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What tools must be in every pastor’s toolbox? What skills must he possess? Or to put it baldly: what must a pastor do reasonably well to be a good pastor?

Notice what I’m not asking. I’m not asking about the theology of the pastor. Or the pastor’s personal holiness. These are both essential, more important than particular gifting. Every pastor must keep a close watch on his life and his doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). But what must a pastor do? That’s the subject of this post.

In other words, let’s assume the first two C’s are in good shape (Character and Convictions). What is required by the third C–Competence?

The following is not an exhaustive list, and I certainly don’t claim to be excellent in each area. But from my experience, a local church pastor–I’m thinking in particular of the role of “senior pastor” or solo pastor–must be competent in five areas.

1. A pastor must be able to teach. One of the few differences in the qualifications for elders and deacons, and the only skill in the list, is that an elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). If the elder is the senior or solo pastor he will labor especially in preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17). Churches will put up with a variety of deficiencies, but most churches will quickly grow impatient with a pastor who can’t teach.

Granted, teaching and preaching are skills we develop over time, so it can be hard to determine if a young man is “apt to teach.” But certainly before someone enters the ministry he should be able to communicate the word of God with some measure of confidence and clarity.

A few things to look for:

  • Does he like teaching? If he doesn’t like it, he won’t get better at it.
  • Can he communicate with children? It would be great training, and a wonderful proving ground, for pastors to teach first graders before they enter full-time ministry. Good teachers know how to make deep truths understandable. Conversely, if you make simple things confusing, you may not have the gift of teaching, not yet.
  • Does he like to read? Some pastors read a lot. Others will read slowly or not as often. But if a pastor doesn’t like to read (assuming he has access to good resources), it will be hard for him to grow in depth and breadth of insight. If a pastor isn’t hungry to learn, he probably won’t help others learn.

2. A pastor must be able to relate to people. There are many ways for a pastor to connect with people. He could thrive on hospital visitation, or enjoy one-on-one mentoring, or excel at leading a small group, or work hard at engaging the staff. There will always be people around in ministry, and a good pastor must make an effort to be around at least some of those people.

Relationships take many forms. You could be a gregarious extroverted pastor or a pondering introvert. Some of us are good with chit-chat. Others loathe it and prefer an intimate quiet setting with one other person. I’m definitely not saying pastoral ministry is just for the out-going. But if a man cannot deal kindly, gently, and not-too-awkwardly with people, he should think twice about being a pastor.

One good question to consider: does this man make friends easily? I’d hesitate to call a pastor who struggles to make or keep friends.

3. A pastor must be able lead. This one is tricky. By “lead” I don’t mean every pastor must be an entrepreneurial go-getter. But a pastor must be someone with followers. He must be willing to take a stand, to be unpopular at times. He needs a spine and the ability to make tough decisions. If a man needs to be liked by everyone all the time, he’s not ready to be a pastor. A pastor must not be afraid to influence. And if he is not a bold visionary, the pastor must be the kind of leader who empowers others with more pronounced leadership gifts.

4. A pastor must stay relatively organized or surround himself with those who can do this for him. I wanted to use the word “administration” for this one, but I decided against it for fear of being misunderstood. I don’t think pastors need to be administrative gurus. In fact, I imagine no one has ever entered seminary with the dream that he might one day be able to keep a church running smoothly. Administration is not what ministry is about, at least not what it should be about.

But there’s no way around it: a pastor must have some basic organization skill. He can’t forget appointments all the time or show up late to every elder’s meetings. He needs to return phone calls and understand how a meeting is run. Of course, we all forget things. We all drop the ball from time to time. Being a pastor does not require omniscience or omnicompetence. But we must be responsible. Right or wrong, your church may not notice right away if you’ve stopped being with people or if you can’t lead, but the congregation will notice quickly if you are not dependable.

Basic administrative competence is required for pastoral ministry in North America. If you don’t have it as a pastor, find the people who do and let them take care of you.

5. A pastor must pray. If this tool gets rusty, no one will know. At least not at first. It is impossible to survive as a pastor without the other four skills. But, sadly, it is easy to survive, even thrive, without this one. But the pastor that can thrive without prayer is not the pastor I want, nor the pastor I want to be. We can accomplish a lot on our own, but the stuff that really matters requires prayer because it requires God. A man who does not pray should not preach.

As you can tell, these five competencies are not equal in importance. 1, 2, and 5 are essential and should be the focus of ministry. 3 and 4 can be fudged a little, but cannot be ignored. In my experience, all five abilities are necessary for pastoral ministry in the United States. Some pastors will be excellent in several categories. Some will be very good in one and pretty good in the others. No pastor will be a model in all five areas. But if I were evaluating a seminary student about to enter the ministry, or if I were in a church looking for a pastor, I’d want to see basic competence in each category.

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22 thoughts on “Requisite Tools”

  1. Dave Wilson says:

    Hi Kevin,

    How about adding another “C” to the toolbox? Conversion.

    Seems like a smart aleck remark (which are not uncommon with me) but I’ve read quite a bit lately about pastors who aren’t genuinely born again.

