“Believers who support the work of the Lord with their money and time have a right to expect certain things from their shepherd.”
I hesitate to say that 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 very real sense, believers who support the work of the Lord with their tithes and offerings, time and energy have a right to expect certain things from their shepherd.
What follows is directed primarily to pastors. Others may listen in, but they should not miss the “they do not have a right” that comes at the end of each section.
If I got what I deserve, I’d be in hell. And so would you.
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 a so-called “position of authority” from where we call the shots.
It is 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 coming 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 to be present.
1. The congregation wants to hear a thought-provoking sermon on Sunday.
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 the celebrity television preacher for entertainment value.
2. The congregation wants to hear a message that is thoroughly biblical and consistent with the teachings of the Lord Jesus.
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 are easily accessible. 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. The congregation wants a message that is fresh and relevant to their lives, even if it’s on a topic they’ve heard many times before.
Therefore, pastors do well to stay attuned to incidents, news events, conversations, and anything and everything happening around them that could sharpen the impact of the upcoming sermon. A child’s off-the-wall comment or a slip-up from a celebrity or an item in today’s paper may trigger something in the minister’s mind to enhance the message.
However, the people do not have a right to demand this. Some pastors come by this easily and naturally, while others have to work hard to connect the biblical word with the lives of the pew-sitters.
4. The congregation wants 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.
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 about prayer 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. The congregation wants their pastor to be moral in every way Scripture teaches.
If the preacher is single, they expect celibacy; if married, faithfulness. Ministers cannot insist that what they do in their private time is their own business. They have no private time that is 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 for counsel and will enlist a few prayer warriors to intercede for him or her 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 pastor’s marriage. (The exception would be when realistic questions arise about the minister’s behavior.)
6. The congregation wants their pastor to be law-abiding and respectful to the government.
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, 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 the pastor’s tax records, they should be so thorough that he or she 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 or she has a right to see theirs.
7. The congregation wants their pastor to be a strong leader who leads with confidence and authority, but who is also accountable to church leaders.
The pastor who is given authority over the entire church, but 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 or her side in good times and bad. And if the pastor is doing wrong in some way, they will be the ones to hold him or her accountable.
However, the members do not have a right to boss the minister, to hold him to a time schedule, or to expect a report on how she spends her 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.
Joe McKeever spent 42 years pastoring six Southern Baptist churches and has been writing and cartooning for religious publications for more than 40 years. This article was originally published on McKeever’s blog.