Being a pastor today

Pastors appointed to a parish have many points in common: their vocation, their theological training and the tasks they have been given to do. However, each protestant Church has different expectations regarding its pastoral ministry.

It is necessary to receive a vocation to become a pastor

That which defines a pastor is his spiritual vocation: God is calling him (or her) to proclame the Gospel. This personal vocation must correspond to a call from the Church itself, from the community of believers, represented by the Ministerial Commission, or the Church Council. The purpose of this Commission, which is made up of both pastors and lay people, is to judge whether the pastoral candidate is capable of serving as a minister. There are several types of pastoral ministry in protestant Churches: it is possible to be a pastor in a parish, a chaplain (in a hospital, a prison, in the army or in a university), a missionary or to work in various Church functions. It is the role of the Ministerial Commission to guide the future pastor towards his first appointment; it can also intervene at a later stage if the pastor wishes to move onto a different kind of ministry.

It is necessary to have proper biblical and theological training to become a pastor

The future pastor has to study theology in one of the protestant universities in France or abroad. Nowadays he usually has to obtain a Masters degree; this consists of four years of theoretical study and one year of practical training which is usually in a parish and complete a dissertation.

The future pastor chooses the theology Faculty according to the Church he wishes to serve. It is possible for a pastor to move from one Church to another without having to redo all his studies, but this rarely happens.

When his studies are finished, together with his practical training course and several discussions with the Church Council, the future pastor is appointed to a parish but at first this is considered to be part of his practical training; it is as if he is being taken on for a trial period of usually 2 years. After this, the pastor is officially recognized by the Church at a ceremony either of ordination as a pastor or as an established member of one of the ministries. A pastor’s work is regularly assessed and his parish can decide whether or not he is to prolong his appointment with them – on the other hand he himself can also choose to move on to another parish.

What are the pastor’s duties?

In 1520, Martin Luther thus defined a pastor’s duties in his address To the Christian noblemen of Germany: “Administering the Sacraments and the word of God is a task and a duty; a profession which is similar to that of a blacksmith, a farmer or a prince: they are all in the service of each other and contributing to the common good.”

Raphaël Picon, in his work How to make the profession of pastor more attractive (Ré-enchanter le ministère pastoral) distinguishes five main principles:

  • A theological function. The pastor preaches and teaches about Christ’s presence. He does not impose what must be thought or believed; he is free to preach as he thinks fit. He administers the sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion).
  • His function is to listen to his parishioners in times of need and to speak to them at key moments in their lives. He helps them to trust their cares to God and to guide their thinking by referring to biblical narratives. Although he can never absolve someone of their sin, he can proclaim God’s forgiveness.
  • A social function. A pastor is required to organize the activity of the parish: services, baptisms, weddings, funerals, the preparation of confirmation candidates, biblical instruction, helping the poor and the sick etc. His purpose is to encourage people to witness to their faith and to live it to the full.
  • A symbolical function. As a Church minister, he represents “the possibility of transcendence, of the action and creative presence of God”. This applies as much to those within the Church as those without.
  • A function of identity. The pastor acts as a reference of faith for everyone and can help them to enrich their spiritual life.

The pastor will act differently according to his various tastes and talents and to the requests of his parish. The laity is there to help him in his tasks.

According to protestants, « the pastor is necessary for the well-being of the Church so that it is organized properly but he is not necessary for its very existence or its foundations – this is a catholic thesis ». (Raphaël Picon, op. cit.)

This is why a parish can live without a pastor for one year or more.

What do we know about the present day pastor and his life-style?

According to the statistics of the Fédération Protestante, in November 2005, the Churches who were members of the association had 1118 parishes and 1942 pastors, (among them 201 women). Some big parishes have several pastors and some pastors do not have any parish at all; chaplains in the army for example, those working on a national level or centrally for their Church and those working for specific charitable organizations or religious movements.

French pastors (excluding those in Alsace or Moselle) are paid by their Church and usually given accommodation in their parish. Their salary is below the SMIC (Salaire Minimum Interprofessionnel de Croissance) or minimum wage.

In Alsace and Moselle the Churches are regulated by the Concordat system: their pastors are paid by the State and given accommodation by the Church. Their salary is slightly above the SMIC (minimum wage).

A study by the sociologist Jean-Paul Willaime Profession Pasteur (1986), (A pastor’s profession) collected the opinions of pastors on their professional timetables: they stated that they worked on average 60 hours a week and that their personal and professional lives were inextricably linked.

Their various activities could be classified in the following categories:

  • 26% Church services and pastoral duties
  • 18% pastoral visits
  • 13% teaching
  • 9% administration of the parish
  • 8% working in groups
  • 8% personal prayer and meditation
  • 8% individual theological study and university training
  • 6% activities outside the parish
  • 4% various

These are only theoretical calculations and the situation can be different according to each case. Pastors can be married, have children and lead a normal family life.

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