Tag Archives: expectations

What is My Pastor’s Job?

(an excerpt from Chapter 8 in The Perfect Pastor?)
Winter was exhausting itself in futile attempts to suppress the emerging spring. This March witnessed a rigorous battle of the seasons, but the brilliant hues of the newborn spring won out like a persistent hatchling.  It was Mona’s favorite time of year.

One Sunday afternoon a month the Lee family hosted a luncheon for the new visitors and members. The night before, Melissa, a naturally talented decorator, charmed the usually plain living room with a full bloom of spring.  Mona was elated, but had to work hard to keep her little brood from spreading spring color and cheer all over the place.  Sunday school could not come soon enough.

Warming temperatures and cheerful buds most likely contributed to an especially pleasurable morning.  It seemed everything went well and overall things at church were upbeat.  Two new members were formally received.  By now the grumpy bunch made it a habit of leaving almost immediately after the service, sometimes before.  A couple of the elderly ladies set their watches to ring right at noon.  “Since good preaching should take no more than fifteen minutes,” they expected Dan to be finished by noon.  If he wasn’t then too bad – they would just stand up, shuffle to the aisle and leave.  Thankfully they sat in the back row.  They missed the after church reception for the new members and a special cake afterward to celebrate the new union.

Because the new members brought their friends, and Matt brought a few of his new college mates, the Lees’ living room was filled.  After prayer everyone circled their way around the dining room buffet.  Mona’s expertise was cooking so she was used to hearing admonitions to open a catering business or restaurant.  With brightly colored plastic plates balanced precariously on laps, people sat on the couch, dining room chairs and even on the floor. In the background one could watch Melissa helping Mona feed the children and ready them for their naps.

The format was simple: enjoy the food, get to know each other, and ask the tough questions.  Dan enjoyed the tough or theological questions, but nine out of ten times questions were of a more mundane nature.  Crystal washed the bite of hoagie down with punch before she spoke up.  “I have a question,” she declared almost apologetically and kept her hand raised until Dan acknowledged her.  The stylish twenty-something was a regular visitor and friend of one of the new members.

“Go ahead, ask away.”

“Like, don’t get upset or anything.  I’m not sure I should even ask this.”

“Don’t apologize; just ask the question,” Dan kindly pressed.

“Uhm, what do you do?  Like, I know you are busy on Sunday but what do you do the rest of the week?”

With a very serious face Dan teased, “Sunday is the day I work.  It’s a great job.”

Most laughed, but Crystal wasn’t sure how to take him.

“He’s just giving you a hard time with his bad humor,” Mona apologized, coming down the stairs.  “Dan, shame on you!”

“That really is a good question and I’m glad you asked.  I get that quite often. Sometimes people actually believe the pastor only works on Sundays.  Maybe there are pastors who only work that day.  After all, one could be extremely lazy or a workaholic and get away with it.  In some ways it is like being self-employed.  You have to be fairly self-motivated and organized to get things done unless you are in a church that dictates what will be done.”

“My old pastor, and I mean he was really old — older than you, Pastor Lee — used to say that his job was to study all morning, eat lunch and then knock on neighborhood doors in the afternoons, teach classes and preach on Sunday,” proclaimed a serious college kid.

“I didn’t know thirty-eight was old, Brian.  Yeah, what you are talking about was one popular school of thought.  A few even hold to that today.  So, what do you think I do?”

“I know for a fact that you disciple people one-on-one,” Matt defended.

“Do you do counseling?” asked another.

“Sometimes I offer counsel. Yes.”

“Obviously you have to prepare for sermons and class lessons,” said Matt.

“He teaches then,” surmised Crystal’s other friend looking at Matt.

“Yep.  Keep going…” Dan encouraged.

Melissa spoke up.  “I know he reads a lot.  You should see that library of his!  And he visits people in the hospital.”

Scott volunteered, “He also visits people in their home for a spiritual checkup.  That’s what my cousin told me.”

“True.  Anything else?”

No one offered anything more than the clatter of forks on plates.  In the pause three of the young men went back to reload their plates.

“All these things would take up at least two days. Now, what else do I do with the rest of my time?” Dan questioned with a leer.

Mona jumped in right away. “Well, whatever it is, it keeps you busy day and night practically the entire week.”  Turning to Crystal she added, “I know he’s consumed by the work twenty-four-seven.  It’s even hard for him to take one day off!”  She was a little defensive since she had on too many occasions been the recipient of people’s complaints that her husband did not do enough.

“I really appreciated that page you had in the membership class that showed your average weekly schedule.  It was revealing. You really do work ten hours a day?” asked one of the new members.

“Thanks.  Yes, ten hours is normal, but sometimes it is eight and sometimes it is sixteen.  Depends on the day’s demands.  Jane Rubietta says that ‘Most pastors work in excess of 70 hours a week.  Seventy percent don’t take a week of vacation during the year, and sixty percent don’t get a full day off during the week’ (2002, p. 90). I’m glad I have vacation time that is somewhat mandated by our denomination’s tradition.  All right, I have a question for you,” Dan proposed, scanning the circle of guests.  “What do you think a pastor should do?   And I want you to be honest.”

Again, for a while the only sound was the symphony of the feast.  Matt broke the silence with a dribble of mustard on his chin, “Weddings!”  Everyone broke out laughing. “What?  What’s so funny about that?”

“Got someone in mind, Matt?” one chided.  He threw a pillow at his challenger.

“Funerals!” spoke another which provoked more laughter as they all looked at Matt’s target.

“I know you run meetings.  What’s that called?” Tom queried.

“Moderating,” Dan taught.

“Do you do the finances too?” Rose asked in her Argentinean accent.

“I suppose some pastors do the finances, but it’s not a practice in our church.  Our churches normally have treasurers.  In some churches the treasurer is a deacon.  The only part I have with finances is when the elders review the budget at the end of the year and prepare a new one for the next year.”

“Are you the janitor for the building?” Maria asked seriously.

