What Is a Pastor?

by | Jul 23, 2018

Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

–1 Timothy 4:13-14

We are rejoicing in a bumper crop of new pastors this month, and it’s a joy to anticipate seeing new colleagues-and very gifted ones at that-coming into the life of our congregations and the Presbytery.

On July 1, Erik Dailey began his work as temporary pastor for Eagle Rock Presbyterian, and Ralph Su began his work as temporary pastor for Good Shepherd Presbyterian in Monterey Park. Actually, neither Erik or Ralph are new to the Presbytery. Erik, of course, has been pastoring Occidental, so he is now serving both of our Eagle Rock churches (this is called a “yoked” pastorate). Ralph was ordained in 1999 by us to serve as associate pastor for Good Shepherd. He has since become a greatly respected pastor, having served in several different states, and returns to us from San Jose Presbytery.

This last weekend, both Claremont Presbyterian and San Marino Community called new associate pastors. Claremont called Brian Gaeta-Symonds, a member of Pacific Presbytery. (By the way, Brian is an alumnus of the old SFTS-Southern California campus in Pasadena and was on staff of the New Theological Seminary of the West.) Both of these calls are what we Presbyterians tend to consider the “norm” but which now seem rare: an installed associate pastor called after a nationwide search, with an undesignated term. And hot off the press, Shepherd of the Valley’s session will be requesting that we ordain Deidra Goulding to be temporary co-pastor-and there may be more in the future!

As you can see, we will have a lot to celebrate at our next Presbytery meeting, September 15 at Calvary Presbyterian in South Pasadena. We will also be welcoming Tod Bolsinger, Vice President of Fuller Seminary, and examining for ordination Stephanie Kang, one of our candidates who has become a highly-valued hospital chaplain and parish associate for First Presbyterian Altadena.

Other churches are seeking new pastors as well, and almost always a session member will comment on the critical importance of finding the right pastor, usually saying something along the lines of the pastor having the power to build, resurrect, or destroy the church.

When such a statement gets made, a teaching elder in the room will respond with something like “No, only God has that power” or “The pastor is only one person; in our tradition we need all church members to work together for the leadership of the church.” A regular joke for Presbyterian pastors is that the only authority we have is to pick the hymns for Sunday (which I know is not even true at many churches). Indeed, a common complaint or frustration for non-Presbyterians coming into our system is what they consider the stultifying inefficiency of this kind of shared governance model-I remember a seminarian asking “how do they ever get anything done” when Presbyterian pastors have to consult the session all the time (and he didn’t even know how often they have to consult the Presbytery as well).

So what is the right answer? I have often thought about this question, but especially as presbytery staff, I believe it very important to help churches find and work with the right pastor. I don’t have enough room in this column to share my personal thoughts, so I will try to remember to take up this topic next week. In preparation, let me close with what the Constitution of the PC(USA) says about the role of pastor. See below, and note that I formatted the text in order to facilitate reading, but I did not change any words.

In the meantime, please join me in congratulating these churches and pastors, praying for them in their ministry partnership, and greeting them on September 15.




G-2.0504 Pastoral Relationships

When ministers of the Word and Sacramentare called as pastor, co-pastor, or associate pastor of a congregation, they are to be responsible for a quality of life and relationships that commends the gospel to all persons and that communicates its joy and justice. They are responsible

  • for studying, teaching, and preaching the Word,
  • for celebrating Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and
  • for praying with and for the congregation.

With the ruling elders, they are

  • to encourage people in the worship and service of God;
  • to equip and enable them for their tasks within the church and their mission in the world;
  • to exercise pastoral care, devoting special attention to the poor, the sick, the troubled, and the dying;
  • to participate in governing responsibilities, including leadership of the congregation in implementing the principles of participation and inclusiveness in the decision-making life of the congregation, and its task of reaching out in concern and service to the life of the human community as a whole.

With the deacons they are

  • to share in the ministries of compassion, witness, and service.

In addition to these pastoral duties, they are responsible for sharing in the ministry of the church in councils higher than the session and in ecumenical relationships.