Expectation Versus Reality For Pastor + Congregation


My husband became a minister in his mid-thirties. Being actively involved in church life prior to entering ministry has its advantages. We both worked in the youth department, held various committee positions, worked in the nursery, and my husband served as a deacon for several years. We have seen the pastorate from both sides: from the viewpoint of the church member and, now, from the other side of the glass—or should I say glass house?

Expectations of the pastor can be high and sometimes unrealistic. One pastor I know received a phone call in the middle of the night from an influential church member because the member’s relative had been taken to the hospital unexpectedly. The member was not going to the hospital himself, but he thought the pastor “ought to know.” Sensing an unspoken expectation, the pastor got out of bed and went to visit this relative whom the pastor had never met.

What some congregants expect and what is reality for a pastor are not always the same. Possibly it is because pastors do things on a daily basis that no one thinks about, and those things are not necessarily visible to those who take it upon themselves to ensure their pastor’s daily activities align with what they think he should be doing. After all, most pastors don’t publicize all the things they do for, and on behalf of, the church. So criticism can come when expectation and reality collide.

In my experience, pastors tend to burn the candle at both ends, whether because of workload or trying to meet expectations. Reality is, balancing ministry and personal life on a day-to-day basis is tough. There are sermons and Bible studies to prepare, church members to be counseled, hospitals to visit, and time spent in prayer about all of these—not to mention administrative duties, especially when the church has little to no other paid staff.

Ministry is important, but so is your personal time, and it should be protected as much as possible. It is vital that you have time for the things that keep you healthy physically and emotionally: adequate rest, a healthy diet, and uninterrupted time to spend with your family. Not to mention pastors have lawns to mow like everyone else! Doing something you enjoy, such as a hobby, is also healthy. Setting aside the same time and/or day off each week will help the congregation know when you are taking time for yourself. You can’t expect them to respect your time off if they don’t know when it is.

Jesus knows those who do ministry need time off to be refreshed and rejuvenated. Mark told us, “Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while’” (6:30–31 nkjv).

So don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself. Jesus said you can!


Maleah Bell is a freelance editor and pastor’s wife. She and her husband make their home in Middle Tennessee.


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