Rumor has it William Shakespeare once said: “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” I don’t actually know if he said it, but things always sound better when you slap a reputable name on them. Regardless, there's a nugget of truth no matter who said it. And it's a nugget of truth that many of us have probably learned in nearly every relationship of life – expectations can be the source of a lot of trouble.
This is true in the pastoral relationship. Pastors have expectations for themselves and other members in the church have expectations for the pastor’s ministry, too. Without exaggeration, it seems almost everyone in the church has an opinion about what a pastor should or shouldn't be doing. By itself that isn't a bad thing. I think pastors should have high expectations for themselves. The ministry is important and what we expect from ourselves reflects the value we place on it. It’s also good for congregations to have expectations because they have the responsibility to encourage their pastor to fulfill the ministry. It’s not expectations that are problematic. It’s unbiblical expectations that are.
As a pastor and a friend of many other pastors, I know that these unbiblical expectations can easily creep into the ministry and at other times they break into it like a tidal wave. To be clear, this isn’t a blame game. Yes, congregations can have unrealistic expectations of their pastor. But, and maybe even sometimes more often, pastors impose unbiblical expectations on themselves. Admittedly, sometimes it’s nice to hear: “That’s not your responsibility.” So, what are some patterns I see of these unbiblical expectations? Here’s my top-ten list in no particular order:
Pastors aren’t necessary: Jesus has ordered his church in such a way where pastors are necessary. We’re told that they’re part of his ascension gift to the church (Ephesians 4:11), they serve a vital part of the body (Romans 12:6), they have a role in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), and it's expected that they carry out the ministry of preaching which is central to the church's ministry (Romans 10:14-17 and 2 Timothy 2:2). If Christ thinks pastors are necessary we need to as well.
Pastors do charity work: Like most people who have a job, earn money, and expect a paycheck at the end of the week, the Bible says a pastor deserves his wages (1 Timothy 5:17). In fact, Paul goes as far as to write and say that Jesus commands that pastors be paid: “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). Pastors aren’t paid volunteers or intended to live off of charity. Paying a pastor is actually a matter of obedience to Jesus, and being a pastor is a way to earn your living.
Pastors call all the shots: Whether a pastor likes it or not, he’s generally the public face of the church’s leadership and even the congregation. But in a biblically modeled church he’s not on top. Rather, in the New Testament, churches are to be led by a plurality of elders (Titus 1:5) who have an equal say in the decisions that are made (see Acts 15:6) and in the shepherding (Acts 20:28). Pastors don’t make all the decisions. Their voice is an equal one among others and responsibility in the church is shared with every elder.
Pastors must be good administrators: The church is an organization and with that comes any number of jobs that need to be done to keep things running smoothly, e.g. preparing announcements, unlocking the building, setting thermostats, preparing bulletins, changing church signs, managing social media presence, answering the phone, setting a schedule, finding volunteers, checking the mail, passing on information, setting up or taking down, and on and on. An exhausted pastor recently reviewed his schedule with me and estimated that almost half his week was spent on tasks like this — and tasks for which, admittedly, he wasn’t the most gifted. Often, the administrative details can interrupt and take away needed time for prayer and the ministry of the word (see Acts 6:1-4).
Pastors co-labor with their wife: No. It’s true that a pastor’s wife — as his wife — may share in some of the private burdens and stress that accompanies the ministry. A pastor needs to wisely discern if his wife is equipped to handle that. But a pastor’s wife is not in any way, shape, or form a co-pastor or co-leader. She’s not responsible to teach and shepherd the women in the congregation, and she's not the women's coordinator or director. In the ministry and the life of the church she isn’t distinct from any other woman and, like every other woman, she is to use her gifts and grace for the building up of the church.
Pastors should give up their Christian liberty: Christians have different convictions that are more or less informed by the Bible on all kinds of issues (see 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14). Navigating those differences can be difficult. But the default position of the New Testament is not that a pastor must always yield his Christian liberty to the many differences in the congregation, as if everyone but him is entitled to their convictions. He may choose to do so within biblical parameters (1 Corinthians 9:22), but it shouldn’t be forced upon him. Rather, the biblical norm is that all must work together, all must not despise others, and all must have consciences bound only to Jesus. The liberty you give others should be equally extended to pastors.
Pastors need to be a jack of all trades: A pastor needs to be a student of the Bible, and must know how to divide the word of truth rightly (2 Timothy 2:15). To do this he needs to study exegesis, theology, history, and homiletics and attain some (yet often humble) competency in those areas. But it’s easy to expect a pastor to be so much more — as if he must be an expert in the sciences and philosophy, in psychology, health and medicine, and cultural criticism, or have advanced skills in leadership, organization, and mental health counseling together with knowing a little bit about everything. The truth is, he doesn’t need to be and probably can’t be and it’s unrealistic to expect him to be.
Pastor’s don’t struggle with sin: At face value I assume everyone would acknowledge that their pastor sins — he is, just like you, simultaneously a saint and sinner. But sometimes in the life and fellowship of the church it seems practically denied and even, sadly, sometimes almost not allowed. Yes, the qualifications for elder primarily fall on moral character, but pastors have their daily struggles. By the grace of the Spirit they’re seeking to put to death sinful thoughts, words, and actions and the church needs to be place where he can do that and get encouragement, receive the love that covers a multitude of sins, and get forgiveness when needed.
Pastors have it easy: I won’t exaggerate the claims of the pastorate. Sometimes our public relations adopt a “Woe is me” attitude and conveys the idea that the pastorate is the hardest job in the world. I’m not so certain you can quantify that. But I would simply say that being a pastor isn’t easy. Being a lazy pastor is but being a faithful pastor isn't. Probably the most difficult part is that a faithful pastor is one who will throw himself into the mess of sin — the heartache it causes, the trouble it brews, and the rebuke it needs. That can quickly get confusion and ugly, and requires a Spirit given grace and patience to overcome.
Pastors should be more like “that guy”: It’s very easy to treat the ministry like a beauty pageant. In our culture people can get starry eyed over their favorite “celebrity” preacher, or preferred personality. The result is that there can be a spoken or unspoken pressure that a pastor needs to be like [fill in the blank]. This expectation can cripple and even ruin a man’s ministry. He may not be as gifted, charismatic, eloquent, smart, or whatever else as that guy over there, but he doesn’t need to be. Paul wasn’t Peter and Peter wasn’t Timothy; and Corinth wasn’t Ephesus. A pastor needs to be himself as he is faithful in the context that providence has wisely placed him.
The burden of the ministry is heavy enough without adding the yoke of unbiblical expectations. To do so will simply lead to heartache for pastors and congregations alike. It's Jesus who defines the terms of the ministry and sets the expectations. At the end of the day, a pastor needs to commend himself to everyone's conscience as one who has been faithful to Christ. And that is enough. "See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord" (Colossians 4:17).