Global Views on Characteristics of a Good Pastor

Blog August 8, 2018

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

– 2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)

Throughout the Bible – especially the New Testament – we see the characteristics of a strong spiritual leader spelled out. Paul, in particular, had a lot to say on the subject. However, when the rubber meets the road, how do church members perceive their pastor is doing when it comes to these traits? Is he or she demonstrating the characteristics of a “good” pastor?

As we have discussed in previous blogs, in 2013 the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research supervised a survey of church members around the world. The study was designed to assess members’ experiences and outlook on different aspects of their spiritual lives, as well as their participation in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. One of the areas researched in the three African Divisions and the Inter-American, South American, Southern Asia-Pacific, and South Pacific Divisions was church members’ ideas of what traits characterize a good, effective pastor:

When asked to describe their pastor:

  • Over two-thirds (68.8%) of respondents indicated that their pastor is enthusiastic about ministry; additionally, seven out of ten (70.8%) respondents believe their pastor shows true spiritual leadership in the church community.
  • A little over three out of five (63.5%) find their pastor to be thorough in his/her pastoral duties.
  • Almost two out of three (65.7%) feel their pastor is helpful in times of need.
  • Nearly two-thirds (65%) shared that they find their pastor to be inspiring, while almost three-fourths (71.3%) indicated that they find him/her to be a good preacher.
  • Almost half (49.2%) of respondents shared that their pastor occasionally visits members of the church in their homes.
  • Almost three out of five (58%) of members feel that their pastor is sensitive to the needs of others.
  • Just over three out of five (61.1%) responded that their pastor is receptive to new ideas.

When asked about the importance of spiritual traits in a pastor, over three-fourths (76.4%) of respondents indicated that they believe expertise in biblical and theological matters is very important or quite important. An even higher percentage (79.9%) shared that they believe that it is very important or quite important that their pastor place an emphasis on spiritual development and growth, while 81.7% found Biblical preaching and teaching to be very or quite important. However, 67.2% of respondents also felt that it is very or quite important for pastors to preach and teach on contemporary issues.

When asked about a pastor’s interpersonal style, the results were nearly divided in half: 52.3% of respondents shared that they feel it is very or quite important for pastors to have a relaxed interpersonal style, while 53.2% shared that they feel it is very or quite important for pastors to have a formal style when it comes to interpersonal interactions. In addition, over half (52%) of participants responded that it is very or quite important that a pastor be reflective and reserved, while a greater number (66.2%) indicated that it was very or quite important that a pastor be outgoing and socially engaging.

Respondents also indicated that it is very or quite important that:

  • a pastor is comforting and reassuring (73%)
  • a pastor places the feelings of others ahead of achieving goals (63.1%)
  • a pastor helps people figure things out for themselves (64.2%)
  • a pastor advises people of what to do (71.9%)

The North American (NAD) and Trans-European Divisions (TED) also participated in this study. Although their variables were not available to add to the dataset of seven divisions, their data were presented in division research reports. Compared with responses above,  84% of respondents from NAD and 79% of respondents from TED said that their pastors were quite a lot or very much enthusiastic about their ministry. In contrast, more members in these two divisions want pastors rather help them figure things out for themselves (71% and 68% respectively) than give them advices (36% and 46% respectively), although they still want pastors be comforting and reassuring (77% and 78% respectively).

Overall, church members in all nine divisions want to see their pastors making spiritual development and growth of their congregations a matter of primary importance, and this came even more clear from the responses from NAD (91%) and TED (88%). In all territories people do expect pastors to provide Biblical preaching and teaching, have expertise in Biblical and theological matters (especially in the North America (91%)), and be outgoing and socially engaging. One area that has a room for improvement is pastoral visitations—only about half said their pastor occasionally visited people in their homes. But where expectations were happily met—a majority of respondents testified that their pastors are spiritual leaders and good preachers!

No doubt, being a pastor is a tough job, and it is impossible to meet every church member’s expectations and requirements. However, if a pastor continually points church members to Jesus—that is what ultimately matters!

For more data on each division individually and to see our Church Member Survey Reports, click here.

Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry.