Pastors have an awesome calling. They’re my heroes. I serve them through the pastors.com community because I know what it’s like to be in the trenches of leading a local congregation. It’s tough. It’s blessed, it’s fulfilling, it’s an adventure… but it’s tough. Why is it so tough? There are plenty of reasons but for me, the primary has always been living up to the unrealistic expectations of fellow believers.
In the way of personal testimony, my own failure to live up to the expectations of others (which should not have been my focus to begin with) drove me to discouragement and a period of very real depression in my life just a few years ago. I still go there sometimes, slipping into that dark place where the names and faces of those I’ve disappointed flash through my mind. But I’ve also learned, the hard way, that I absolutely must stand confident in three things:
- My identity as God’s child, which means His approval alone matters.
- My calling, which is irrevocable, and which is entirely by grace.
- My focus on the Great Commission, which is our prime objective.
Here’s the problem…
One of the greatest burdens Pastors carry is the constant pressure to be thinking of everyone. I encourage Pastors to move past this and focus on the least, the lost, and the last who need Jesus. But inevitably, Christians tend to put Pastors back into that box of being the chaplain instead of the prophet.
An inevitable part of being a Pastor, as I’ve learned the hard way for nearly twenty years now, is that I can’t give personalized attention to everyone. I keep a list of prayer needs and reach out when I can, but I can’t personally care for everyone. Neither can my church, as an institution. Often there needs to be this sort of mutual relationship that develops, with believers, where we look to the church for help but also don’t place unrealistic expectations on others.
I can testify to the stomach turning power of comments like, “I was hurting and you weren’t there for me…”, “I missed church two weeks in a row and nobody checked on me…”, “I went through a trial and you were too busy preaching to notice…”
This isn’t a whine session or even a rant. I’m actually quite happy as Pastor of Grace Hills, and in a decade of blogging, I’ve only mentioned this a handful of times. But two and a half years into the life of a young church plant, I seem to be hearing it more often again. It reminds me of what Pastors everywhere struggle with and I want to speak out.
If you’re not a Christian, I’m not speaking to you. If you’re a new Christian, you need the church and its leadership. But to those who have been believers for some length of time, let me remind you of a big, important truth: It’s not about you. It stopped being about you when you were rescued, saved, and found your place on the rescue team alongside other rescuers. From this point on, to one extend or another, you must begin to own the responsibility for your own spiritual and emotional health.
What might be more realistic…
Perhaps a more realistic situation would be to have some more appropriately human-sized expectations of Pastors.
If I’ve let you down, I’m sorry. I really am. If some other Pastor has let you down, know that he probably cares way more than you’re giving him credit for. But so that you’ll know what to expect of me in the future, let me help you understand what I consider the biblical role of Pastors (according to Acts 20, 1 Peter 5, John 22, 2 Timothy 3 and 4, and many other passages).
- The first and primary role of a Pastor is to feed the flock. This entails spending a great deal of time alone with God in prayer and study, digging into God’s truth and consistently teaching the congregation, over the long haul, the whole counsel of God. Much of our counseling can’t be done one-on-one, but it can be done as we address a range of biblical topics from the pulpit. The Pastor is the primary guardian of the flock assigned to protect the body from doctrinal error. The gospel, which is the very core and foundation of who the church is to be, is threatened daily from all sides. The Pastor’s first role is to make the gospel clear repeatedly.
- The second role of a Pastor is to lead the flock. That is, he’s the chief visionary for the local church. Impeding his work with red tape is unacceptable. If he has the gospel right and lives by the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3, let him lead. He’s a shepherd. He’s fully capable of hearing direction from God and moving the flock forward. Your Pastor never has permission to manipulate you or spiritually abuse you. The word “authority” doesn’t really fit as much as the word “influence” does. Cults begin with an undue emphasis on the leader’s “authority” over the flock while thriving churches live under the leader’s freedom to influence.
Then who meets the needs of individuals?
The individuals do. A quick reading through the New Testament reveals dozens of “one another” commands. Christians are responsible to care for one another as much as possible in times of weakness, illness, and suffering. But as churches grow, believers also need to have an understanding that in order to be cared for by the community, I must involve myself in the community. This means getting connected. How?
- Commit to membership, which is way more about responsibility than privilege. It’s a way of saying, “I’m a believer who is here to pull my weight in this family and I’m going ‘all in.’” And part of membership is not just attending the weekend gathering, but being in a small group, which is essential.
- Decide to grow in maturity. While Pastors are to “feed the flock” in a general sense, they can’t possibly take responsibility in a couple of hours per week for the spiritual health of every church member. Dig into the Word, pray, give, and stay involved.
- Get involved in the ministry of the church by serving others and volunteering. Pastors are to equip people for ministry, but the ministry belongs to every member. See Ephesians 4 for the full story on that.
- Own the mission. The Great Commission is absolutely top priority for the church. Any church that turns inwardly and focuses on meeting all the needs of believers while reducing the energy formerly invested into reaching those outside the faith has already begun preparing for its own funeral.
There are better ways to part ways.
Amazingly, most of the people who helped start Grace Hills have gone on to other fellowships for a variety of reasons. Even more amazingly is that in almost every case we’ve maintained friendship. They’ve left on good terms. The motivation has been to have a need met we couldn’t meet or to help another struggling flock or to pursue an opportunity to serve unavailable at Grace Hills. Leaving a church isn’t always a bad thing, but relational health requires talking and honest expression. When that happens, my heart and conscience are far more clear.
The bottom line.
I love you. Your Pastor most likely loves you too. I’m sorry if I’ve let you down. I’ll try to do better. But for my own spiritual and emotional health, and yours too, I’ve decided to find my confidence in my identity in Christ, my calling by grace, and my commission to leave the ninety-nine in the flock to go after the one who is lost. When I try to keep you happy, I fail us both.