I regularly talk to regular pastors who are frustrated and discouraged with their congregations. I realize that frustration and discouragement are normal in pastoral ministry. After 15 years of pastoring I know this job is tough!
However, I often wonder if some pastors go into ministry with unbiblical, unrealistic expectations. As I talk to regular pastors, I think some have overly optimistic expectations and some have overly pessimistic expectations. Both of these misguided expectations ignore important doctrines like the depravity of man and the sanctification of God’s people.
On the one hand, those who walk into pastoral ministry with overly optimistic expectations are often crushed by the realities of local church ministry. People are stubborn. People are rude. People are fickle. People are quick-tempered. People are distracted. In the words of the apostle Paul, people are sinners (Romans 3:23). When a pastor walks into a church without a solid understanding of sin and depravity, he’s setting himself up for frustration and disappointment.
On the other hand, those who walk into pastoral ministry with overly pessimistic expectations often find they get what they expected. These pastors have often been hurt and burned by people in their church, and they go in with low expectations about what God might do in and through the lives of sinful people who have trusted in Christ for salvation. These pastors expect the worst in people, and they must remember that the Spirit is at work in the lives of saints.
These misguided expectations are not unique to pastors. Christians often walk into a church with too much optimism or too much pessimism.
On the one hand, those who are overly optimistic are often shocked when relationships are hard and feelings get hurt. They often church hop, hoping to find the perfect church.
On the other hand, those who are overly pessimistic are often blind to the reality of sanctification in the lives of God’s people. They often end up as the meanest, grouchiest church members, if they haven’t given up on church entirely.
Whether you’re a pastor or a church member, part of having a fully formed Christian worldview is understanding both the depravity of human beings and the reality of the Spirit’s work of sanctification in the lives of God’s people. We should not expect our church experiences to be perfect, easy, and without sin. But we also should not despair about the possibility of God’s grace transforming sinful people and redeeming our imperfect church experiences.