Are Our Church Expectations Realistic?

There is no perfect local church in this world, but that’s not the biggest problem.

Still, many of us expect to find a local church that is perfect, but that’s not the biggest problem either.

We all possess different ideas of what makes a “perfect” church, and the real problem is when those expectations are not met. We end up feeling cheated, disappointed and upset.

It’s not wrong to have expectations of what a local church can or should be, or have desires as to what we may want or need from a pastor. We can’t help but have an idea of what the music should sound like, what makes good preaching, how easy it is to connect with others, what the demographic of the church should be, what kinds of small groups are available, how much outreach goes on and how it’s done and the list goes on.

As a pastor, I encounter these and many other expectations, every day. With all of these expectations around, I have learned that if a congregation is any larger than two people, someone will end up disappointed. This does not mean there should be no expectations.

We should understand healthy expectations we can have of our local churches and pastors. And we need to do this. But before we begin with the church and with our pastors, let’s begin with ourselves.

Expect to be more than a consumer

It may do us well to place the first expectation on ourselves. In my experience, many people enter through the doors of a local church as a consumer. We even call the process of selecting a church, “church shopping.” Mind you, I don’t blame anyone for thinking this way.

Over the years many pastors have made the effort to please and accommodate everyone who walks through their doors. We treat people like paying customers, not like fellow brothers and sisters. What has been subtly caught and taught is that pastors and staff do all the work, and the average parishioner is supposed to show up, give some cash and maybe bring a friend every now and then.

In my opinion, men and women who are a part of a local church are worth far more than being viewed as simple consumers. I have had the chance to meet, follow, work alongside and learn from some of the most amazing people in my local church. The worst expectation they could ever have is to think they are nothing more than consumers. And the same goes for us.

All of us have been given gifts, talents and experiences that are needed and should be used to serve God, our brothers and sisters in our local church, and the world in which we live. We must place this expectation on ourselves first and foremost. This will help to shape our other expectations.

Expect and encourage pastoral health

Too often we assume our pastors are godly, spiritual and healthy. After all, these are men and women who spend hours studying God’s word, praying and practicing spiritual disciplines. How can they not be healthy?

But don’t forget pastors are exactly like you. We are broken and bruised men and women made in the image of an almighty God who are in the process of being made whole. Just like there is no perfect church, there is no perfect pastor. And beware of any pastor who tells you anything different.

We are on the same spiritual journey of transformation and renewal you are. This is why the biggest gift you can give to your pastor is to support him or her in the pursuit of emotional and spiritual health. Never forget this. This can happen in simple ways.

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Pray for them. Encourage them when they take a few days off with family. Ask them about who they are, and not just what the church is about. Don’t hang out with them just because they are the pastor—spend time with them because they are your brother or sister. Give them grace in their weakness. Don’t assume they hear nice compliments all the time, rather send them a note filled with life-giving words.

The best expectation you can have for your pastor is that he or she constantly work to maintain physical, emotional, relational and spiritual health. The best thing for any congregation is to have a pastor who is healthy, whole and maintains a good heart. If you do this, the very gift you give will end up being a gift to yourself. Because when your pastor is healthy, he or she will be able to love, serve and care for your congregation in the best way possible.

Expect to be part of the solution

We should expect to be a part of the solutions to the problems we see. It’s easy to complain, point out what’s wrong and observe inconsistencies. What takes real work is agreeing to work toward solutions to the problems that exist in the local church.

What I’ve learned is that when someone comments about the poor condition of a local church building, they are often people who understand a thing or two about how to fix the building. If a person complains that people are not being cared for well, they are typically someone who has the heart of a shepherd. Is the music bad? I bet he or she is a musician.

Which means the next time we see something that we don’t like, it may be our way of learning how we can use our gifts to serve. When we are willing to serve in this way, things improve, and those who have similar gifts and passions will join you in your work. In the end, it’s not just solving a problem, but providing a way for more people to use their gifts.

Perhaps if we can start with these three simple expectations we may find that while it will surely not create the perfect church, it just may create a more healthy church. And there’s no problem with that.

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