The last few hundred years have shown the rise of the professional. Before that most people were farmers or traders. But now we have professions—doctors, lawyers, executives… These people are marked by their dress, their full time work, their education and training, and their respect and prestige in the community. Another mark of a professional is specialization. Some doctors may be general practitioners, but many specialize in things like pediatrics, oncology, or neurology. When you get sick you may get referred to one of these specialists. Lawyers have their specialties in certain types of law just as executives often have their own areas of the business to manage.
Is the pastor a professional? Do pastors also fall into this category? We have certainly tried. Starting in Calvin’s day the pastors tried to look and act like university professors. In recent years, pastors have tried to look and act like psychological counselors or CEO’s. We have even specialized ministry. We have pastors for youth, young adults, family, counselling, worship, and preaching.
The trick is that we are professionals and we are not. We are in the sense that there is someone of a part to play and we need to respect that part. Whether a pastor wears a robe, a suit, or skinny jeans there is still a wardrobe for the pastor. Many are still full time and most certainly have the expertise and training. We een retain some respect and prestige in the community. Some of us are specialists and some contexts demand more specialized ministry.
At the same time, we are not quite professionals. We are required to general practitioners. We have to be proficient (or at least knowledgeable) about a bunch of areas—Bible, preaching, teaching, worship, organization, running meetings, organizational development, pastoral care, funerals, weddings, community outreach, facilities, fundraising…
Besides the need to be a general practitioner, I believe the heart of being a pastor is not being a professional. The center of the ministry is having a heart that loves God and pursues God’s will. Pastors need to be distinctly non-self-reliant. I worry that an overemphasis on professionalism has harmed the ministry.