What People Want From Their Pastor (and Have a Right to Expect)

If your congregation members take the time to come to church, they should get these things.
If your congregation members take the time to come to church, they should get these things. (Flickr )

I hesitate to say one group in the church has a "right" to expect anything of another.

Insisting on our rights will almost invariably result in resistance, frustration, anger and division. And yet in a real sense, believers who support the work of the Lord with their tithes, offerings, time and energy have a right to expect certain things from their shepherd. 

What follows is directed primarily to pastors. Others may listen but shouldn't miss the "they do not have a right" which comes at the end of each section.

If I got what I deserve, I'd be in hell. And so would you.

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The Christian life is not about getting our rights or having others meet our demands. Far from it.

We have died with Christ. We are bondservants, instructed to submit to one another. That is a far cry from the so-called catbird seat from which we call the shots.

Much better for us to appreciate anything we receive from the people around us, no matter how small or poorly given.

At the same time, the simple fact is that when people go to the trouble to come to church with their families, often at great inconvenience and even cost, and do so year after year through the good and the bad, it is not unrealistic for them to expect a few basic things.

1. People want to hear a thought-provoking sermon on Sunday. They have a right to this. Therefore, the faithful servant of the Lord will give priority to preparing the sermon and attention to delivering it effectively. The hour of worship is the best opportunity in the week to touch the largest number of members. Therefore, this should receive priority.

However, the people do not have a right to expect the sermons to compete with those of the celebrity television preacher for entertainment value.

2. People want to hear a thoroughly biblical message, consistent with the teachings of the Lord Jesus. And they should. Therefore, the pastor should know the Word and work at knowing it better. Even if the minister has not studied Greek or Hebrew, study helps are available and great commentaries easily accessed. With every seminary offering online courses these days, the minister has almost no excuse for not being a Bible scholar.

However, the people do not have a right to expect every sermon to be at a high level of scholarship. The typical congregation is made up of children, youth, parents and seniors, the highly educated and the less-educated, singles and married, rich and poor. What touches one often misses another. Therefore, not every sermon will be equally relevant to each person.

3. Even if what they are hearing is the traditional message on a subject they are familiar with, worshippers want it fresh and relevant to their lives. They have a right to this. Therefore, pastors do well to stay attuned to incidents, news events, conversations, anything and everything happening around them that could sharpen the impact of the upcoming sermon. A child's off-the-wall comment, a slip-up from a celebrity or an item in today's paper may trigger something in the minister's mind that would enhance the message.

However, people do not have a right to demand this. Some pastors come by it easily and naturally, while others have to work hard to connect the biblical word with the lives of the pew-sitters.

4. People want their pastor to be a person of prayer. They will ask for intercession for their own needs and concerns, but they also need confidence that the preacher is living in the power of the Holy Spirit. They have a right to this. Therefore, pastors will want to pray without ceasing. They will want to set aside time every day for concentrated prayer, but also to send up prayer arrows as they travel, work and play. The wise pastor will find books that help the pray-er and will always be working to learn to pray more effectively.

However, church members do not have a right to check out a pastor's prayer life. This is a matter between the minister and the Lord.

5. People want their pastor to be moral in every way Scripture teaches. If the preacher is single, they expect celibacy; if married, faithfulness. No minister can insist that what he/she does in their private time is their own business. They have no private time not the concern of their flock. Therefore, pastors will want to work to be strong, disciplined and yielded to the Lord. A wise pastor will have a couple of mentors to counsel him and will enlist a few prayer warriors to intercede for him regularly.

However, as a rule, church members do not have a right to inquire about the goings-on in the pastor's home or about the relationship of the pastor to his spouse. (The exception would be when realistic questions arise about the minister's behavior.)

6. People want their pastor to be law-abiding and patriotic. We expect our ministers to pay their taxes and to respect the government. When a pastor is constantly running down the government and its leaders, some in the pew will love it (not everyone in the church has good mental health or is interested in obeying the Word). But humble men and women of God will grow uncomfortable with such antics. Scripture commands us to obey the government, honor the king and pray for those in authority. While it's true we must obey God and not man, our focus should always be on serving the ,Lord and preaching His word. The government is neither our salvation nor our problem.

Therefore, the pastor will work to stay on course, seek professionals to help with taxes and investments and obey the laws. Even if the membership does not inspect his tax records, they should be so well-done he would not hesitate to show them if it should become necessary.

However, the members do not have a right to see the pastor's tax records any more than he has a right to see theirs.

7. The members want their pastor to be a strong leader who leads with confidence and authority, but they also want him to be accountable to a few of the church leaders. They have a right to this. The pastor who is given authority over the entire church but with no accountability to anyone for anything is being set up for trouble. The most loving, responsible and faithful gift for a new pastor is a small body of believers who will stand by his side in good times and bad. And if he is doing wrong in some way, they will be the ones to hold him accountable.

However, the members do not have a right to boss the minister, hold him to a time schedule or expect a report on how he spends his time, whom he visits, etc.

The list is probably endless. Church members want their pastors to be paid well but do not have a right to know what exactly he is receiving. That's why they have a finance, personnel or administrative committee to represent them in making these decisions.

Pray for your ministers. Love them. Support and encourage them. Be faithful in serving the Lord. And that will be more encouraging to them than anything you can do during any time set aside for pastor appreciation.

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way. 

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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