Pastors are People, too: Unrealistic Expectations for Church Leaders

Cartoon speaker in business suit with rostrum.

It seems that every other day we hear of another disgruntled person leaving a church due to their displeasure with the pastor or, we hear that another pastor has been sent packing. What is the problem? Why do we change pastors like we change our socks? Could it be that we have unrealistic expectations?

It may be asking too much that our pastors be excellent preachers, caring shepherds, proficient administrators, and all-around great people, as well. Speaking of high expectations, when I think about what we expect from our poor pastors, the old adage from Mary Poppins comes to mind: “Practically perfect in every way”

We expect our pastors to be perfect.

We seem to think that pastors are cut from a totally different cloth than the rest of us–free from personality quirks, troubling habits, and bad moods.

The truth is: Pastors are human. 

They have unique personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and susceptibility to sinful attitudes and actions–just like us.

There is no perfect pastor just as there is no perfect person.

So what should we expect from our pastor?

A good pastor preaches the Word in spirit and truth–convicting, and compelling us to personal holiness and stepping on our toes when necessary. He boldly calls out the actions of a rebellious and depraved society standing for truth when truth appears to be obsolete. In today’s culture, it is imperative that we have pastors who stand for truth and defend the faith.

A good pastor equips and encourages his flock to go out and reach the world for Christmodeling a life of fervent evangelism. I am amazed each week as my own pastor baptizes person after person that he has personally won to Christ from his day-to-day life in our local community. His banker, his doctor, the cashier at the grocery store. He truly has a heart for evangelism and is a great example for us.

A good pastor values the gifts and talents of his church members  and encourages them to use those gifts in leadership and service. Each person in the body of Christ has a part to play and a wise pastor will help his people discover their gifts and find their calling. He will respect the views, ideas, and opinions of his flock.

And, last but not least, a good pastor spends more time on his knees and in the Word than on the golf course, at the gym, or on the lake–faithfully and dutifully meeting with God–preparing his heart and mind to lead us to the throne of grace.

So, what are some of the unrealistic expectations we often have of our pastor?

We expect our pastor to always be pleasant and engaging. Why is it that we–who regularly express frustration, sadness, discouragement and anger at the things life throws our way–expect that our pastor will always be in a good mood? The pastor, too, has a family, and snarky neighbors, and in-laws, and car troubles. He has to navigate the peaks and valleys of life just as we do. Let’s allow him the privilege of a bad day now and then.

We expect our pastor to meet every need in the church. Or at least the needs of the important people, right? We get upset if he doesn’t make it to visit our great Aunt Millie when she goes in for toe surgery, or if he forgets to say, “So glad you’re back from vacation!” Pastors can not meet every need of the congregation…all the time. Good pastors will develop an atmosphere within the church body where people regularly meet each other’s needs, as in a family…in this case, the family of God.

We expect our pastor to never misspeak or deliver a less than stellar sermon. Have you ever said something in error because you were excited, distracted, or in a hurry? Pastors are subject to this phenomenon, as well. Of course we rightfully expect our pastors to “accurately divide the Word of truth”, but give the guy a break if he occasionally messes up on a minor point or sends you to the wrong scripture passage! And, every pastor is not a dynamic and engaging preacher. Nor is every sermon a barn-burner. Give your pastor a break if he has an off week.

We expect our pastor to be the kind of guy we would hang out with. Your pastor may not be the kind of guy who would be your best friend. His personality may at times rub you the wrong way. He may not enjoy the same hobbies or have the same sense of humor as you. But, the fact is…he was not hired to be your fishing buddy; he was hired to lead you into a closer walk with the Savior, to teach you the precepts of God’s Word, and to train you to share Christ with the world.

Is there ever a time when it is appropriate to let the pastor go? Of course there is. If he is preaching heresy (which you can discern if you study God’s Word for yourself), or is involved in a flagrant immoral act, then there is probably a reason to dismiss him. Otherwise, we are to work with him… to love him, to encourage him, and to overlook his flaws and forgive his mistakes.

He is human, after all.

And lets not forget that church is more than just the pastor. Church can be a beautiful thing. Stay. Grow. Serve. Love. Engage. Connect. Practice grace and forgiveness.

Encourage your pastor today. Pray for him. Tell him how much you appreciate him. And try to maintain realistic expectations for him as you learn and grow together in the body of Christ.

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV)





About Heart of the Matter

I am a southern wife and mom who loves reading, music, studying the Bible, and playing a game of tennis now and then. I also enjoy spending time at the beach and have amassed quite a seashell collection. I love all things southern: sweet tea, magnolia trees, comfort food and entertaining. I live in awe of what my Savior has done for me and desire to share spiritual encouragement with others.
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