Here’s the Most Important Quality for Any Pastor to Have

Pastoring sheep
Pastor, do you smell like your sheep? Pastor Justin Lathrop explains. (Wikimedia Commons)

If you were to ask 100 pastors how they wanted to grow, you'd hear a variety of answers: becoming a better speaker, leader or influencer. There are countless books on these subjects—tips and tricks and skills to hone.

While being a better speaker, leader or influencer is a good thing, I'm wondering lately if none of those things are the most important quality in a pastor.

There's a book I ran across recently by Dr. Lynn Anderson, and the premise of the book is that the most important quality for any pastor to have is that they smell like their sheep.

Did you expect me to say that?

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I know. I thought there was a typo in there the first time I read the title. But the idea is that the most important quality for a pastor to have isn't to be a great speaker or an amazing, innovative influencer. It's that he is in close proximity to the people put in his care as a leader.

So what does this look like, practically? What does it look like for a pastor to "smell like his sheep?" Consider this:

1. Be engaged. For a pastor to know his congregation intimately, he has to be engaged with it. This looks like being involved in their lives on days other than Sunday. If your church is particularly large, a way you can be engaged is through social media, being available and engaged online.

2. Be a good listener. I think that maybe the most important prerequisite for being a good speaker is being a good listener. You've been in those conversations before, the ones where the other person is performing a monologue in front of you and calling it a conversation?

Pastoring a church does not have to be this way, even though we're the primary ones speaking on Sunday mornings.

We need to be listening throughout the week, observing, hearing what's going on within our church body. That's how we listen and how we know what our congregation needs.

3. Be compassionate. To be a great pastor, we need to have sympathy and empathy for what our people are going through. We need to seek to understand where they're coming from, ask questions and, again, listen to their responses.

4. Be authentic. This is where we get in trouble most as pastors. We feel pressure, naturally, to be great leaders for our congregation, but this sometimes causes us to want to cover up our struggles. Our congregation doesn't need this.

In fact, I don't know anyone who would rather follow a "perfect" person than an authentic one.

Authenticity is key for being amongst your sheep. They need it, and so do you.

5. Be replaceable. It's tempting in any position of leadership to want to feel irreplaceable. It's difficult to feel like someone could easily come in and either repeat or top what you've spent so much time and hard work doing.

But as pastors, it's important for us to be replaceable. We are not doing anyone a favor if we're the only leader in our church. It's our job to train up other leaders. That's the only way to create growth that's beyond us.

This is a humbling list—much more difficult than becoming a better speaker or memorizing a few leadership strategies. But this is a list that truly makes you someone worth following, and that's an area worth growing in.

With more than a dozen years of local-church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership and, all while staying involved in the local church.

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