“No.  Okay, it’s time to let you in on a secret: pastors do many, many different things and wear many different hats.  Because of the varieties of churches and philosophies of ministry you could not formulate one job description for all churches based upon the wide range of views out there.  People expect the pastor to do everything from being the church’s CEO to working as its maintenance engineer.  Some expect him to be the great communicator, a building architect, the master problem solver, and all around jack of all trades.  Excuse me, I’m going to get something,” he said while whisking off to his home office.

Mona and Melissa were just returning from the kitchen with trays of sliced pies and a large ice cream container.  They took count of who wanted dessert or dessert a la mode. Rose and Maria offered to serve the plates around.  Dan returned with some papers in hand.

“A friend of mine once said that many think the Bible says a pastor must be all things for all people, but the Bible says that Paul worked to be all things to all people.  My friend said that because of the unspoken expectations by a host of self-appointed bosses.  Those of us who are people of God’s Book must look to what God says he wants his pastor to do, and downplay the rest,” Dan intoned.

He added, “I remember the time one unhappy man came up to me after I gave a sermon on the roles of a pastor.  He said, ‘Two things: pastors are supposed to be everything we’re supposed to be but aren’t, and pastors are here to serve us.  That means you serve me!’   Writers London and Wiseman said, ‘Churchgoers expect their pastor to juggle an average of sixteen major tasks’ (1993, p. 62).  On a lighter side, let me read you an email that circulated years ago; the author is unknown:

Results of a computerized survey show that the perfect pastor…

  • Preaches exactly 15 minutes, condemns sin, but never upsets anyone.
  • He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also the janitor.
  • He makes $60 per week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car…and gives about $50 per week to the poor.
  • He is twenty-eight years old and has been preaching for thirty years.
  • He is wonderfully gentle and handsome.
  • He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all his spare time with senior citizens.
  • The perfect pastor smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work.
  • He makes fifteen calls a day on church families, shut-ins and hospitalized;
  • Spends all his time evangelizing the “unchurched” and is always in his office when needed.

If your pastor does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their pastor, too.  Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of the list.  In one year, you will receive 1,643 pastors and one of them should be perfect.  WARNING!! Keep this letter going! One church broke the chain and got its old pastor back in less than three months!

The small group roared.  Matt’s laughing knocked over Scott’s coffee.

“You asked a very good question, dear one.  Jane Rubietta wrote that  ‘Expectations

are the reason 33 percent of clergy leave their pastorate.  Pastors are ‘one of the most frustrated occupational groups in our country…the reason may have much to do with their inability to live up to the expectations placed upon them’ (2002,  p. 57).  I would add that it’s not the expectations so much as the wrong expectations people have, and the undue pressure they place on pastors to fulfill those wrong expectations.  Another author wrote:

The pastoral role now includes an unfocused and expanded range of duties.   The congregation expects the pastor to be in charge of nearly everything (except activities that the powerbrokers want to control).  Being ‘in charge’ here means not only seeing that the activities get done, but also that everyone interested in them is happy with them.  From doing the bulletin, to repairing the furnace, to increasing the pledges and enhancing the congregation’s image in the community, the pastor must see that everything is taken care of (Rediger, 1997, p. 23).

This is some heavy stuff, but it is something we cover in the membership classes.

Just what is a good job description for a pastor?” Dan asked rhetorically.  “The pastor’s job description is derived from his priority to serve Jesus Christ as he serves God’s people in the ways God sets forth.  What people often do is set up their own job description of a pastor, usually unspoken, based on one of three models: a slave, a genie or a junior messiah.  That is what London and Wiseman are referring to when they say:

Most ministers have too many bosses and wear too many hats.  In many cases,             congregations expect their pastors to do whatever task anyone dreams up; after all, no      one knows exactly what a pastor’s real job is.  This may be the primary reason many    churches stand still and stagnant – the pastors are overwhelmed with trivia and have no time left for what matters most (1993, p. 63).

A goodly percentage of denominations outline in a general way what pastors are expected to do.  Ours does.  But it is difficult to put down everything a pastor does because it varies according to the God-ordained roles he fulfills and the needs he addresses.”

Dan read another excerpt from The Cross and the Christian Ministry:

Those who follow Christian leaders must recognize that leaders are called to please the Lord Christ – and therefore they must refrain from standing in judgment over them. In other words, if it is important for the leaders to see themselves as servants of Christ entrusted with a magnificent commission, it is also important for the rest of the church to see them as ultimately accountable to the Lord Christ, and therefore to avoid judging them as if the church itself were the ultimate arbiter of ministerial success (Carson, 1993, p. 98).

“What does this church’s denomination have as your job description?” asked one of the college kids.

“I don’t have our Book of Church Order with me, but I can get you a copy later.  Let me see if I can recall: watch over the lives of God’s people in his care with regard to their doctrinal beliefs and morals.  Exercise church discipline, visit people in their homes, especially the sick.  Teach, comfort, nourish and guard the children.  Be a model of Christ.  Evangelize and disciple.  Our book says that these things are done in concert with the other elders.  The pastor also ministers the Word of God through preaching, baptizing, and serving the Lord’s Supper.”

“What roles are you talking about?” Matt asked, still sponging clean his spill.

“What does the word pastor mean?” Dan asked.

“Shepherd?” Scott replied hesitantly.

“Exactly! Think of all the things attached to the role of a pastor. What are they?”

“Feed sheep,” remarked Michael.

“Guide,” added Scott.

“Protect,” said Maria.

“See, you’ve got it.  Now, can we write up an exact job description that details how the pastor shepherds God’s sheep?”

“No,” came a chorus.

“Another very important role, perhaps even more important than the role of the pastor, is that of a servant.  Again, he serves the Lord first and foremost, and then serves people according to God’s directives.  Just like Jesus did.  Like other believers he is a priest who intercedes, and like other believers he is a peacemaker or reconciler.  Paul says he is like a father and a mother, an athlete, soldier and farmer.  He is also a professor or teacher, a preacher, a mentor or disciple maker, a model and an evangelist.”