    Guess you could make a case that this falls under “competence.”

    Thanks for the excellent post,

  2. Nathan says:

    Kevin, great post. In a similar vein, I would really find it helpful to hear your thoughts in a post on a “calling” to the pastorate.

  3. Kevin,

    I would expand on the teaching criteria to include the ability to counsel people according to Scripture, i.e. applying the Bible practically. For example, applying the sovereignty of God to a situation when counseling a young couple who lost their baby.

    Too often, church leaders counsel based on pop psychology instead of Biblical principles.

  4. brent swanson says:

    thanks kevin, this was a great post, very helpful. I struggle with 3 and 4 the most. Do you have any favorite books on leadership that have helped you in these areas?

  5. Colin says:

    To be slightly provocative – here in the UK in conservative evangelical / reformed circles – I see lots of pastors able to teach and not too many able to relate to people (particularly those who are in anyway different to them)

    Churches here seem to place very little value on pastors being able to relate to people … they are often very good at lots of other things though …

    Kevin placing pastors being able to relate to people at number 2 in his list … does this mean this is more valued in the States ?

  6. Colin says:

    I am generalising of course in my above comment – there are of course some who are fantastic with people – but I have not met many

  7. Nate Archer says:

    Great post! I’m going to forward this to our church’s search team.

  8. Nigel r says:

    “A man who does not pray should not preach.” Ouch. Thanks.

  9. Jason says:

    Great post. I’d like to suggest one more… The pastor must display humility. I realize that it is more a function of character than competence, but the actual “displaying” of it is something that I think lots of pastors (self included) could stand to work on.

  10. A. Amos Love says:


    You ask…
    “what must a pastor do reasonably well to be a good pastor?”

    A while back, I started to notice that some of what I thought was “truth”
    from the Word of God was actually “traditions of men” “hand-me-down religion,”
    that makes the Word of God of non effect. ( Mark 7:6-13 )

    I started to notice that what I was taught about **today’s**
    “Pastors/Leaders,” wasn’t lining up with what was found in scripture.

    For starters…

    When searching for what a “Pastor/Leader” does **Today**… in the Bible,
    I had a very rude awakening.

    I found…

    NO – Pastors – in Pulpits – Preaching – to People – in Pews.
    …… When folks came together, every one has a psalm, has a doctrine,
    …… has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. 1 Cor 14:26.
    …… Every one can and is expected to participate. Today we have pew potatoes.
    NO “disciple of Christ” “calling” another brethren – Pastor, or “My” Pastor.
    NO “disciple of Christ” “calling” them self – Pastor or Leader.
    ……”ALL” disciples called themselves “Servants of Christ.” Hmmm?
    NO “disciple of Christ” having the “Title”or “Position” – “Pastor/Leader.”
    …… Today that “Title” is written on – Diploma’s on walls, business cards, books, web sites,
    …… office doors, Sunday morning bulletin, street signs, and more.
    …… And everyone knows who the “Pastor/Leader” is. Why?
    …… Jesus, humbled Himself, made Himself of NO reputation,
    ……. took on the form of a “Servant.” Could that “Title” be an “Idol?”
    NO “disciple of Christ” “Exercising Authority” over another believer.
    …… I was taught; You submit to me, NOW, your “God Ordained Authority,”
    …… And, one day, when you’re a Pastor, people will submit to you. :-(
    ……. Power. Profit, and Prestige, is highly esteemed among men. Guilty. Oy Vey!
    NO – Pastors, separating themselves from the body, as “Clergy-class.”
    NO – Pastors counseling anyone.
    NO – Pastors marrying anyone.
    NO – Pastors burying anyone.
    NO – Pastors visiting the sick.
    NO – Pastors wearing special clothes.
    NO – Pastors going from one congregation to another. What’s up with that?
    …… Elders, plural, matured within the group, when, if, appointed, they were known.
    …… Pastor, Paid, Professional, is hired, NOT known.

    And the list goes on…
    You could probably think of a few yourself.

    IMO – Not of much of what we see **Today’s** “Pastors/leaders” doing
    has any reference in scripture.

    Are there any congregations “Led” by a “Pastor” in the Bible? Hmmm?

    Seems it’s mostly – “hand-me-down religion.”

    Seems “The Traditions of Men” are “mighty” in power to distract and deceive.

    Jesus warned us about making “the word of God”
    of non effect through our traditions; Yes?

    Mark 7:13 KJV – Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition…
    Mark 7:13 ASV – Making “void” the word of God by your tradition…
    Mark 7:13 NIV – Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition…

    Of course, these thoughts, NOT new to me, got a lot of believers thrown in prison.
    Some paid with their life.

    History declares… “Christiandumb” is often a bloody sport. :-(

    When you challenge the “Traditions and Doctrines of men” in power.

    When those with “Titles” and “Position” see their “Power, Profit, and Prestige,
    being questioned and diminished by those who “want to be “Led” by the Spirit,
    by those who are challenged – **to follow Jesus.**

    Be blessed in your search for Truth… Jesus.

