I'm sorry – I'm just anticipating the reaction when people who know me realise I've written a piece with this title.
Because in a previous life I was a pastor. For about 16 years I ministered in two churches, both of which I dearly loved.
Was I a great pastor? Most definitely not. I wasn't terrible, most of the time, but the best that can be said of me is that I was alright. I had some strengths and many weaknesses, and with growing maturity came the realisation that, really, that was OK. The fact that you're called to something doesn't mean you have to be the best at it; it doesn't work like that.
But your own limitations can sometimes give you an insight into what it takes to be the best – and God's people deserve their pastors to be the best they can possibly be, with the resources of brain and character he's given them. So here, offered with complete awareness of how far I fell short, are five traits to look for in a great pastor. Not even the Archangel Gabriel has all of them, and very few ministers do. But these, I suggest, are the qualities we need to work on. A great pastor will be:
My college principal used to say, 'Your people will forgive any number of bad sermons, but they will never forgive you if you don't visit them when they're ill.' One of the tasks of the pastor is to minister to the sick and dying. It's sometimes really hard, because you feel you have nothing to offer, but God does more through you than you realise. And it's not just in the crisis times, either; good pastors are aware of people's needs and involved in their lives.
Not everyone's a natural scholar, but pastors should be readers. They should read commentaries to deepen their Bible knowledge, and books of theology and spirituality by writers they trust to feed their minds and spirits.
3. A communicator
The teaching office is key to a pastor's role. For many, this means preaching Sunday by Sunday. Most churches have sermons, whether they last five minutes or over an hour. And while genuine pulpit wizards are few and far between, every preacher can bring something to the task. Honest answers to the three questions: what does the text say? What does it mean? And what does it mean to me? can make any sermon worth hearing.
It's a strange role, in that so much of what the pastor does is about things that don't look like work. Sitting in someone's armchair drinking tea, or reading a book, or spending time on Facebook, can all be ministry. They can also be self-indulgence. Great pastors structure their day while leaving room for God's surprises. They don't work themselves into the ground, but they are productive and effective too.
Nothing a pastor does is worth doing unless it's backed up with prayer. The vertical relationship with God is vital to the horizontal relationship with God's people. A pastor is called to serve a church – but first of all, he or she is called to serve God. When that connection's broken, so is everything else.
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods