On Pastoral Expectations

Why Are You So You?

The other day I was razzing one of my kids and she became frustrated and said, “Why are you so, so… so you?” Hmm. Fair enough.

Pastors don’t just get that question from their kids after a good bout of teasing, though. Most every pastor I know is asked that – sometimes with vitriol – by people in the church. So let’s think for a moment about the expectations Christians often have of their pastors.

I don’t have in mind the very healthy and biblical expectations that all of us should have of someone who is serving as an under-shepherd of God’s flock, such as the expectation of godliness, and the expectation that a pastor would devote himself with discipline and rigor to prayer and the ministry of the Word; the expectation that he would remain biblically qualified to hold his office or the expectation that a pastor would love the people entrusted to him. Those are very healthy expectations to have.

I have in mind the extra expectations people sometimes have because of a desirable trait or traits that they have observed in some other pastor but don’t see in their pastor, at least not in the same measure. Why aren’t you more funny? Why don’t you like the same authors I like? Why aren’t you a better conversationalist? Why are you sometimes reserved or awkward? Why are you so, so you? If you have an expectation of your pastor that isn’t stated in the Scriptures as an expectation of pastors/bishops/overseers/Christians, then that is an extra expectation, and the very sort I have in mind.

Most of the time, we have these expectations because we want more from a pastor than is right or good or healthy. That desire is usually rooted in selfishness and idolatry. But don’t let those two words – selfishness and idolatry – turn you off. Let me briefly explain before you turn off. 🙂

I think it is rooted in selfishness because central to such sentiments is our various needs which we demand to be met by our pastor. Of course, the pastor is supposed to meet certain needs of the flock. The pastor serves the congregation by shepherding and encouraging the church in godliness. He helps to meet a very real need we all have to be trained in the Word of God and to see how to apply the Word to our lives. He rebukes and encourages and equips and protects. Those are legitimate desires. We should want pastors to help us in those areas. It becomes selfish when we seek for the pastor to meet all of our “felt needs”, like the need to have someone around us who is of a certain temperament, or quick-witted, or funny, or chipper, or a great conversationalist.

Some pastors are better than others, and some men make awesome pastors. All pastors make horrible gods.

I think that sentiment is rooted in idolatry because we begin to look to the pastor to do for us what we should be looking to only God for. I know you know this, but it is a good reminder nonetheless: your pastor is not God. He is there to help point you to God, not be God for you, meeting all of your spiritual and emotional needs. I don’t mean that in a cold way. As a pastor, I desperately want to help people turn to God and find their rest and life in him. I try to do that well. But no matter how well a pastor does that, he is still not God. Some pastors are better than others, and some men make awesome pastors. All pastors make horrible gods.

If you woke up this morning and thought, boy I would really like to discourage my pastor today. Here is one of the easiest ways to do that. Send him an email or a text or drop by his study and ask him why he is so, so him. That will do it.

And a quick word to my pastor-brothers who might be feeling the weight of unmet and unhealthy expectations. But not a word from me. I am still fighting the same fight you are. Far better than my word is a quick word from the example of the Apostle Paul (Galatians 1:10): For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.