The Kindness of Reasonable Expectations
Offering grace and a helping hand to your pastor
by Lee Eclov
Pastoral ministry does not lend itself to reasonable expectations. God Himself pushes His shepherds pretty hard. Ask Moses about reasonable expectations, or Jeremiah. Read the Pastoral Epistles again.
As if the expectations of Scripture aren’t daunting enough, today’s church culture often adds intense pressure on pastors to see their churches grow, to enlist more people in programs, to raise more funds and to have better “worship.” And pastors put expectations on themselves to invest more hours, run a tighter ship and offer a ready acquiescence to anyone who wants a piece of their time.
If pastors are to “shepherd the flock of God that is under your care,” they need help from leaders to manage expectations.
Help your pastor orient to God’s grace.
A lot of fine pastors are like the prodigal’s elder brother, only without the judgmental hypocrisy (Luke 15). They’ve given years of hard, consistent, obedient work with never a celebration. These pastors do not really know how to enjoy their Father’s favor. They need friends to invite them to God’s grace.
The daily ministry ABCs—attendance, buildings and cash—have a way of sapping pastoral energy.
This isn’t a call to a pastor-appreciation event (not that he’d mind). These driven pastors need friends who help them see God’s delight in them and recognize that the Father is proud of their accomplishments. They need help to understand what our Good Shepherd means when He says, “I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
They are Marthas who need a friend to help them sit quietly with Mary at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42).
This calls for a ministry of patient listening, of spiritual observation and of gentle biblical reorientation. Go very easy on advice.
Help your pastor rekindle his calling.
Apparently, Timothy was losing his pastoral nerve when Paul told him to fan into flame his calling (2 Timothy 1:6). Pastors are called to shepherd the flock of God—to feed, lead and guard God’s people. Also central to any pastoral call, I believe, is a love for communicating God’s Word.
Pastors live with the pressure of always being the good example.
Yet the daily ministry ABCs—attendance, buildings and cash—have a way of sapping pastoral energy. They are soul-less metrics. They relentlessly emphasize efficiency and economy when pastoral work must have space for God’s inefficient imperatives: prayer, contemplation and unrushed times with individuals.
Help your pastor create space to meet and pray with people, to invest in “contemplative exegesis” (to use Eugene Peterson’s phrase) and to do “inefficient” ministry.
Help carry the burdens of your pastor’s heart.
I’m biased, but I don’t think lay leaders can grasp the unique weight of all that pastors carry. Pastor Paul wrote of the burdens of shepherding: “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Corinthians 11:29).
The sorrows, secrets and sins of our people lay heavy upon us. Church tensions keep us awake at night. Our hearts ache when someone leaves the church.
We also live with the pressure of always being the good example. I think most pastors feel their spiritual inadequacies very sharply. We ought to pray more, be more attentive, be better preachers or counselors or strategic leaders.
Pastors have much in common with Moses in the story in Exodus 11: The Israelites prevailed in battle only as long as Moses held his hands out high above the battlefield. When his arms dropped, the battle turned, so Aaron and Hur held his arms up till the victory was secured.
Like many other pastors, I have known the descendants of Aaron and Hur. I have felt the grace of their hands lifting mine.
In the frightening early days of the church I’ve served now for more than 18 years, I was deeply disheartened to see some people leave who had warmly welcomed us only three months before. I hadn’t even had time to mess up!
One day Dill happened by my office. She is as stalwart a soul as I know, and like a mother to me. I told her of my discouragement. “Lee,” she said, “if everyone else leaves, I will follow you out the door and turn off the lights.”
What a gracious gift of God to have someone hold up your weary hands till the battle turns.
There are times when pastors have to go it alone, but thank God for the times He sends us the heirs of Aaron and Hur—to reorient us to His grace, help rekindle our calling and shoulder part of our burdens.
Lee Eclov is senior pastor of the Village Church of Lincolnshire (EFCA), in Lake Forest, Illinois, and an adjunct professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In addition to writing for several pastoral publications, he is the author of the Pastor’s Service Manual and Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the care of souls. Check out his website, LeeEclov.com, to learn more about “Pastors’ Gatherings: How We Shepherd.”