The Pastor of Our Dreams

By Dave Gemmell

The pastor is perhaps the most influential paid employee in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.  Pastors preach, teach, lead, and guide their communities through the passages of life. While others may have a wide influence, the pastors’ influence runs deep. We continually need qualified men and women to serve as pastors leading congregations in discipling people for the kingdom of God.  This is the pastor of our dreams!  

Yet that dream may be fading. Over the next few years, 50% of the pastors in North America will be eligible for retirement. Over the next few years we need a couple thousand pastors to take their place. To maintain our current staffing, we need to double the number of qualified pre-pastoral graduates.  Conferences must double the number of hires. But maintaining the numbers of pastors does not keep up with the growth of the population. To retain our current percentage of member to nonmember ratio, the North American Division (NAD) must plant 1,000 more congregations over the next few years. Those churches will need pastors. Unless we hit those numbers the pastor of our dreams may be fading.

To keep that dream alive, the NAD Ministerial Association has been commissioned by Dan Jackson, the NAD President, to sketch out the pastor of our dreams from the call to ministry to retirement, and everything in between.  This sketch must include the four step pastoral formation pathway from undergraduate, to masters, to internship, and continuing education.

Thus the vision for the pastor of our dreams which began as a brief sketch about six years ago, has developed into a wireframe, and now the rendering is underway. For the next few paragraphs let me share our story as we search for the pastor of our dreams.


Disparate Expectations
Initially our search revealed that the pastor of our dreams does not exist. What we saw instead was thousands of ideas about the pastor of my dreams. We discovered that with such a plethora of opinions, conflict over pastoral expectations is routine, persistent, and widespread. Within the NAD, expectations of pastoral qualities vary widely from pastor to pastor, congregation to congregation, conference to conference, and school to school. With no common objective measuring point, these disparate expectations create pervasive and recurring conflict. In this environment, there can be no pastor of our dreams.

Gaps and Redundancies
Compounding the challenge, we heard people say that the existing pastoral formation journey has many redundancies—some curriculum elements of the undergrad are repeated at the seminary. We also heard people say there are gaps. Pastors and presidents continually say, “I wish they would have taught that (fill in the blank) at the seminary.”

Developing a Starting Point

Yet with all of these disparate ideas, could there be some common traits in all of our pastors of my dreams? And if so, could those traits actually increase the likelihood of effectiveness or are they simply personal preferences?

What if we developed a baseline of pastoral competencies that could serve as a starting point for measuring the correlation between pastoral qualities and effectiveness? That would give us a wireframe for the pastor of our dreams.  With those questions in mind, the research began on the creation of the Core Quality thesis.

Content Validity
Those who knew pastoring well were asked to list what they thought were the greatest traits in the pastor of their dreams. We started our content validity by asking conference presidents, college and seminary professors, ministerial directors, local church pastors, and church head elders to nominate up to seven competencies of effective pastors.  We would pay special attention to those traits that seemed to recur again and again. About 2,500 descriptors came in and were aggregated by doctoral level analysts into seven groupings of qualities. These were analyzed and refined by a variety of content experts in multiple focus groups.

Behavioral Descriptions
Next, these descriptors and written into behavioral language that would allow for rating. These descriptors were compared to other well-established validated configurations from leader assessment literature.  Further refinement continues to take place with feedback from educators and practitioners. The resulting thesis is the pastor of our dreams entitled Core Qualities for Effective Ministry. (Click here to download the document)

Now that we built our wireframe in the form of a collective vision of the pastor of our dreams, we could ask the question, ‘Is the pastor of our dreams more likely to be effective in ministry than the pastor who was not our dream pastor? In other words, is there a correlation between core qualities and effectiveness? To answer this question the NAD Strategic Planning and Assessment Office partnered with an Andrews University statistician to conduct a criterion-related validation study in two conferences. In the study conference presidents identified the most effective pastors and the least effective pastors in their conferences. Ministerial directors were given the same names not knowing how their president ranked them. They were then asked to rank the core qualities of all of the pastors. The result is that the pastors identified as effective also consistently were ranked higher in their core qualities by the ministerial directors than the pastors who were identified as not as effective by their presidents. There indeed appears to be a correlation between Core Qualities and pastoral effectiveness.

Core Qualities as a Guide for Pastoral Formation

Now that Seven Core Qualities and their descriptors were identified, the next question was, how can we get the pastor of our dreams? How can we inculcate these core qualities into our pastoral formation process? How can ten diverse schools and 58 diverse conferences work together to form an interchangeable, coordinated, seamless educational flow with no gaps or redundancies, all the while preserving the values of diversity and autonomy? And how can this be done in the environment of the North American Division that prizes diversity and despises uniformity; a division that loves democracy and loathes autocracy?

The answer is collaboration. A curriculum committee was established consisting of the chairs of all the NAD accredited pastoral formation schools and representation from conference and division ministerial departments.  This committee is in its third year gathering together collectively and in breakout teams to begin to render the wireframe of the pastor of our dreams.  The challenge is to create a system of interchangeable parts that could work seamlessly together while protecting the unique attributes of each school of higher education.

Primary Teaching Responsibility
The first task of the curriculum committee was to identify the stage at which the primary learning for any given core quality descriptor should be taught. For example, who has the primary responsibility for the skill set of preaching? Undergrad? Masters? Internship? Continuing Education?

Student Learning Outcomes
Then to assure a smooth handoff from undergrad to seminary to internship, specificity for each descriptor was needed. With the input of dozens of religion teachers, the curriculum committee drafted student learning outcomes for each of the descriptors. The first draft is almost completed and can be downloaded here. The curriculum collaboration committee solicits your feedback as they continue to refine these student learning outcomes. I encourage you to look at the draft and give your feedback through taking the online survey found here.

Biblical Principles
As this experiment for developing the pastor of our dreams continues there remain several more important steps. We believe that the pastor of our dreams must flow out of biblical principles. The curriculum committee is setting up a team of theologians to discover the biblical foundations of core qualities for effective ministry.

Slicing the Pie
We also believe that the amount of time needed to teach each descriptor varies widely. For example, it takes far more time to inculcate the quality of ‘masters exegesis, hermeneutics, and relevant application’ than it does to build the quality of ‘prompt in reporting’.  Therefore, we are collaborating on a range of recommendations for how many clock hours should be spent on a given core quality descriptor at each of the four stages of ministry.

Building Core Quality into Curriculum
When the Core qualities are completely rendered, partners at each stage will have a template to use to build a curriculum that will not only reflect the unique needs of each constituency, but also interface with all of the other participating schools and conferences in developing the pastor of our dreams.

Breathing Life into the Pastor of Our Dreams

As our world continues to grow and change we believe that the pastor of our dreams is essential for the future of our mission. Soon the Core Qualities will be completely rendered giving us a beautiful yet lifeless body.  Only you can animate it.  It will take God’s breath in you, to bring the pastor of our dreams to life. What would those breaths of life look like?

1)    Let us collaborate. In our pastoral formation journey there is no authority, uniformity, or hierarchy. There is no one who has the power to tell us what to do. We are all on an equal playing field, seeking what is best for the upcoming pastors.
2)    Help finish the rendering of the Pastor of our dreams by looking over the shoulders of the curriculum committee. Download and examine the Core Quality Descriptors.   Give your feedback through the online survey.
3)    Pray for your religion teachers who are pouring their hearts and souls into these young men and women. We are entrusting them with the future of this denomination.
4)    Help with the calling. If you see young people who you believe may be called to pastoral ministry, why not reach out to them and give them some encouragement. Ask them ‘have you ever considered the possibility that God may be calling you to be the pastor of our dreams?’