“Wow!  That’s a huge list,” exclaimed Melissa.  “No wonder you were going all of the time.”

“Still is!” Mona added.

“I’m really glad you asked this question.   It is so important for God’s people to understand and encourage their pastor in the duties and roles God has for him and not to add superfluous extra-biblical requirements.  It is most important that God’s people not expect their pastor to be their personal slave, genie or junior messiah.  It is also very helpful to your pastor to correct false assumptions, views and expectations by fellow members.”

Melissa started clearing away the table.  Others got up to lend a hand. Some of the young men went back to finish off the dessert or refill their mugs.  After thirty minutes, the living and dining rooms were cleaned.  Crystal and Rose washed the serving platters, while Matt took out the garbage.  He was still embarrassed for spilling coffee on the braided rug.

Dan invited people to stay and relax.  He pointed to the cabinet of games.  Jake, awake from his nap, was six steps from the landing when he yelled for Scott to play a game with him.  Some expressed heart-felt gratitude for the time and left, but a few people took up the offer to stay while Dan excused himself to take his short Sunday nap.


Later that evening Dan and Mona related to each other how encouraging the day had been.  “Wish the Dumpletons and some of the others were here this afternoon,” begrudged Mona.

“Wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Might have angered them.  They want what they want and they want control.  John Maxwell is right when he says that people with big problems often cause problems.  In some ways they are to be pitied.”

Hearing the baby crying, Mona hiked the stairs to check on her.  Meanwhile, Dan went into his office to journal the day’s events and reflect on the matter of his duties.  He had a file folder on the subject of a pastor’s job description.  In his heart of hearts he knew he was fulfilling the vocation to which he had been called.  He identified with London and Wiseman’s comment as pastors that “Our legitimate discontent centers around playing church, coddling emotional infants, worrying about personal security, preaching arid doctrinal scholasticism, baby-sitting trivia, being controlled by spiritual pygmies and living by savage schedules that leave no time for prayer, study or outreach” (1994, p. 201).

It was a hard challenge for one who hated conflict and hated confronting others even more.  Dan kept a plaque by his desk that read,

“Five Reasons to Glory:

1.            God has entrusted you with the pastorate.

2.            You have the high privilege of being identified as an undershepherd of

the Chief Shepherd.

3.            Sheep respond to a shepherd.

4.            You are privileged to watch God’s sheep be born, grow, and mature.

5.            You experience unspeakable joy unknown to anyone else” (Wagner, 1999, pp. 176-183).

In his more sour moments he would add, “and experience unspeakable pain and discouragement unknown to most.”  “Whether real or assumed, expectations choke the vitality out of a pastor’s spirit.  Then what others think or what they want tortures him with worst-case scenarios of what might happen.  As a result, disquieting fears nag every expression of ministry, and pastors become so spooked that they can’t see the difference between a pesky mosquito and a ferocious lion” (London and Wiseman, 1993, p. 72).  For Dan those fears came true in his previous pastorate.  Those were pesky lions buzzing around after all!  The question Dan could not get a handle on now was, “What do I do with people like Irma and Mr. Strenk, and especially with Bernie and the elders?”

Dan knew he often feared and treated the antagonists like idols in his life.  He was constantly repenting of that.  He also recognized that he tended toward an over-inflated sense of his importance, caught up from time to time in the self-expectant role of junior messiah, much like what Leighton Ford wrote: “Sometimes we think that God’s work depends so much on us that we become feverish, compulsive and overly involved – workaholics of the kingdom rather than disciples of the King.  This kind of hyperactivism does not come from the obedience of faith but from the anxiety of unbelief,” (1991, p. 92).

London and Wiseman again nailed it with their diagnosis:

Pastors are facing a juggling act as they deal with mushrooming expectations the congregation, denomination, community, spouse, children or even self. In the Church, for example, members sometimes say straightforwardly, ‘Pastor, you are paid to do the church work, so you unravel the problems and care for the details.’  Even emotionally robust pastors find it takes energy and patience to cope with whining traditionalists, demanding visionaries and lethargic church members all at the same time.

To confuse the issues even more, the expectations often conflict with each  other at church, at home and in the greater community.  As a result, dehumanizing fatigue becomes a way of life for pastors, so even the strongest  feel their stamina wearing thin…As a solution, he suggests, ‘Expectations, like cataracts, must be removed because there is no way around them,’ (1993, p. 44).

The authors also provided a prescription:

        A miraculous cure for unrealistic expectations is to provide distinguished  ministry especially in highly visible areas such as preaching, worship or pastoral   care.  Word then gets around that you do your work as well as or better than any  previous pastor.  Excellence means doing the work God has given His Church well and in an exciting, interesting manner.

Such an excellent expression of ministry can give you a line of credibility that you might need to weather tougher times.  Many congregations overlook a pastor’s faults when they know he serves competently in other important phases of ministry (p. 78).

            Dan’s lust for approbation tended to ooze a self-destructive poison in his soul.  He learned he too easily catered to others’ wants and wishes.  Jesus never did that because he was always about his Father’s business (Luke 22:29; John 5:17-47; 9:4; 10:35-38).  Neither his father, mother (Luke 2:48-49) nor brothers could dictate the agenda God set for him (John 2; John 7:1-10).  The pressure of the great crowds always calling him to do what they wanted was not enough for him to cater to their desires.  Even in their excitement when Christ miraculously supplied a meal of bread and fish for thousands and they wanted to make him a king, he did not give in (John 6:1-15).  His disciples pressured him to rescue his dying friend Lazarus, but he only went when the time was right (John 11).  They were constantly trying to persuade him to do their bidding.  Then there is the time when Peter was harshly rebuked as being Satan when he tried to pressure Jesus to circumvent God’s redemptive plan through the cross (Matt. 16:20-28).  And of course the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees were persistently trying to impose their Spirit-less, legalistic program on Jesus.  His rebuffs and righteous rebukes contributed to their growing hostility toward Him.  The man who would never bend or conform to their image of a good teacher paid for it with his life.  Dan knew he had not suffered like that.

