How Stressed Do You Want Your Pastor To Be?

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA

Sometimes I’m on this side of the pulpit and other times that side. This Summer I’m on the preaching side of the pulpit, realizing again how busy pastoral ministry can be. This experience is congruent with what we hear from pastors in coaching; there’s always more to do than can be done…and keep our sanity.

So I would like to take this opportunity to speak to lay leaders and disciples in congregations of any size, shape, or configuration. I recommend that pastors share this article with their lay leaders and personnel teams, who may even use it to engage the congregation at large. There are real expectations for pastors, but they often have little to do with executing the calling of pastor. Here’s my list of hopes and wants for and from pastors – in hopes it will inspire you to consider (and/or revise) your list.

We want pastors to dedicate time to praying for us and for this church every week.

Many weeks many of us are hoping and praying our pastors are praying for us. When we discover they are, our hearts are strengthened and our steps are quickened. Wouldn’t we think something was wrong were pastoral shepherds not praying over their sheep?

We want pastors to protect their personal devotional time, immersing themselves in God’s presence every week.

Certainly, pastors don’t have to be the best “devotionalizers” ever. At the same time, it’s unimaginable that a person would ever try functioning in the pastoral role without constant engagement with the source of all things. I hope pastors are putting their ears to the heart of God, shutting-up, and listening intently every week.

We want pastors to do whatever it takes to be sufficiently rested for worship each week. 

Worship is when we are the Church gathered rather than scattered. This is the best opportunity for pastors to engage with many of us at the same time. Not only that, we want our pastor to be rested, able to lead worship with purpose and energy. We are fine with pastors laying aside lower level activities in order to be rested for worship day.

We want pastors to delegate responsibilities so they can focus on the essence of pastoring.

We are in this together, laity and clergy. We don’t expect pastors to be equally skilled in all things church-related. We do expect pastors to involve the rest of us in ministry. Churches are far more effective with pastors who can delegate effectively.

We don’t want pastors imitating God; always available whenever we call.

First of all, this sets us up to become spoiled sheep, thinking our needs always come first. Second, it’s terrible modeling for the rest of us…nobody is omnipotent, so we don’t want pastors pretending they are. Third, we rather our pastor avoid a heart attack, stroke, divorce, or family break-down due to workaholism; instead living to serve another day.

We want pastors to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, just like we expect from ourselves.

Of course we don’t expect less from pastors than we do from ourselves. Though their schedules may be wildly different, we do expect them to put in a good day’s work. Working honestly is simply a bedrock expectation for Jesus-followers.

We want pastors to connect with us when we are well, not only when we are sick or they need us to do something.

Most of the time we have to act-up or act-out to get time with pastors. Their time constraints and limited capacity seem to narrow their focus to squeaky-wheels and sickness more than proactive initiative.

Are “well visits” legitimate parts of pastoring? If so, we better free them up from other time constraints to engage in disciple development.

We want pastors to inquire about our souls; taking an interest in our faith journeys.

Regrettably, there’s hardly anyone else in the world who has the courage to do this. Though we wish it weren’t so, most other disciples are too intimidated to ask us, “so how is it with you and God?” We hope that at least pastors will have the courage to inquire about our faith journeys. Nobody else seems to be asking.

We want pastors to give themselves to reading scripture, relevant articles and books, listening to podcasts, and generally engaging learning and spiritual enrichment.

We’ve seen what happens when pastors ignore their learning needs. Sermons go dry and interest in pastoring well declines. Worn-out and recycled stories appear. We can tell when pastors are into it, or just getting by. We support learning opportunities.

We want pastors to believe in our church, enough to invite others whom they meet to join us…as we expect the same from ourselves.

If disciples in a congregation stop inviting others to join them in their church experience, something is out of place. Even worse, when pastors don’t invite others….we know we are in trouble. We expect pastors to address and resolve whatever impediments in themselves or in the church are holding them back from inviting others. We expect the same from ourselves as well.

What’s your expectation list look like? Of course there are real expectations for disciples in invigorated churches, lest we leave them out. But don’t worry about that right now; as you engage in dialogue around pastoral expectations, what you expect of one another will rise in the process. Our hope is that through this kind of exploration, superfluous expectations will recede while more healthy and fitting expectations will sharpen. Then congregations can adjust their systems to support more healthy and effective pastoral functioning. May God help us move toward our best selves, as disciples and as pastors, each day we live and move on planet earth.

Contact Mark at markt@pinnlead.com.

Helen