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October 1976 · Vol. 5 No. 4 · pp. 20–21 

Thesis Abstracts: Understanding the Pastoral Role

Gary Wiens

THE THESIS AND PROCEDURE. Many have commented on the conflicting expectations that exist between pastors and laity. Is this also true of Mennonite Brethren? The thesis to be tested in this study is that in the majority of Mennonite Brethren churches there is a lack of understanding between the laity and the clergy regarding the role of the pastor in the local church.

After a study of the biblical perspective of leadership and a historical review to show how this perspective was altered through the centuries, the third step of research was to gain some information regarding the presence of this problem in the Mennonite Brethren Conference today. Two sets of questionnaires were sent to selected churches. One questionnaire was to be filled out by pastors and the other by selected laymen. Each respondent was to list his ideal order of priority for the eight areas of ministry specified. The pastors also listed the actual time spent on each area of ministry. These questionnaires were then compared and conclusions drawn concerning the level of communication taking place in these churches (to what extent do pastors and their laymen agree on the order of priority?).

MAJOR CONCLUSIONS REACHED. It became apparent through this study that there is a great discrepancy between the ideal role that many pastors define for themselves and the actual role they must play in a local church. In this study sermon preparation was seen as the most important priority by most pastors, and they spent most of their time on that segment of their role. However, the items that often were listed as the number two and three priorities, discipleship and counseling, were actually given less time than office administration and committee meetings.

It was also clear that there is a definite lack of communication between the clergy and the laity regarding the role of the pastor in the local church. Several factors influence the level of communication that does take place regarding the pastoral role. One factor is the age of the membership. Understanding seemed to increase as the age level went higher, peaking in the age group from forty to fifty-five, and then declining. This is perhaps explained by the fact that most of the holders of key positions in the church would tend to fall into this age group. Another factor would be that the length of the pastor’s term seems to affect the level of understanding regarding his role. The longer the term of office, in this study, the less understanding there seemed to be. A third factor is the size of the church. Generally, the larger churches had poorer levels of communication.

IMPLICATIONS. It is clear that Mennonite Brethren must strive toward a more biblical understanding of the role of the pastor. We must also strive to improve, communication between pastors and laity. Evaluative tools and more specific job descriptions to match the needs of the church to the qualifications of the candidate might help to dissipate the mystery that seems to surround the pastoral role and to minimize the role ambiguity faced by most pastors. {21} The “vote of confidence” works against good habits of communication and evaluation. It is “easier” to wait until the pastor’s term is up and then vote him out than to work at solving problems that arise. Whatever the specific solutions may be, this study shows a need for more pastors and churches to grow weary enough of the present situation that they will determine among themselves to be committed to a better way of going about the ministry of the church.

Gary Wiens (M.Div., ’76)
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary

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