He was just as London and Wiseman described.

One pastor opens windows of grace for others while criticizing himself: ‘To a great

extent, I’m a victim of expectations, my own and others.  Many of us who preach

grace as a way of life do not practice it in a relationship to our ministerial tasks.

We’re more eager to please the people than we are to rest in the fact that God wants

to use us the way we are.  We preach grace, but we practice a theology of works (pp. 73-74).

            Pastor Dan’s conundrum was placed before his pastor-friends, as well as his mentor, Kent.  He emailed with a very explicit question: How do I handle the pressure of unrealistic or unbiblical expectations from people in this church, especially the elders?


Dan deliberately avoided his email on Monday, so he was not aware that some solutions were waiting for him.  He spent the morning on honey-do chores, including cleaning up winter’s mess in their backyard.  When Jake got home from school, Dan decided to take the boys to a matinee while Mona and Hannah attended a baby shower.  After the movie the boys played freeze tag in the park across from the theatre.  The playground equipment got a good workout too.  The park was located in a large roundabout.  The theatre anchored the north side, an old fashioned drugstore complete with a soda fountain was posted on the eastern entrance, the Dumpleton hardware store secured the south, and a row of small shops, including Ben’s favorite reptile store, gated the western side of the street.

It was while swinging the boys on the swing set that Dan noticed Irma glaring at him through her sign littered window.  Dan’s first reaction was to feel a knot in his stomach, but then he stopped and asked God’s forgiveness for fearing man (Prov. 29:25; Matt. 10:22ff), well, in this case a woman.  What can she do to me? he applied Hebrews 13:6.  After much study and meditation, Dan came to believe that fearing others was due to a lack of a proper fear-revere of God, and such a wrongful fear caused him to abdicate his responsibilities as an authentic, loving pastor.  It contributed to his discouragement, defeats, depression and unwillingness to take calculated, Scripture-inspired risks.  He had to think long and hard on what John wrote in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love casts away fear. Doing the righteous thing before a fearsome God out of love for others is the power and antidote to fearing others.

Now, Dan wondered, how am I going to do the righteous and loving thing for this miserable woman?  His first proactive step was to stop, face her and wave with a smile. Even though she quickly turned away, he showed an undeserved kindness.  The second thing he did after the boys were clearly tired of the park, was to walk over to the store and track down the woman.  Directed to her office upstairs, holding his boys hands, he walked into the open office.  “Good afternoon, Ms. Dumpleton.  Business going well for you today?”  She was obviously startled and tried to brush off her unexpected guests.

“Who’s dat?” Ben asked of the woman smartly dressed in a grey suit.

“That is Ms. Dumpleton and she owns this place.  She’s made this business very successful, you know.  Practically every contractor in this county comes to her for supplies and tools.” Dan could literally see the winter thawing from her.  “Do you have time to give the boys a tour of your place?” Dan asked.

“I’m too busy.  I can have Max help you.”

Not to be put off, Dan decided to press his good fortune, as it were, and insist she show the trio around.  She tried to protest.  “Aren’t you supposed to be at your office, Mr. Lee?”

“This is my singular day to recharge so I can go hard at it the rest of the week.  I like to spend it with my family.  Surely you know that, don’t you?”

She scowled.  A hard, self-driven perfectionist herself, she rivaled Mr. Scrooge’s work ethic.  Surprisingly she relented.  “Oh, all right.  I only have a couple minutes, but I can show you what we have here.”

The tour lasted twenty-five minutes as she provided the history of the store, especially from the moment she inherited it.  She explained the various departments, ways she made her clients happy, and the challenge of keeping just the right inventory.  When she began to digress on the minutia of invoicing the big contractors, Dan had to excuse himself and his boys.  They were getting pretty restless, and Dan’s warning that the little one was having a hard time keeping his hands to himself was enough for Irma to grant them leave.  She had Max show them to the door, and dismissed them with no more than a proper “Good day.”

Dan pitied her all the more and determined to pray daily for her, especially as an enemy (Luke 6:28).  He also determined to find ways to bless her and thereby “heap hot fiery coals on her head” (Rom. 12:19-20).  It was a commitment to do the loving thing, a very difficult commitment.

At home, the boys told their mother about their afternoon venture.  Mona was very surprised to hear about the escapade at the Dumpleton store.  Dan had to explain his change of heart and tact.  He told her that he wasn’t going to hold his breath for change, but still prayed for change to come.  Instead he was going to do what God called him to do.  That was in his job description.


Dan had already outlined a pastor’s job description in the class materials for new members (see Appendix J).  However, what would he do to communicate that description to long term members with personal and preconceived notions about what he should do?  They were not about to go through another membership class.  And what of the elders who should know better but also had their own ideas?  It was time to seek the wisdom of his mentor and other pastoral friends.  But Dan would force himself to wait until Tuesday.  That night he and Mona decided to go out for a movie.  Dan was in the mood for a comedy.   Melissa volunteered to baby-sit.


Early the next morning, he switched on morning pot of coffee, and then checked his email.  Dan had twenty-three messages.  First, he deleted the spam and junk, quickly checked the five humorous ones his cousin sent, read through emails by the elders about church issues, and finally got to the posts he sought.  He went back to the kitchen for his first cup of coffee.  Back in front of the computer he opened and read the relatively short emails.  None of them offered anything surprisingly insightful or gave advice he had not already considered.  Still, it was good for Dan to receive confirmations that he was on the right track.


