Finding New Metaphors for Pastors


One of the things I have wrestled with as a pastor is my own view of my work.  What really is the job of the pastor?  A pastor is expected to be so many things: preacher, teacher, moderator, worship leader, worship designer, counselor, executive, trainer, financial guru, fundraiser, funeral director, wedding planner, writer, publicist, activist…  The list can go on and on.  Sometimes we feel like janitors, complaint hotlines, and conflict mediators. Some pastors get specific jobs on a team, many of us are in smaller churches where we are forced to be general practitioners.

The main Biblical paradigm for a pastor is a shepherd.  How many of us today have ever seen a shepherd or even smelled a sheep?  The metaphor has little meaning to us.  Dr. Craig Barnes, my professor in seminary and now president of Princeton seminary, once looked at pastor as a “sheepdog” bringing the people back to the good shepherd. Dr. Barnes has also written about the pastor as minor prophet.  (Pastor as Minor Prophet)   He looks at pastors as the people who spin words to comment on culture and the larger realities that people are not seeing.  His ideas have some parallel to Walter Brugemann who uses the prophets of the Old Testament as a model for pastoral ministry.  The Bible uses other metaphors, including gardener, spiritual parent, and maybe even good Samaritan.  Church history adds other metaphors like physician of the soul.  While I learned a great deal from these metaphors, none have ever really connected with me as my own paradigm for ministry.

I see three models of pastoral ministry pushed in the world today.  The first is the pastor as the CEO of the church as an organization.  This comes a lot from large churches that function a lot more like a big business.  This model tends to read a lot of business literature.  The second model is pastor as counselor.  In this model the pastor is all about making people more emotionally healthy.  Pastors in this model do a lot of private counseling and group sessions but also preach on emotional topics.  The third model is pastor as charismatic figure.  These pastors function as religious rock stars whose sermons are posted online and whose stage presence can fill auditoriums. I am being a bit sarcastic as I portray these models.

I find some value in each and read from pastors in each camp, but none of them resonate with me.  They don’t ring true for me in my own calling.  These models also have 2 major flaws.  First, they often lead to burn out because they are so demanding on the pastor.  Second, they will not be accepted in a postmodern world that rejects authority and is suspicious of structured leadership.

So I have been wondering what needs to be done about the metaphors for pastors.  I am looking for thoughts and input as I am considering this for a future Doctor of Ministry thesis.  What are your thoughts?

  • What can be done to reconnect pastors today with classic metaphors?  
  • What new metaphors may need to be created?  
  • What narratives are pastors actually living into?

I am looking for thoughts and input as I am considering this for a future Doctor of Ministry thesis.  What are your thoughts?  Post a comment on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section and add to the conversation.



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