What Should We Expect of a Pastor?

Chuck FullerChuck Fuller, Church

J. D. Gray said the following concerning a church’s expectations of its pastor:

“If the pastor is young, they say he lacks experience. If his hair is gray, he’s too old for the young people. If he has five or six children, he has too many. If he has no children, he’s setting a bad example. If he preaches from notes, he has canned sermons and is dry. If his messages are extemporaneous, he’s not deep enough. If he’s attentive to the poor people in the church, they claim he’s playing to the grandstand. If he pays attention to the wealthy, he’s trying to be an aristocrat. If he uses too many illustrations, he neglects the Bible. If he doesn’t use enough stories, he isn’t clear. If he condemns wrong, he’s cranky. If he doesn’t preach against sin, then he compromises. If he preaches the truth, he’s offensive. If he doesn’t preach the truth, he’s a hypocrite. If he fails to please everybody, he’s hurting the church. If he does please everybody, he has no convictions. If he drives an old car, he shames his congregation. If he drives a new car, he’s ‘setting his affection on earthly things.’ If he preaches all the time, the people get tired of hearing one man. If he invites guest preachers, he’s shirking his responsibility. If he receives a large salary, he’s mercenary. If he receives a small salary, well, that proves that he’s not worth much, anyway.”

ExpectationsPastoral expectations have been an issue as long as there have been pastors. Even the apostle Paul didn’t meet the expectations.  At Corinth, he planted the church, nursed it to life, poured his very life into the people, and they were still disappointed in him! Perhaps they didn’t like the way he confronted sin, or they were upset because he had to change his travel plans. So they questioned his teaching, his authority, and even his integrity—all because of failed expectations.

Building biblical expectations is vital to the health of a congregation. In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul tells the Corinthians exactly what they should expect of him, and in so doing he sets a pattern for all pastors and all churches of all time. In the passage, Paul gets straight, serious, and even sarcastic. His point, though, is clear: God sets the expectations, and we must align ours with his.

We must expect pastors to be servants and stewards who are accountable to God first.

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (4:1-2). 

Paul says the church should think of him and of Apollos as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. A servant is one who lives under the authority of another. He does what he is told. A steward is one who is charged with a task by another. He has a job to do. So, if Paul’s apostolic ministry is a model for pastoral ministry today, and it is, then a pastor is a servant of Christ under His authority, and a steward entrusted with the task of proclaiming the mysteries of God.  Getting a good grip on that is the key to understanding what Paul goes on to say:

“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (4:3-4).

These are strange words. Paul says that he only considers it a small thing that the Corinthians would examine his performance and, in fact, he doesn’t put much stock in his own self-evaluation, because what really matters is not what he thinks or what the Corinthians think.  What really matters is what God thinks.

The most frightening thing about pastoral ministry is not working with deacons or leading a budget meeting or even confronting wayward church members. Those things can be frightening, but the most frightening thing is the judgment of God.  How a pastors thinks with your head and feels with his heart and does with your his and speaks with his mouth – God will judge all of that. People place all kinds of expectations on pastor, but a pastor is accountable to God first. A pastor must, therefore, as verse 2 says, be trustworthy! Trustworthiness with the gospel in life & leadership is God’s foremost expectation for a pastor. A pastor’s job is to do what God commands:  poor himself into preaching the word, shepherd souls in the gospel, lead the church to purity, maintain the unity, teach sound doctrine, evangelize, and advance the kingdom of Christ. Laziness, worldly distractions, and career aspirations must not take his mind off these basic tasks.

We must expect pastors to be suffering spectacles, setting an example.

“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (4:6-13).

The words drip with sarcasm.  Maybe the Corinthians had achieved “success.” Maybe some had become wealthy and comfortable. Maybe the church had grown after Paul departed. So they began patting themselves on the back and looking down their noses at Paul. In their eyes, God was blessing them, but Paul wasn’t doing so well. So obviously they were doing something right, and he was doing something wrong. Who was he to instruct them?

In verse 9, Paul uses a powerful image to remind them about the nature of ministry. The picture is that of condemned prisoners, marched into an arena and killed as a public spectacle. Then, in verse 13, he claims that ministers are the scum of the earth! We need to get back to truth in advertising about ministry. We must jettison our ambitions of swelling crowds, big budgets, new buildings, and fame. We need to expect suffering. A few years ago, John Piper wrote a book titled, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. His point was clear: Christian ministry is not professional. It isn’t even a profession. It is slavery to Christ, and it gets dirty. Ministry occurs in the mode of cross-bearing.

In 2 Timothy 2:3, Paul says to Timothy, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”  Saving the lost, edifying the saved, and leading the church is the stuff of blood and sweat and tears.  It causes stress and costs sleep.  A pastor is a man in the trenches in the battle of souls. But he must not flinch. After telling Corinthians that he will toil and endure for the gospel, Paul says in verse 16, “I exhort you, be imitators of me.” In his word, we hear his heart. “Come down from you high horse and follow me down this path of suffering for the sake of Jesus.” The pastor’s suffering is a model for the congregation—a living example of discipleship. It is denying self and taking up your cross daily to follow Christ. It is doing the will of God at the expense of self. All believers are called to carry forward the pattern of Christ’s sufferings—to walk in His steps—and a pastor is simply the pace setter. We like to call it “servant leadership” these days, but really it’s “suffering leadership” that we should expect.

Expect to watch your pastor suffer. Sure, the joy of the gospel should lift his head but, occasionally, he’s going to look downtrodden. Leading a church is hard, dealing with people is hard, and fighting for the gospel is hard. Yet, as you watch him strive and hurt, remember, he’s your example. Join him in it.

We must expect pastors to be as a spiritual fathers, concerned for our wellbeing.

“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countlessguides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sentyou Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ,as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (4:14-21)

Paul’s tone quickly softens. Despite his frustration with the Corinthians, he loves them. In fact, he’s been harsh with them because he loves them. He is their spiritual father. He led them to Jesus, he cares about them as his own children, he’s coming to check out what’s going on in the church, and he’s hoping that they will take this letter to heart so his visit can be gentle. But he is willing to be tough. It’s up to them.

Pastors play a fatherly role—under the Fatherhood of God—in our lives. A pastor may possess a gentle disposition, but he must be firm when necessary. He must not be rude, but he must be truthful. He must warn you about sin, urge you toward godliness, shed biblical light on your circumstances, and refine your belief in the gospel.

Let’s refine our expectations of our pastors. Let’s align our expectations with God’s.