The energized father coached his boys to finish the oatmeal and toast Mona had prepared.  Ben wouldn’t eat it without lots of syrup.  Hannah had no trouble with the porridge at all; in fact she had lifted the pink plastic bowl and buried her face in it, licking as much of the sweet cereal as she could.  It was an uproarious scene of grunts and slurps followed by the display of an oatmeal-framed head.  This was one of those Kodak moments, so Dan snapped a picture.  Mona was not as amused since it meant a morning bath and shampoo.  Perhaps Hannah conspired for the bath, an event she relished?

Jake left for school, Ben played in his room, and Hannah headed for the bath tub.  Dan took his time getting ready, but was in his office by 9:00 A.M.  Usually, Tuesdays were a little more difficult because he had to assume the secretarial duties Melissa once did.  That meant sixteen additional hours a week of clerical work that robbed him of essential tasks.  Dan’s protests and pleadings to the elders went unheeded since they argued that for more than forty years the church went without a secretary and previous pastors did all the clerical work.  It wasn’t an issue of finances, for the little church was now in a position to hire a full time office worker.  Dan argued that while tradition might explain why some things are done, tradition alone does not mean some things should be done.  Dan also pointed out that he would have to cut back on other things or just let the administrative things suffer.  “Giving me more non-essential things to do robs me of the time I need for studying, counseling, and discipling.”  They countered with a charge that he would be derelict in his duties and that he had more than enough time to fulfill their demands.  Dan seriously wondered if this was a ploy to pressure him into leaving or if they were that ignorant of his tasks.

Because Dan was unable to put together the monthly newsletter, that only provoked Bernie and another of the elders.  Here was the occasion Dan was looking for to discuss his job description.  This would be one part in his overall strategy to broadcast the job description he had formulated from Scripture and from a mound of books and articles.  Along with presenting the study on the responsibilities and duties of a pastor to the elders, he would teach the subject at both the leadership class and the officers’ training.  When the time was right he would also interject a topical sermon series on the various Scriptural roles for a pastor, which incidentally applied to elders too.  At that time, sermon notes or supplemental materials could be inserted into the bulletins as he worked through each of the main themes, and the outline would be posted on the church bulletin board.  Time or not, Dan determined to work hard to have a series of newsletters speak to the subject.  At least now the newsletter would have a more focused purpose than merely fulfilling tradition.

“This paper is well and good, but you are not limited to doing only these things,” announced elder Frank at the elders’ session.  Dan usually placed a study or hot topic for discussion at the bottom of the agenda in order to accomplish normal business items first.  Often times the discussions were unfinished because Dan believed 10:00 P.M. was a bewitching hour, a time when tired minds and bodies were ill-suited for a wise discussion and ripe for irritability.  Therefore, he would stop the meetings at 10:00 P.M. and put the unfinished discussion as old business on the next agenda.

Quite surprisingly, Bernie agreed with Dan’s job description.  “I have no problem with this paper.  But, these are the basic things a pastor does.”

“I might underscore again that these are also biblical responsibilities and duties for all elders, not merely for the one dubbed pastor,” Dan challenged.  “Obviously the Bible doesn’t spell out in specific detail how we are supposed to accomplish these things, but it gives us God’s mandate and priorities for service.”

“I don’t agree.  This is your opinion.  These are things you are being paid to do,” Bernie fired back.

“So you are going to argue with the clear teaching of the Bible on this subject?  And argue with dozens of pastors, biblical theologians and scholars too?”

“You can make the Bible say anything you want it to!” Bernie snapped back.

“Then you also disagree with our Confession of Faith and our denomination’s Book of Church Order?”

“No.  I think all they do is give a skeleton for what a pastor’s duties are.  There is nothing that says the elders can’t formulate their own job description for a pastor, and nothing that says we can’t add to other lists.  Besides, so much of that is outdated and doesn’t even touch on things the pastor should do in this day.” Bernie pronounced.  This was a surprising contradiction to Bernie’s previously stated position.

“Bernie, are you arguing against the Bible, our Confession, and Book of Church Order on the grounds that they are out of date?  But you are the one who advocates for the traditions established in our church.  What – a tradition that dates back only forty years?  Come on!”

“What is your point in all of this?” Joe interjected.

“To bring clarity and some objective standard to my work as elder-pastor in this church,” Dan replied.

“Are you confused about what you should be doing?  Because if you are, we can draft a job description for you,” commented another elder.

“That’s a good idea!” declared Bernie.

“I agree,” added Frank.

“No.  The point is that the very priorities for ministry found in Scripture should determine what I do and what all the elders should do.  Other things such as planning youth activities or doing clerical work or mowing the lawn are secondary, even tertiary, to the very essential ministries I am called to do.  My recommendation is that you adopt this outline as this church’s job description.  In fact, I so move,” Dan said.  Though nobody seconded the motion, Dan explained that it was very problematic for any pastor to try to fulfill all of the spoken and unspoken demands and expectations of members, including the elders.  “On many occasions, you men have made it clear that what I do around here is either not enough or not good enough!  What is also clear is that I am not doing much of what God says I should do because our priorities are wrong.”

“Whose fault is that?” Bernie snapped.

After a ten-minute debate, the vote was cast against adopting Dan’s outline.  It supposedly limited elders from asking or requiring other tasks of the pastor.  Dan told them that he planned on teaching this material and preaching on the Biblical roles of pastors and elders.  The elders told him he could not preach on the subject, but if he wanted to he could teach it in classes, and warned him that if he did preach on the subject he would be charged with insubordination, refusing to submit to the will of the elder board.

They also decided to put together a committee of three elders to draft a job description for the pastor.  Obviously the meeting did not go as well as Dan had hoped.


“So what do I do now?” he asked Kent the next morning.

“Look, here’s the thing: you are not what they want in a pastor.  No matter what you do, unless you conform to their paradigm for a preacher and pastor, they will never accept you.”

“But Pastor Rick said that I should put up a good fight; take the men to the presbytery.”

“That’s one way to approach it, but let me ask you a few questions:  Do you believe you are ever going to change their minds?”

“Doesn’t look like it. They haven’t changed so far.”

