Are Our Expectations of Preachers Too High?


Be vulnerable and honest and personal, but not too personal because this isn’t a therapy session and we need lots of Bible but not too much because it has to relate to what’s happening in our lives and in the world today but it can’t be political and it has to be challenging and deep and significant and at the same time easy for everybody to understand and it has to be funny but not too funny because you’re not a comedian you’re a pastor and while you’re at it mix it up and try new things and don’t get it in a rut but make sure to be consistent and talk about your own struggles, but not too much because that’s depressing.  And we love stories about your family.  But not too many.  That can be weird.  Just be vulnerable and honest and…


I must say this quote hit me pretty good. I think I place too many expectations on any given pastor. For some of us who have been in church for a long time, it’s hard not to compare preachers to others or analyze what we would have done or said differently.  I think this is especially true in an age where we have access to all the top preachers on the planet at the tips of our fingers.  Sometimes our expectations of preachers get a little bit ridiculous.

According to research, the number one reason someone chooses a church is based on the senior pastor.  There is a lot of emphasis on the sermon, which I personally find incredible value in, but it is important to remember that the church is lived out in and through us as followers of Christ, throughout the week.

I saw the picture above of this quote from someone who attended one of Rob’s events about a month ago and it has stuck with me.  Anytime something gets my wheels turning for more than a week, I try to process it with others.

So what do you think? Are your expectations of a preacher as ridiculous as mine can be?


  1. — It might be worth noting there’s a “school of thought” (if you will) that sees the issue not as believers expecting too much of leaders, but as leaders assuming too much for themselves and then getting caught in the conundrum described below. This isn’t a “fringe” perspective. Frank Viola (“Rethinking the Wineskin” series) almost single-handedly revived the idea of home churches, and can be credited with a “spinoff phenomena” — the widespread adoption of church home groups. George Barna is a leading Christian pollster / market researcher / identifier of trends and critical issues in the church. Here’s what they write in in “Pagan Christianity?”:

    Re: expectations of preachers …

    “Unfortunately, few pastors have connected the dots to discover that it is their office that causes this underlying turbulence. Simply put: Jesus never intended any person to sport all the hats a present-day pastor is expected to wear. He never intended any one person to bear such a load … It is ‘lonely at the top’ because God never intended for anyone to be at the top – except His Son!” (pages 137-138)

    They go further Re: the position of pastor (to believers) …

    “We believe the pastoral office has stolen your right to function as a full member of Christ’s body. It has distorted the reality of the body, making the pastor a giant mouth and transforming you into a tiny ear. It has rendered you a mute spectator who is proficient at taking sermon notes and passing an offering plate …

    “The modern-day pastoral office has overthrown the main thrust of the letter to the Hebrews – the ending of the old priesthood. It has made ineffectual the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14, that every member has both the right and the privilege to minister in a church meeting. It has voided the message of 1 Peter 2, that every brother and sister is a functioning priest …

    “But there is something more. The contemporary pastorate rivals the functional headship of Christ in His church. It illegitimately holds the unique place of centrality and headship among God’s people, a place that is reserved for only one Person – the Lord Jesus … By his office, the pastor displaces and supplants Christ’s headship by setting himself up as the church’s human head. For this reason, nothing so hinders the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose as does the present-day pastoral role …

    “Why? Because that purpose is centered on making Christ’s headship visibly manifested in the church through the free, open, mutually participatory, every-member functioning of the body. As long as the pastoral office is present in a particular church, that church will have a slim chance of witnessing such a glorious thing.” (pages 136-137)


  2. Hey Bruce –

    Thanks for chiming in! As I said on facebook, I always enjoy your challenging thoughts. Good stuff.

    I like the thoughts you pull from “Pagan Christianity”. I read parts of Barna’s book and really identified with many of his thoughts, while others I disagreed with, I still left challenged. I can’t speak enough on having a holistic view of Christianity through a variety of thinkers on Christ, with our lens always coming back to the Bible.

    As far as Barna’s response to the expectation of preachers being too great, I agree. We as pastors are expected to wear way too many hats and I don’t think that is Biblical. I don’t think that there should have to be someone at the “top”. However, the organizational structure we have at our church (our meaning you and I) is that the pastors are the lowest of the lows (i.e. the ultimate of servants). There is a strong reliance on the elders for wisdom and direction, with our pastor serving as one of those elders. We of course do not do the round table approach on Sunday morning and I cannot speak as a representative of Calvary Assembly, but can offer my own thoughts personally.

    I am not an advocate for dictator-type leadership which has been prevalent in many churches for many years. “Whatever the senior pastor says is of God and you need to submit to it” is one of the more frustrating lies you can hear in church. This lie causes some of the biggest train wrecks we see in all of Christianity. This is a large growing trend, specifically in the hyper-Calvinist movement, and it scares me. I’m hoping that some Christian leaders with a larger platform will speak out against this eventually. Otherwise, the rest of us are going to have big messes to clean up (but I digress…).

