One does not normally think that pastoral ministry is a high-risk job, at least in North America. However, I do remember reading of a pastor many years ago who went to his office on Saturday night to put the finishing touches on his sermon. He thought he was alone in the building, but unbeknown to him the church organist had also decided to come and practice for the morning service. The wall just behind the unsuspecting pastor’s desk was the same wall against which were located the organ and the speakers in the sanctuary. The organist also was not aware that some practical joker had set the volume button on maximum and so when she laid into the first note the explosion of sound shook the building like a freight train, and the startled pastor had a heart attack and died on the spot!
While recognizing that such hazards do not often occur in pastoral ministry, I still maintain that there are tremendous dangers inherent in the Calling which few church members and fewer pastors realize until it is too late. These dangers have contributed to the amazing statistic that only 1 out of every 10 pastors who begin in ministry stay in ministry. I have been in a pastoral ministry now for 45 years and have experienced some of these dangers, as sure every veteran pastor has as well. In this, and in my next few blogs, I would like to to bring some of these dangers to your attention so that you can be praying specifically for your pastor and others you know in ministry elsewhere. [I shared this same message a few weeks ago to the congregation of a young friend who was just installed as the lead pastor at his church.]
THE DANGER OF TRYING TO MEET EVERYONE’S EXPECTATIONS…
Very few vocations come with as many expectations as pastoral ministry. The pastor is expected to be a good preacher, a good administrator, a good counselor, a good PR person, a good fund-raiser, a good visitor in hospital and home; an expert in theology, in the original languages, and in missions; a good spouse, a good parent…to name just a few. It is fairly obvious that no human being can do all these things well and yet many pastors have been taken to task for not measuring up in some people’s minds.
Jonathan Edwards was a pastor in Northampton, MA, from 1727-1750. He was a gifted preacher and theologian and a leader in the revival that swept New England and the Middle Colonies known as the Great Awakening. He spent 13 hrs a day in study and preparation, but many in his church were dissatisfied because he did not visit enough or attend town functions. There were also certain crises in the church that some felt Edwards did not manage well. Edwards and his wife Sarah had 11 children who all survived and this embittered some who could not have as many children or whose children had died in infancy. In addition, 6 of Edward’s kids were born on Sunday and there was stigma against this to the extent that some ministers would not baptize babies born on Sundays. The reason: it was commonly thought that the day of one’s birth occurred on the same day as conception and thus the implication that such “activity” on the highly regarded Sabbath was very inappropriate. So people had all kinds of issues with Edwards based upon certain expectations, and dissatisfaction began to mount to the point where after 23 yrs of fruitful ministry he was asked to resign in 1750. Only 10% of the congregation voted against dismissal.
Paul told Timothy “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid hands on you.” (1 Tim 4:14) I think the best advice for any pastor is to faithfully function in you’re his area of gifting, and to be the person that God called into ministry in the first place – not someone else. Practically applied this means that the Pastor should have a known job description that fits his gifting, and that he be encouraged to gather a team of people around him who have gifts in other areas than he does. You would be surprised to discover how many churches do not have a written job description for their pastor and, therefore, congregational expectation can run wild.
A congregation must evaluate their pastor only on the basis of what he has agreed to do and not what people wish him to do. Your pastor is not a John Piper, a John Stott, a Mark Dever, or your favorite childhood pastor. He is the person gifted and called by the Holy Spirit to be your shepherd. Allow him to be who he is within the parameters of what you have hired him to do; and pray that he grows and develops as the man God chose for your congregation.
Next blog: The Danger of Feeding Others at the Expense of Nourishing His/Her Own Soul…