“Do you believe you can push this issue and gain support from the vast majority of the church?  Or would it cause a split?”

“There would definitely be some sort of a split.”

“So what are your options?”

“Stay and deal with it or leave.”

“If you stay, you should know that it would likely take a long time to see the kind of changes necessary to bring your church into a greater conformity to Scripture.  The other option is to conform to their paradigm for ministry.  To see change you will not only have to outlast the antagonists, but you will also need to build up a new and strong base of people who agree with a biblical vision and mission for the church.  It could happen, but you’ll need to commit yourself for the long haul, ten to fifteen years perhaps,” Kent advised.  “Two books that might be helpful to you…”

“Okay, I’m always ready to read more.”

“The first is Red Light Green Light by John Cionca (1994).  It’s basically a book to help you decide with some objectivity whether to stay where you are or to leave.  The other is Craig Larson’s Staying Power (1998), which argues for staying and making a difference.  If you can get them in time you could read them during your trip to Oregon.”



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Unfair Comparisons

C. Brian Larson says,
“Unfair comparisons focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Inappropriate comparisons are selective and therefore deceptive. They divert me from what God wants me to do. Some comparisons can be helpful but I must call irrational comparisons what they are. Somehow I must find new, better, and more fair ways to compare myself with others.”79


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Preacher in the Hands of an Angry Church

by Chris Armstrong
Jonathan Edwards’s church kicked him out after 23 years of ministry, but the crisis proved his greatness was not merely intellectual.

As messy dismissals of ministers go, the 1750 ejection of Jonathan Edwards by his Northampton congregation was among the messiest. The fact that it involved the greatest theologian in American history—the central figure of the Great Awakening—is almost beside the point. The fact that it took place in a New England fast moving from theocratic “city on a hill” to democratic home of liberty is more relevant.

But another aspect is worth a closer look: Friends and enemies alike agreed that in the long, degenerating discontent, Edwards continued to love and pray for—or at least tolerate and refrain from attacking—his people, even when they bared their fangs.

Salary controversies and power struggles marked his ministry during the 1740s. In the infamous “bad book” episode of 1744, some teen boys in the church distributed a midwife’s manual, using it to taunt and make suggestive comments in front of girls. When the culprits were summoned before the church, their response, according to documents of the proceedings, was “contemptuous … toward the authority of this Church.”

Edwards chose to read before the church a list containing, indiscriminately, the names of both the young distributors as well as the purported witnesses. Some parents were outraged at Edwards.

Another issue was Edwards’s personality and style as a minister. At the outset of his ministry at Northampton, for example, he decided that he would not pay the customary regular visits to his congregants, but would rather come to their side only when called in cases of sickness or other emergency. This made him seem, to some in the church, cold and distant.

An Edwards “disciple,” Samuel Hopkins, later wrote that this practice was not due to lack of affection and concern for his people: “For their good he was always writing, contriving, labouring; for them he had poured out ten thousand fervent prayers; and they were dear to him above any other people under heaven.”

Rather, Edwards had made a clear-eyed assessment of his own gifts and decided that he was unable to match the graceful gregariousness of those ministers who had a “knack at introducing profitable, religious discourse in a free, natural, and … undesigned way.”

Thus he would “do the greatest good to souls … by preaching and writing, and conversing with persons under religious impressions in his study, where he encouraged all such to repair.”

Edwards’s ministry might yet have endured, however, were it not for the death of his uncle, Colonel John Stoddard, in 1748. Born in 1682, 21 years before Edwards, the colonel had built a friendship with his nephew. A sharp thinker, a county judge, and a savvy politician, John was a militia colonel who had become commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts western frontier by 1744. Stoddard wore—at least in the secular sphere—the mantle of his father and Edwards’s grandfather, “pope” of the Connecticut Valley, Solomon Stoddard.

Edwards found himself often leaning on his uncle’s influence to navigate the affairs of the church. Thus when Stoddard died, Edwards lost not only an uncle but a powerful ally and confidante.

As Iain Murray put it in his biography of Edwards: “There would be no open criticism of Edwards as long as Stoddard sat appreciatively in his pew beneath the pulpit in the meeting-house Sunday by Sunday.” Once the colonel was gone, however, that changed dramatically.

Stoddard’s heir-apparent as Hampshire County’s leading figure was Edwards’s cousin Israel Williams, a Harvard graduate, imperious in manner and implacably set against Edwards. In his early nineteenth-century biography, descendant S. E. Dwight named Israel and several others of the Williams clan as having “religious sentiments [that] differed widely from” those of Edwards. Their opposition soon became “a settled and personal hostility.” Williams served as counselor and ringleader to Edwards’s opponents. Joining this opposition were another cousin, Joseph Hawley Jr., 21 years Edwards’s junior.

Visible saints, hidden agendas
The same year John Stoddard died, an event finally pushed the hostile faction into open revolt.

For years, Edwards had been uncomfortable with the lenient policy on membership and communion set by his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’s predecessor at Northampton. Stoddard had allowed almost anyone to join and to partake, hoping that membership and communion might encourage true conversion. In 1748, Edwards changed the policy and told an applicant for church membership that he must first make a public “profession of godliness.”

Thus Edwards rejected the “Halfway Covenant”—the longstanding compromise of the Puritans who had, generations after planting their religious colonies, found their church membership dwindling. That compromise had reversed the traditional Puritan requirement that new church members be “visible saints,” godly in word and deed.

When the congregation saw that Edwards intended to return to the earlier, stricter Puritan position, demanding not only a profession of faith, but also evidence of repentance and holiness, a firestorm arose. Many of the church’s leading members felt Edwards’s innovation was a direct threat.

Two revivals had produced many converts, but, as biographer Patricia Tracy put it, “Men and women who had been recognized as visible saints in Northampton still wallowed in clandestine immorality and flagrant pride.”

Though Edwards knew, as he notes in his letters, that he was likely to lose his pastorate as a result, he stuck to his principles.

