Pastor Support
Insights and resources that nurture the soul and sustain the call

Ministry work is said to be like no other job; goals are abstract and difficult to quantify. 

And changing social patterns means pastors can feel demoralised and depleted.

One answer for pastors is personal and professional development.

Ministry leaders contribute to society in specialised but hard-to-define ways. The closest parallel is running a family restaurant or farm, though the role of a school principal also has some common features. Church leadership falls into the category of heuristic rather than algorithmic work; according to Daniel Pink,1 heuristic tasks involve experimenting with possibilities and finding a novel solution, while algorithmic jobs require a set of instructions to be followed.  Heuristic workers – sometimes known as knowledge workers – both ministers and church volunteers are motivated by autonomy, responsibility and readiness to direct behaviour towards the organisational goals.  

Goals in ministry work are abstract and difficult to quantify, and often there is no clear job description. However despite a changing society and differing denominational priorities, most ministers are still expected to be a “celebrant of sacraments, preacher and teacher, overseer of congregational life and the giver of pastoral care.”2 In the theological tasks of ministry, says Gil Rendle, ministers act as custodians and communicators of meaning, in texts and traditions, in spiritual practices and the language of metaphor.3 Much of this work is discretionary, and there are many interruptions. Surveys suggest full-time ministers average 50 - 55 hours a week but church members are often unaware of how their leaders spend their time. They overlook the fact that a minister away from the office may be on a pastoral visit, engaging in continuing education, meeting with denominational colleagues, or taking time for renewal. This high degree of discretion means ministers need to be self-managers and learn to use their time creatively; otherwise the irregularity and invisibility of some work can lead to laziness, disorganisation, or deceit.

The expectations are changing. Pastors originally trained to minister ‘Word and Sacrament’ must now manage paid staff and volunteers, comply with charities legislation and take responsibility for health and safety, necessitating a new repertoire of administrative skills. Jackson Carroll notes that “the person paid to come to church”, is often the one who has to dismiss unproductive workers, manage chronic complainers, and present unpopular changes proposed by the church board.4 This can have a demoralising and depleting effect on pastors who feel they have been called by God to a sacred vocation. One answer to the needs of clergy is to enhance their personal and professional development. In the 2015 Clergy Review study5 I identified a key feature of clergy work as Formation. These excerpts from the clergy interviews are typical:

  • I understand most of my own weaknesses.
  • When I was younger I had fallouts with people, now my strength is working through conflict…looking at how we tick, how we relate... helps you function better.
  • I say to myself not to feel guilty if I take some time out…be assertive.
  • I had enough on my plate.  I learnt the meaning of the little word N-O.
  • It was interesting to review two ministers who were in the last few years before retirement, as well as two who were in their first couple of years of ministry.  And to see how comfortable in their own skin the older two were, and how tentative the others were.  It made me think about how you actually do get some sense of who you are through the experience of ministry 
  • The ministry review process can sharpen up self-awareness and the expectation that ministers attend to their professional development. 

brueggeman teachingI had originally used terms like growth, self-awareness and emotional intelligence to categorise the stories pastors told me about the importance of study, supervision and self-care. I realised that none of these concepts took account of the spiritual dimension integral to a minister’s faith and work, and found that the word Formation was a better fit for a minister’s individual growth and responsibility. Formation is the word churches and clergy use for professional development and personal growth. The term came into use in the 1960’s Catholic Renewal and is now used widely in churches and in other spiritualities. It refers to the shaping and growth that occurs in a person over their life journey, allowing them to develop awareness of, and responsiveness to, themselves and others. Christians understand that transformation to be a function of a person’s relationship with Christ, and believe it is best accomplished in the context of an authentic faith community. Clergy development focus has changed focus from ‘education’ which implies academic learning, to ‘formation,’ which means growth in multiple dimensions, including spiritual, intellectual, social and emotional. Churches today aim to foster a culture of formation for all believers, not just the clergy. 

Growth of the whole person enhances awareness of, and responsiveness to, God, self and others, and shapes a leader’s performance. I found that probing questions around competencies, detailed feedback from elders and members, and the self-reflection entailed in a review process were all factors that fed into a minister’s awareness of how they were going, and where they might profitably invest in personal growth and targeted training.  Themes relevant to formation that the participants reported from their review experiences are spirituality, self-awareness, stress, study and supervision. These themes will be presented in separate articles, but the overall finding was that issues of formation helped ministers understand themselves, connect more effectively with others, shape new mental models of church and mission, and regain hope and joy when faced with long days and little encouragement. The most effective reviews reported to me were focused on the formative dimension, while inadequate reviews often lacked this important emphasis. That finding is reflected in changing practices in the business sector too; performance management of high value knowledge-workers is moving from a top-down critique of past mistakes to an appreciative and future-focussed review conversation. In addition to formation, the study demonstrated that collaborative leadership, missional imagination and vocational management are other key dimensions that need to be taken into account in clergy review conversations.

To Think About: How do you respond to the idea of formation? Who is forming you? How? Why?

1. Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Edinburgh, UK: Canongate.

2. Carroll, J. W. (2006). God's potters: pastoral leadership and the shaping of congregations. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans.

3. Rendle, G. (2002). Reclaiming professional jurisdiction: the re-emergence of the theological task of ministry. Theology Today, 59(3), 408-420. 

4. Carroll, 2006, p. 12.

5. Full thesis at

This article is part of a series introducing in more detail the findings of my 2015 Master of Business (AUT Auckland) where the thesis topic was performance management of clergy in NZ Presbyterian and Baptist churches. I looked at the changing business sector practices of Performance Management in knowledge work, examined the polity and processes of the nationally-mandated Presbyterian Ministry Development Reviews, and mined Baptist documents for evaluative practices applied in locally-governed congregations. Then I interviewed 15 senior ministers with a mixture of age, gender, ministry years and the two denominations, who had all experienced at least two reviews.
An introduction to the thesis findings "Realistic and Hopeful" can be found at