Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Expectations for the pastor

Meeting expectations is always a tough thing for many pastors to do.  Although many churches have official job descriptions for the pastoral position, that only tells part of the story.  In a church of 50 people there will be 50 different job descriptions in people's minds.  If someone comes to a church from another church they will likely expect their pastor to operate much like the ones they knew in their previous church.  Even if people are still attending the church they grew up in it is likely at some point in their life there was a pastor who had a significant impact on their lives, and they will compare other pastors to that person.  Some in the church have their own agenda for what the church should be and do, and they fully expect the pastor to sign up for their agenda.  That becomes a problem when there are competing agendas in the church.

Perhaps worse that trying to meet the expectations of the members, many of us in ministry struggle to meet the expectations we place on ourselves.  The pastor who grew up in a home where he or she was told they are only as good as what they do will spend a lifetime trying to prove to their parents they were worthy of their love.  Pastors who bought into the seminary professor's insistence they must spend X number of hours in sermon preparation or they will be a disappointment to their congregation and to God will surely struggle on those weeks when those numbers of hours simply weren't available.  More than one pastor has confided to me their disappointment in their own prayer life.  Many go into the ministry believing they will be able to change the world only to find out most weeks the only thing that gets changed is the color of the suit.

I am convinced trying to meet unrealistic expectations, either imposed by others or by ourselves, is a major reason many abandon the ministry within a few years after completing seminary.  What can a minister do to reduce the stress of such expectations?  Let me simply list a few.

  1. Ministers must know their areas of giftedness and strengths and work within those areas as much as possible.  While it is not possible to avoid working in areas of weakness all the time, most ministers will find ministry much more enjoyable when working in the areas where God has uniquely equipped them.  As often as possible, delegate your weaker areas to others who are better able to do them.
  2. Communicate those areas of strengths and weaknesses to others, especially to your congregation, so they can assist.  I tend to not be a great detail person, and I was very fortunate to have lay people in the church I served who were. 
  3. Work on your own expectations.  If you struggle with poor self-esteem it will show itself in the expectations you place on yourself.  Many times, ministers are their own worst enemy.  Ministers who need to be needed will find it hard to say no to anyone, except their own families, and that can cause a multitude of problems.
I discuss these in more detail in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry.  You may want to read this book to learn more about how to deal with unrealistic expectations as well as several other stresses common to ministry.

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