A council of the congregation put a moratorium on new memberships until the issue of criteria could be resolved. Edwards told them he planned to preach on his reasons for changing the policy. They forbade him to do so. Edwards began to write a book on the matter. Few read it, and too late to do much good.

In 1750, a council was called to consider whether the congregation would dismiss its minister. No one doubted what the conclusion would be.

Edwards’s friend David Hall noted in his diary the minister’s reaction when on June 22, 1750, the council handed down its decision:

“That faithful witness received the shock, unshaken. I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good … even to the astonishment of many who could not be at rest without his dismission.”

46 and unemployed
Edwards wrote that he now found himself a 46-year-old ex-minister “fitted for no other business but study,” with a large family to provide for. Although he knew “we are in the hands of God, and I bless him, I am not anxious concerning his disposal of us,” he fretted over his situation in letters to friends. Yet neither the distressing conditions nor the continuing antagonism of his opponents drew him out to open attack.

Remarkably (and partly because of financial need), Edwards agreed to continue preaching at the church while they searched for a replacement. But his Farewell Sermon also indicates he acted out of continued concern for the flock. He continued through mid-November, despite the Town maliciously barring him, a month after his dismissal, from using its common grazing land.

Finally in December 1750, after an anxious autumn during which he had even considered removing his entire family to Scotland to accept an invitation there, Edwards accepted a charge in Massachusetts’s “wild west,” the Indian town of Stockbridge. There he would labor the rest of his life, pursue his theological thinking to its most brilliant heights, and create one of the most enduring missionary biographies of all time, the life story of his young friend David Brainerd.

Belated praise
In 1760, his former enemy, cousin Joseph Hawley, wrote to Edwards’s friend David Hall, confessing that “vast pride, self-sufficiency, ambition, and vanity” had animated his leadership in the “melancholy contention” with Edwards. He repented of his earlier failure to render the respect due Edwards as a “most able, diligent and faithful pastor.”

Hawley concluded, “I am most sorely sensible that nothing but that infinite grace and mercy which saved some of the betrayers and murderers of our blessed Lord, and the persecutors of his martyrs, can pardon me; in which alone I hope for pardon, for the sake of Christ, whose blood, blessed by God, cleanseth from all sin.”

On June 22, 1900, exactly 150 years after Edwards’s dismissal, a group gathered at the First Church in Northampton to unveil a bronze memorial.

H. Norman Gardiner, a professor of philosophy at Smith College and chairman of the memorial committee, characterized Edwards’s ejection as “a public rejection and banishment” that remained “a source of reproach to his church and people.” He noted the “hatred, malice, and uncharitableness which characterized the opposition to him,” for which, to Gardiner, no apology either contemporary or modern could atone.

Edwards would have disagreed, arguing instead that even such deeply wounding actions as the aggravated and wrongful dismissal of a pastor from his pulpit of 23 years are not unforgivable. In that understanding, as in so much else, Edwards was far ahead both of his enemies and of many of us today.

2003 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Winter 2003, Vol. XXV, No. 1, Page 52

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My Expectations of Church Members

It is rare that a week goes by where, as a pastor, I have not failed, disappointed or offended someone within the church. I know because people feel the freedom and apparent need to tell me.  That can be discouraging. In fact, I’ve observed that there is a corresponding corollary between the frequency of failing, disappointing and offending, and the level of discouragement on my part.

In those more sobering and clear-headed moments, I am able to evaluate what was said to me about those failures, disappointments and offenses against what Scripture says. On the one hand, it is a constant reminder of my sinfulness, weakness and inadequacy. On the other hand, it is a commentary on the nature of people’s expectations of me as a pastor. Merely evaluating the comments or criticisms over the past several weeks, it has been quite obvious that most of those failures, disappointments or offenses were not against God but against members’ expectations.

That got me thinking. What if I, as a pastor, took the liberty to assess church members based upon my personal expectations of what I want from them?  Granted, all pastors do that to some degree; but I am not talking about all pastors.  I‘m talking about what I want! I am talking about taking the same liberty that so many church members (and deacons and elders) do:  judge others within the local church according to their own personal standards.

So, allow me to expose my selfish desires for what I want, expect, demand(?) of all church members within any church in which I serve. Here’s the shortlist:

1. For every member and regular attendee to be at every event I am at.

2. To be faithful to every Bible study or class I teach.

3. To be early to Bible study, Sunday school and worship.

4. To be attentive to everything I say and teach.

5. To learn more from me than from any other teacher or pastor.

6.To give undivided attention to every sermon I preach (never be bored, never fall asleep, never miss a sermon).

7. To never compare me with any other pastor or preacher, unless it’s in a positive way.

8. To idolize me more than all of their current idols and superpreachers.

9. To have each person or family invite me and my family for supper at least once a month.

10. To do what I ask them to do and go where I ask them to go.

11. To anticipate in advance when I will get sick or enter the hospital, and attend to me accordingly.

12. To always pray for me.

13. To adore my wife.

14. To think my children are perfect and wonderful.

15. To never correct me, scold me, rebuke me or say anything negative to me.

16. To read every article, blog or book I write, and like them.

17. To speak glowingly to everyone they know about how wonderful I am.

18. To bring people to my church every week in order to make the church grow in a way that will break all records (so that I too can be featured in Christian magazines and go on speaking tours).

19. To not expect me to live up to what the Bible says a Christian should be.

20. And certainly not expect me to live up to what the Bible says a pastor should be and do (that’s just too unreasonable).

21. To always be available when I call.

22. To always be home when I come to your house.

23. To like the same personal tastes and preferences I like.

24. To enjoy the same games and sports as I.

25. To like the same music that I do, especially in church services and events.

26. To dress according to my preferences and standards.

27. To always be pleasant and kind to me.

28. To tell me how much you like what I do or say (I would be angry at you if you don’t).

29. To never have any expectations of me (such as having to be at every class, Bible study, church activities, or worship service because I do have other things I want to do, you know?)