  11. Ray Ortlund says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful summary, Kevin.

  12. Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for your blog, and this post.
    Maybe it’s a combination of points 2 and 3, but is there any difference about the ability to manage a household well? Is this more than leading by making tough decisions? I’m still thinking this through for myself.

  13. ross says:

    Great post- in my first few years of pastoral ministry my lack of organisational skills have proved problematic. In God’s grace I’m doing a lot better- but I never realised just how important these skills would be in ministry.

    ps Amos Love- sounds like you may have been in a church where authority has been abused, which tragically is not uncommon. But elders do teach, and visit the sick, and exercise authority and lead in Scripture…

    Thanks again for this,


  14. A. Amos Love says:


    Yes, “Spiritual Abuse” is rampant in, the 501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax deductible,
    Religious Corporations. AKA = the church of man, the Institutional church.
    “Abuse,” one of the reasons many leave “The Religious System” to find Jesus.
    “Abuse” for both the “Pastor/Leader” and those being “Led.”

    You write…
    1 – But elders do teach,
    2 – and visit the sick,
    3 – and exercise authority and lead in Scripture…“

    Writing was about **Today’s** “Pastor/leaders” NOT biblical “bishops/elders.”
    Biblical “bishops/elders,” have to meet a tuff list of qualifications. Yes?

    1 – Yes, In the Bible, one of the qualifications for elders is “apt to teach.”
    Jesus taught “His Disciples” what to teach when making disciples in Mat. Yes?

    Teaching them to observe “all things” whatsoever I have commanded you…
    Mat 28:20

    Jesus taught “His Disciples” how they, and others, learn. And who the “Teacher” is.
    NOT what “The Traditions of Men” that “nullify” the Word of God has taught many.

    John 6:45
    It is written in the prophets, And **they shall be “ALL” taught of God.**

    John 14:26
    But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost,
    whom the Father will send in my name, **he shall teach you** “ALL” things…

    John 16:13
    Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, **he will guide you into “ALL” truth**…

    Mat 23:8
    But be NOT ye called **Rabbi/teacher**: for “ONE” is your “Master/teacher,”
    even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

    The apostle John, in agreement with Jesus, said, “ you need NO man teach you.”

    John 2:26-27
    These [things] have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
    But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you,
    and **ye need not that any man teach you:**
    but as **the same anointing teacheth you of “ALL” things**, and is truth, and is no lie…

    IMO – Jesus/God, directly, taught “His Disciples” 2000 years ago.
    Directly = with nothing or no one in between.
    And Jesus still teaches “His Disciples” today, with nothing or no one in between.

    If, “Disciple” means = learner, student?
    Then, IMO – “Disciple of Christ” means = learn directly from Christ. Yes?

    2 – Seems when “biblical elders” visited the sick, they prayed, and expected people to get well.

    James 5:14-15
    Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church;
    and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
    And the prayer of faith shall ***save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up;
    and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

    **Save here is Gr. sozo, also translated, heal, made whole.

    Mr 10:52
    And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath **made thee whole. (**sozo)

    Mark 5:23
    …come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be **healed; and she shall live.(**sozo)

    Jesus taught “His Disciples” to go, preach the kingdom of God, heal the sick

    Luke 9:2
    And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.

    Luke 10:9
    And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them,
    The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.

    3 – Hmmm? Exercise Authority? Must have missed that in my antiquated KJV.
    Where does biblical ”bishop/elder” **exercise authority** over a “Disciple of Christ?

    Didn’t Jesus teach “His Disciples” NOT to **exercise authority?**

    Mark 10:42
    …Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles
    **exercise lordship** over them;
    and their great ones **exercise authority** upon them.
    But so shall it NOT BE among you…

    In my experience with “Pastor/Leaders”…

    No matter how loving, eventually…
    No matter how humble, eventually…
    No matter how much a servant, eventually…

    They will “exercise authority” and “lord it over” God’s sheep.
    That’s always the beginning of “Spiritual Abuse.”

    “Pastor/Leaders” = exercise authority = lord it over = abuse = always

    I’m in agreement with David – The Lord is my Shepherd – Jesus…

  15. Quincy says:

    Excellent post Kevin. Your blog has been a true blessing to me. I would like to know your thoughts (are anyone else who may have a thought or two)about those who are introverts relating to people. Sometimes introverts do struggle to make friends, while being kind,gentle,and not-too-awkward.

    Thanks so much again for such an excellent and thoughtful blog!!

  16. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Quincy, that is a great question. Certainly some of the finest pastors are and have been introverts. While it may be more work for extroverts to settle down and sit quietly with the books for an afternoon, an extrovert may dread the meet-and-greet after the service. I would encourage introverts to: 1) Play to their strengths. Arrange for one on one meetings or small “controlled” settings over a meal. 2) Be sure to be kind. Quiet but kind and thoughtful is great. 3) Not try to be gung-ho extroverts, but make sure they don’t avoid the people aspects of ministry.

  17. Timothy says:

    Apparently, he must be a he. So sad.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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