Posts Tagged ‘pastoral expectations’

Do you know any pastors personally?

If so, are you under the illusion that they’re perfect?

My grandfather … father … step-father … and father-in-law have all been pastors.

They are godly men … in my mind, even great men.

But many pastors … if not most … wish they could be perfect … and sometimes put on the façade that they are.

But there are always people around a pastor to remind him that he is very, very fallible.

During my 36 years in church ministry, I did my best to make as few mistakes as possible … but I still made my share.

Here’s the first one:

When I was 19, I was hired by my church to work with the high school and college groups over the summer.

A few days after being hired, our church held a missions conference.

The first night, a missionary showed slides of the new Bible Institute that his organization had built in India.

The missionary was quite a character.  His presentation was hilarious.  I laughed … hard … along with everybody around me.

As soon as the service was over, the Church Gestapo confronted me and said that since I was now a paid youth leader, I needed to set a better example for the young people.

I told him, “But the presentation was funny!”  He agreed … but reiterated what he said anyway.

I learned two things from that initial encounter: first, as long as I was in ministry, some people were always going to be keeping me under surveillance; second, some people weren’t going to allow me to be normal.

That puts a lot of pressure on you to meet everyone’s expectations.

Fast forward ahead 35 years.

My wife had spent five days in the hospital with great abdominal pain.  She didn’t receive a diagnosis until Friday.  It was scary … but she was going to be okay.

Our church was holding a rare Saturday morning conference.  Should I stay at home and care for my wife or attend the conference?

If I didn’t attend the conference, some people might accuse me of being unsupportive … so I went.

I felt almost giddy.  I could dress down.  I had no duties.  I could be a person.

The conference speakers were excellent.

I sat in the back, and the only person near me was a woman I’d known for years.

From time-to-time, I turned around and made little comments to her about what was being said.  It felt good to be away from the hospital.

At the break, someone came up to me and reamed me out for being rude.

To quote Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again.

Was I rude?  I didn’t think so at the time, but maybe I was.  I certainly didn’t mean to be.

But once again, I had that feeling that I had to be perfect every time I came within three miles of the church campus.

In his book, Leadership That Works, Leith Anderson introduces the concept of “parish poker.”  He writes:

“Becoming a pastor is like joining a poker game.  Although I am neither a gambler nor a poker player, I know that at the beginning of a game each player has a limited number of chips to play with and must use them strategically to win.”

Anderson goes on:

“Churches generally give new pastors 50 to 100 ‘chips’ to get started.  After that, they either gain chips or lose what they have, depending on how well they learn the catalog of rewards and penalties the church runs by (which, of course, no one bothered to tell the new pastor about).”

Anderson then lists various behaviors and the number of chips involved:

Preach a good sermon (+2 chips)

Preach a bad sermon (- 8 chips)

Visit sick person in hospital (+7 chips)

Sick person dies (was expected to recover) (-10 chips)

Sick person recovers (was expected to die) (+40 chips)

Bring cookies to monthly board meeting (+ 1/2 chip)

Lose temper and shout at monthly board meeting (-25 chips)

In my last ministry, I thought I had earned thousands of chips over the years, so if I made a mistake, I’d still have thousands more left … but some people insisted that if I made even one mistake, I deserved to lose all my chips.

Sometimes “parish poker” doesn’t seem fair.

Let me make three observations about pastors and perfection:

First, expect that your pastor will disappoint you somewhere along the line.

He will say something in a sermon that will make you wince … or angry.

He will make a decision you don’t agree with.

He will make an inappropriate comment to you personally … laugh about something serious … or fail to greet you while passing.

I didn’t say you had to like it … just expect it.  He isn’t an angel, so don’t idealize him.

But realize this: every other pastor is just as imperfect.

Second, if you’re really upset with him, talk to him directly.

Whenever somebody spoke with me personally about my perceived misbehavior, I tried to thank them.  It takes courage to confront your pastor.

If you do it out of anger, your pastor will invariably become defensive.

If you do it calmly and lovingly, he will hear what you’re saying much better.

Try not to come off as the Church Gestapo.  Every church has them … and every pastor runs from them.

Finally, let your pastor be a person.

I read around 75 books for my doctoral program.  One of them was called The Pastor as Person.

The basic thesis of the book was this: the pastor is a person before he is a pastor.

Many pastors forget that they’re persons.  Since so many people at church want them to be angels instead, that’s what they try to be.

But after a while, a pastor has to stop trying to be somebody else and just be himself.

If you want your pastor to be an angel, you’re being unfair.  He can’t be who you want him to be.

But if you accept the fact that he’s human … and that he gets weak and tired and frustrated and even angry at times … then you’ll be doing him a great favor.

Because the New Testament tells us that Jesus was human … that, at times, He was weak and tired and frustrated and angry … and that He was made “a little lower than the angels.”

Jesus was morally perfect.  Your pastor isn’t.

But Jesus was also a person … a human being … and He had limitations.

Just like pastors.














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Pastor Phil couldn’t believe what he was hearing at the monthly meeting of the church board.  He had only been pastor for six months.

Out of nowhere, Don the chairman viciously slammed Pastor Phil.  Don claimed that Phil was preaching against sin too often … that several experiments in the worship service were colossal failures … and that Phil needed to spend less time in sermon preparation and more time in home visitation.

It wasn’t Don’s criticisms that bothered Phil as much as Don’s tone.  Don was implying that Pastor Phil worked for Don!

But that’s not how Phil saw it.  As he planned his time, he didn’t contact Don on a daily basis and ask, “What should I do this Thursday?  Study for my sermon or visit shut-ins?”