30. To visit with me when I feel like you need to (and you should have the foresight and intuition to know when that is).

31. To always send me birthday cards (gifts would be awesome).

32. To read the same books, magazines and journals that I do so we can discuss them at my pleasure.

33. To make sure everyone else in the church is doing what they need to do in order to make me happy. If they don’t, then I will threaten to leave.

34. To fulfill this list and anything else I can think of.

35. And never to think I‘m ever being selfish expecting these things!

Because, as we know, church is about my kingdom coming and my will being done; for mine is the kingdom and the power, and I want the glory, forever and ever…

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Superpreacher – We want you!

Dear Superpreacher,

Superpreacher, You're my hero!

I am writing to you to ask you to consider becoming our pastor. We are a small church in a small city that was established over forty years ago. I am one of several who either started this church or grew up in this church.

We’ve always been small; but I know that if you came here we would grow into a great and large church.

We’ve had plenty of others preachers over the years. I think ten? But none of them was really any good at preaching.

The longest we’ve ever had a pastor was six years, even though we encouraged him to find another church after he had been with us for two years.

Our current pastor came a few years ago.  He’s okay, but nothing like you.  He’s a likeable man, but he’s not what we want.  Yes, he studies hard, visits people when they are sick, oversees the worship, teaches Bible study, prays for members in the church, meets with our men, visits our visitors, counsels, witnesses, is training new deacons, is constantly having lunch or supper with people and other things like that.  It’s all well and good, but he’s not bringing new people in or making our church grow. We want more than 120!

We need someone like you.  If our pastor had a voice like you do, and could dress as cool as you, or preach on the stage the way you do, then things might not be so bad.  He’s also older than 40, which turns off young people.  He needs charisma and energy. That’s what you have. He also needs to wow the audience and say things that will get people’s attention, and tell lots of great stories like you.  We want someone exhilarating and well-known.

It would be so exciting to have you be our preacher.  We would still let you do conferences and write books.  By the way, when I can find the time I plan on reading one of your books!  You can get rid of the pulpit, but we would like it if you did not change too much else around.  Contemporary songs are fine once in a while too. I’m sure those things don’t really matter much to you because all you really need to do is what you do best:  preach the socks off people.

Even though we are a small church, we have people who have investments and good resources, which they could put toward paying your large salary for a few years.  Our core group has been waiting for just the right person to come along to make wise use of this money; and we know you would be that right man!

Please let me know if you will accept this offer.  We are already talking about ways to help this pastor move on.  It should not be a problem since we’ve helped previous preachers find other calls.

In the name of Jesus;

Chris N. Dom

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Characteristics in People of Biblically Healthy Churches

by Bill Vermeulen

1. A sincere love for fellow believers in Christ.

2. A genuine love for those who are lost without Christ.

3. A sense of significant purpose.

4. A high level of expectant faith.

5. A positive spirit rooted in God’s promises.

6. A strong outward-focus and desire for an abundantly spiritual harvest.

7. A deep concern for the glory of God.

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An Annual Pastoral Evaluation for Elders and Pastors

Have I/we functioned according to the New Testament biblical images for elders?

  •  As a father of the household of God (Matt. 13:52; 1 Tim. 3:5).
  •  As a shepherd of God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).
  •  As a ruler in God’s assembly (Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13)

Have I/we kept our priorities right?

  • Serving the Lord first of all (Acts 20:19; Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; Eph. 6:6-7; Col. 3:22-24)

By emphasizing God’s Word and prayer (Acts 6:4; 20:20,27)

By confronting opposition with sound teaching (Eph. 4:15)

By feeding the flock of God (1 Pet. 2, 5)

  •  Serving the congregation:

 By equipping the saints for service (Eph. 4:11,12)

By confronting opposition with sound teaching (Eph. 4:15)

By arming them for spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 11:13ff; Eph. 6)

  • Have I/we been faithful in our duties as elders?

As an example to the flock of God (Ti. 2:7,8; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:3)

As an example in life (1 Tim. 4:6):

Keeping myself/ourselves right with God:

by guarding myself/ourselves (Acts 20:28), and walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16)

by growing in grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Pet. 3:18)

by prayer and study (Acts 6:4; 1 Tim. 4:13-16; 2 Tim. 2:15)

by proper delegation of certain tasks to deacons (Acts 6) or others

by separating from selfish interests (Acts 20:33-35; Rom. 13:8)

Holding myself/ourselves in wise and biblical balance:

Keeping my/our homes in order (1 Tim. 3:4-5)

Being good stewards (1 Cor. 4:1-2; 9:17; Col. 1:24-25)

Through the study-application of God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15)

As true living sacrifices unto the Lord (Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6; Acts 20:24; 31:13; Phil. 3:7-8)

As an example(s) to the flock in doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16)

Have I/we been faithful in my/our duty as a sound teacher(s) of the Word of God?

(Mk. 6:34b; 1 Cor. 12:28,31; Col. 1:28; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Ti. 1:9; Jas. 3:1; Rev. 7:17)

In public teaching?

In private teaching and instruction?

Have I/we been faithful as a shepherd(s) of God’s flock?

(Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2)

  • By comforting them and nourishing them with compassion (Matt. 9:36; Mk. 6:34; Jas. 5:14)

Through hospitality

Through pastoral visitations

Through personal counsel

Through diaconal help

  • By protecting them (Jn. 10:11,15; Acts 20:28-30; Ti. 1:9; Eph. 4:14; Heb. 13:17)

From outer enemies (2 Cor. 11:12-15)

From inner enemies (2 Tim. 2:16-18; Jude 12-13)

Have I/we been faithful as a godly ruler(s)

(Heb. 13:7,17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17)?

  • Through the proper interpretation and application of Scripture to life within the  church.
  • By making provisions for the good order and well-being of the church.
  • By justly exercising the keys of discipline (Matt. 18:15-18).

© D. Thomas Owsley

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