Ministry to Pastors at RISK: So What Do They Want Anyway? Multiple Expectations

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One day after church at lunch our friends asked their pre-school son Eric: “Who is God?”. He  answered well from the children’s catechism. Then dad asked: “Who is Jesus?” and Eric answered “that man”. To which dad replied: “What man son?”  “You know daddy, that man in church!”  We all chuckled as he was identifying our bearded young preacher, but for too many ministers and ministries it can be no laughing matter.

Chapter 6 of Pastors at RISK, by Dr. Charles A. Wickman, is entitled “Multiple Expectations” but “maybe the title could also be written: “Unrealistic Expectations”? Illustrations of spoken and unspoken expectations are legion. Here is one Dr. Wickman points out: “We only use whipped cream, not cool whip, at this church” (pg. 51). Yes, I admit every church culture has its way of doing things, and a wiser pastor will learn to navigate them and even accept many as the way it is. Too many younger pastors rush change to their own peril.

Here are ten helpful words of advice from Dr. Wickman.

  1. “Know yourself.” If you believe you can fulfill the demand of an 80 hour work week, you need to know yourself better. Clergy Coaching and the PRO-D assessment of your strengths and weaknesses (both offered by PIR Ministries) can help in this area.
  2. “Accept yourself.” If you are “equating yourself with your performance, you’re in trouble” (pg. 52). Pastors may have servant hearts, but sometimes they neglect their own soul care. I find “self-care” implied by a verse like Phil 2:4:”Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Be careful of making people big and God small in your desire to be all things to all people. (See two books by Dr. Edward Welch for help in this matter: When People are Big and God is Small and Shame Interrupted are both relevant to us people pleasers).
  3. “Be honest and forthright.” Be transparent and don’t give into putting on the “religious professional” mask. The Corinthians expected this worldliness of Paul. “Before you are asked to be superman, let them know you are not.”
  4. “Consider a customized covenant.” I have heard it said that “expectations are resentments waiting to happen,” but writing some mutually agreed upon structure out ahead of time could help. “In an old joke Mason said to Dixon: ‘You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.’”
  5. “Ask.” Simply ask questions, but not “why” questions as they are too threatening to the status quo.
  6. “Empower others.” Dr. Wickman cites Ephesians 4 to refer to the whole Body gifted and equipped for ministry/works of service,  NOT just the pastor. However as I have said earlier in this series and will undoubtedly say again: the “entrepreneurial” mindset of the modern American church see the pastor as the one hired to do “ministry.” (Please see: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/286092-when-to-fire-a-pastor.html).
  7. “Set intentional goals.” This exercise can focus expectations rather than meandering from one goal to another and back around.
  8.  “Listen.” “‘ A wise old owl sat in an oak: the more he saw the less he spoke; the less he spoke, the more he heard; why aren’t we like that old bird’ (Edward Hersey Richards).”.
  9.  “Let God speak through the expectations of others.” There is wisdom in many counselors. Dr. George Fuller gave us this advice in seminary: “Don’t try to change anything as the new pastor for at least a year.” From my own experience, it may need to be longer. You don’t want to be a dictator; they often get assassinated.
  10. “Honor your predecessors.” Respect the history of a church as very important, and do not trample on that history or a previous pastor. Someone may turn and rend you back.

Expectations are inescapable, but expectations can be and often are unrealistic. A recent article by church consultant Thom S. Rainer (http://thomrainer.com/2013/07/how-many-hours-must-a-pastor-work-to-satisfy-the-congregation/) counted up all the typical church expectations and the total number of hours required weekly to accomplish them totaled 114 hours!

Again I find this whole entrepreneurial way of thinking so at odds with the simple expectation of Acts  6:2 & 4: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables…But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” So what does God want anyway? God expects me to faithfully feed the flock Jesus and His love.

Final word: Jesus lived the life I should have lived, He met all of God’s expectations for me!

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