It’s safe to say that as many as one thousand pastors are terminated monthly.  My guess is that this question is at the heart of the problem:

Who does the pastor work for? 

As I see it, there are four possible answers:

First, the pastor works for the congregation.

In churches with congregational government, church members vote to call a pastor, usually on the recommendation of a search team and/or the church board.  But while the congregation may have the final say as to who their pastor will be, no pastor can truly work for the entire church body because everyone has differing expectations for their pastor.

Mary wants the pastor to preach through Bible books.  Joe wants the pastor to preach on contemporary social issues.  Linda wants him to speak on family/emotional problems.  Bob wants the pastor to preach on theological truths.

Mary wants her pastor to focus on home visitation/counseling … Joe on administration/organization … Linda on leadership/teacher training … Bob on vision casting/big-picture items.

Mary wants to become the pastor’s personal friend … Joe aims to become his advisor … Linda hopes the pastor will be her advocate for women’s ministry … and Bob wants the pastor to become his golf buddy.

I’ve only shared with you the personal viewpoints of four people!  Can you imagine what it’s like to pastor a church of 75 … or 150 … or 300?  The expectations keep escalating.  The larger the church, the less likely the pastor can ever meet everyone’s expectations.  If he tries, he will fail miserably.

Unless the church is composed of a handful of people, no pastor can ever truly work for the congregation.

Second, the pastor works for the governing board.

Whether they’re called elders, deacons, the church council, the board of directors, or something else, many churches expect that the pastor will work for the governing board.

When I first entered church ministry, this was my assumption.  I’d meet with the deacons once a month and we’d make decisions together.  In fact, I made few decisions without consulting the deacons.

But this arrangement just slowed the ministry to a crawl.  If I made a proposal, but only one deacon hesitated, we didn’t do it.  In fact, the more items I brought to the board, the longer the meetings lasted, and the less we accomplished.

The better way was for the board and I to agree on a job description and for me to report to the board in writing on a monthly basis.  But although I wanted to be accountable, I could never tell them everything I did … and I didn’t want to feed anyone’s micromanaging tendencies.

I believe a pastor should work with the board … not for the board … and that the board’s primary mission should be to encourage and protect their pastor.

When I worked with a board that said, “Jim, you’re the professional.  We’re going to follow your lead and promote your ideas and protect you from attacks” … the church prospered.

But when I worked with a board that said, “Jim, we’re the professionals.  You’re going to follow our lead and expect you to promote our ideas and protect us from attacks” … the church tanked.

Every church I know that is doing something significant for Christ’s kingdom is led by a strong pastor … and I don’t know a single board-led church that is growing to any degree.

Third, the pastor works for a powerbroker in the church.

This person may be a charter member … a wealthy businessperson … the church patriarch/matriarch … a large donor … a church staff member … someone who employs many churchgoers … an adult Sunday School teacher … or a former pastor … but this person holds the real power in the church.  Whenever the pastor wants to make a major change … and sometimes even minor ones … the powerbroker is consulted … even if they hold no official leadership role in the church.

It’s good to have friends.  It’s wise to listen to advice.  But I will never understand why professing Christians ever pledge allegiance to any unofficial/official church leader and let that person do their thinking for them.  It’s not only unwise … it’s just plain dumb.  No powerbroker can ever do for a church what a pastor can do!

Should a pastor listen to board members and powerbrokers?  Yes, he should try and understand their concerns, but that doesn’t mean he should automatically do whatever they want.

Once a pastor has identified a powerbroker, he needs to ask God to remove that person … the sooner the better.  (In case you think this sounds harsh, this is a step that all intentional interim pastors take.  No church can survive if it’s being taken hostage/blackmailed by a powerbroker.)  Whatever the powerbroker thinks, the pastor does not work for him/her … because:

Finally, the pastor works for Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Head of the church … not the church board … and not a church powerbroker.

Every Christian church is ultimately owned and run by Jesus … and not anybody else.

*Jesus directly calls pastors into ministry.

*The risen Christ gives pastors unique combinations of spiritual gifts including leadership, teaching, shepherding, prophecy, discernment, administration, and showing mercy.

*Jesus leads pastors to engage in formal training in Bible schools and seminaries.

*He gives them ministry mentors.

*He allows them to suffer so they can identify better with parishioners.

*He certifies pastors through the ordination process.

From a pastor’s viewpoint, he works directly for Jesus … with the governing board … over the church staff … and never for any church powerbroker.

But in all too many cases, the board thinks the pastor works directly for them … some powerbrokers think the same thing … and conflict is crouching at the door.

Think about this:

If a church board/powerbroker wants to run off their pastor … and he is not guilty of any biblical offense … then:

*Which board member/powerbroker has God directly called to ministry?

*Which board member/powerbroker has God specially gifted for ministry?

*Which board member/powerbroker has completed formal biblical/theological training?

*Which board member/powerbroker can preach like the pastor … pray like the pastor … counsel like the pastor … and pastor like the pastor?

If the pastor ever capitulates and starts working for the board or for a powerbroker … he’s finished in that church … because a pastor must work directly for Jesus Christ.

What is the church about?

It’s about fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples … baptize them … and teach them.

If a structure advances the Commission and expands the Kingdom, we should applaud it.

If a structure hinders the Commission and stalls the Kingdom, we should oppose it.

It seems to me that churches that have a strong leader and a strong preacher do a far better job of advancing the Commission and expanding the Kingdom.

After 36 years in church ministry, I look back and realize that when I was working for the board, the church stalled … and when I worked for the Lord, the church prospered.

As Pastor Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel has often asked pastors, “Who do you work for: the board or the Lord?”

As for me and my house … we work for the Lord.

Who do you work for?

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