What Do You Expect?
One Episcopalian joke observes that on the question of authority, Roman Catholics point to the Pope, Protestants to the Bible, and Episcopalians to the previous rector.
That line makes me smile. But truthfully, when it comes to people's expectations of the pastor—including job description, lifestyle, and even personality—every congregation is shaped by not only the Bible and their previous pastor, but also celebrity pastors, memories of childhood ministers, and every other pastor the members have ever known.
Consider: is a pastor supposed to be funny or serious, tough or tender, a scholar or an activist, a risk-taker or a guardian?
Everyone has expectations of the church leader. Some expect you to make decisions. Others expect you to wait till there's consensus. Others expect you to put everything up for a vote.
One pastor told me, "It is utterly impossible to meet the diverse expectations within a congregation. Rarely will they all be communicated to you. And even if they are, what two people expect may be mutually exclusive."
Another pastor agreed, "I find very few individuals with unrealistic expectations of the pastor—it's the composite image that gets to you. And rarely does anyone outside the pastoral family see the composite."
But expectations are part of any relationship. Every married couple has to adapt to differing expectations about how holidays are celebrated, how money is spent, how well trained children will be, and how much time to invest in everything from meal preparation to housekeeping to personal hobbies. These all have to be sorted, negotiated, and settled on.
Lots of elements make up the expectations for a pastor. In most cases, expectations don't need to be rejected as much as the role of pastor needs to be clarified or redefined.
"Some people expected me to be the Bible Answer Man," a pastor from Wisconsin told me. "But my job is not to bottle feed mature sheep but to help them feed themselves.
"A woman asked me what the Bible said about such and such. I told her I didn't have the slightest idea. She was aghast and wanted to know if I'd find the answer for her. I told her no. 'Why not?' she demanded.
"I explained that she was capable of finding out for herself. If I looked it up, it would take my time and she would probably forget my answer. If she looked it up, she would remember it better, and she could come and teach me. I asked if she knew how to look it up. She didn't.
"So I showed her the concordance in the back of her Bible, and I wrote down a website where she could search the Bible for key words. I showed her how to dig into the Bible for herself. She didn't get what she expected, yet in another way she did. A week later she came back and told me how she'd not only answered her own question, but she'd been able to find the answer to a friend's question about the Bible!"