    However, on the other extreme of leadership, I also do not believe that flat organizations make much of a difference. I’ve had this debate too many times at business school, but it is where I end up.

    99% of businesses are structured in a hierarchical way. I think the reason is because…it works. And so are most churches. I don’t think that we as leaders of the church need to simply show up on a Sunday and just listen to whoever speak. That is not what church HAS to be. Church is more than a few songs and a sermon. This is why I inserted the one sentence in my post that “church is is lived out in and through us as followers of Christ, throughout the week.”

    The model in Christendom where this flat-approach to leadership is happening is the Quakers, who are declining faster than ever. Call it doctrine, call it marketing, call it relevance – I think it is their lack of structure, causing them not to make a global difference.

    Also, the emerging church, to which (pieces) I greatly identify, has reacted strongly to this style of dictator-leadership. I was 100% there a year ago: thinking that we should just show up to church and have a round circle forum/discussion lead by the more spiritual mature among the group (based on spiritual maturity, not just age).

    I attended a house church for a couple of years too. It was fantastic! A lot of fruitful discussions arose, a lot of heart change happened, a lot of incredible friendships were formed, and we did what we could to help others in need, anytime we could. It was great for a period in my life.

    However, where it got difficult to figure out was how to facilitate gatherings that expanded beyond our living room. We rented a facility, since we were growing, but whenever we tried to just have “open mic” Sundays (which was revolutionary in an overly religious place like Lancaster County I might add), they didn’t work out that well. It was entertaining and there were some good thoughts, but things weren’t as organized as they should have been (even when we tried). The service ran too long. And the bigger issue: people didn’t come back. It didn’t have to do with the service being completely different from other places either. It had to do with a lack of continuity and preparation. I also understand how the church in Acts is described, however, I believe that Jesus was a very strong leader, and developed other leaders (Apostles) to go and spread His Word. There are many ways to do this, I just think that a monologue format can be one of the most fruitful ways. I can say it is for me at least, and I know a lot of others feel the same. Christ is of course the head, but we have to be the messengers in whatever means necessary. I hope my passion for Christ is seen by people for His sake.

    Also, I sometimes wonder if in this non-paid-pastor model, elders are required to have the gift of teaching. I won’t go into this, but what if someone was very mature, but was not a good articulator? Or not someone who could make teachings that actually stuck with you? The biggest problem also comes down to time. If we were to let 330 people share their opinion this Sunday at church, and everyone got 3 minutes to speak (no one repeating), we would be at church for nearly 1,000 minutes. This would mean a 17 hour day and would not include any other way for people to connect with God (worship through song, prayer, etc.).

    I think it is important to note that I agree with much of what you are saying, I just probably don’t take it quite as far as Barna/Viola are going. I RELY on my time at our small group EVERY week for time for growth, and I believe I have church every week at the Ottos (Steve and Amy of course are not “ordained”). Church, to me, is defined when two or more gather in the name of God. How we do that is up for debate, but this doesn’t answer my question of “is our expectation of the message being presented by someone too great?”. I catch myself jumping to conclusions before the presenter has even got to their main point, which is a sure sign of arrogance in my heart. Blah!

    So, I say all that, not addressing all the concerns brought up in Barna/Viola’s statement, with something else in mind. My question had more to do with our expectations of anyone speaking the Gospel in any sort of format and our expectations flowing from that. My question is not “is the pastor doing too much?” or “Is a pastor even Biblical?” but instead going to “when you are listening to a pastor, are your expectations too high?”. My title of the post could be confusing as to this distinction.

    I’m teaching more tonight on the realities of the Gospel – I hope to see your daughters. 🙂

  3. First of all…. I LOVE your blog design. Love it!

    This is an excellent conversation. As the daughter in law of a Pastor I think that this is often the case. WHich is too bad. People with unrealistic expectations of their pastor are setting themselves up for disappointment in my opinion. Not to mention the fact that is create an intense pressure to perform on the part of pastors which can get really ugly.

    I also agree about your choosing a church point. Our decision to be at our current church was influenced minimally by the pastor’s sunday sermon (which is of course important). We feel led to be a part of this local body because of it’s vision, ministry focus, and the people we have met in small groups. I love it there!

  4. Great post, on a topic that definitely needs to be discussed. Found this via Nicole Wick (who’s awesome by the way) I have probably some of the lowest expectations for a Pastor you could ever find. I only expect my pastor to show up when we meet, but if he doesn’t want to, that’s OK too. That’s my only expectation.

    I wonder if Pastors put too high of expectations on themselves. You know, with all the Jim Collins and John Maxwell garbage flying around the church these days, they probably feel a lot of pressure to be leaders and to build leaders and to manufacture policy and procedure and programming because they have to increase the bottom line, you know, “we added 23 people last sunday”….so he has to work on his line graphs and charts to present to the board so they can continue to approve of his work as the CEO and leader of the church. Thank God this guy has a vision & branding…etc. etc. etc….the list could go on.

    Maybe our ideas and expectations of Church are what’s really messed up at the core. 🙂

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