or through training are able to be a calm non-anxious presence in the midst of crisis, pain, or other challenging moments. This is often called a pastoral or priestly presence and is more a way of being than doing. 

We do well when we notice young people already exhibiting these traits of pastoral leadership and then invite them into more structured forms of leadership, ministry, or theological education while holding in high regard the forms of ministry they are already are practicing by virtue of their innate gifts or the good mentoring that’s happened in their community. It is my bias that young people in our midst are already leading in “ministries” in which they find themselves. These “ministries” may simply be the way a young person shows up as a friend, neighbor, volunteer or co-worker.

I believe those exploring a call to ordained or professional ministry require specific nurture, and I believe ALL youth are called to have a life of meaning and purpose. It’s a great gift to future generations when we create space for current generations to explore questions about call, meaning and purpose with others who share similar questions!  


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