Unrealistic Expectations Of Pastoring

Unrealistic Expectations Of Pastoring

By Dale Sellers

Have you ever had a conversation with a trusted friend that left you dumbfounded? I’m sure the answer is a resounding “yes” if you’ve been in ministry for any length of time. I certainly had my share of interesting interactions with those in my care when I pastored our small church. However, there’s one exchange that continues to echo in my mind to this day.

It took place during a season of intense discouragement I was experiencing. I had arrived at such a low point in my life that I needed to reach out to someone to keep from falling apart. So I reluctantly tried to share my feelings with a church board member. I hoped that reaching out to him would bring much-needed relief from my stress. However, the conversation ended up only adding another layer to the already overwhelming pressure I was feeling.

You need to understand that my transparency with him only unveiled some basic surface difficulties I was experiencing. I knew better than to go deep. However, his response still caught me by surprise.

We were barely into the conversation when he stopped me and said, “Pastor, you can’t have problems. My life is a wreck, and I need your life to be perfect.” Wow! He literally asked me not to tell him anything else I was feeling. Without a doubt, this was one of my lowest points in ministry as well as in my adult life in general. 

We were barely into the conversation when he stopped me and said, “Pastor, you can’t have problems. My life is a wreck, and I need your life to be perfect.” Wow! He literally asked me not to tell him anything else I was feeling. Without a doubt, this was one of my lowest points in ministry as well as in my adult life in general. 

A Here We Go Again

Those of you who know me have heard me share how it seemed like every time a great opportunity came my way, it was accompanied by great disappointment. It felt like the rug was constantly being pulled out from under me at the moment things were about to break through. Looking back, I realize my failed attempt at reaching out to my friend for help may have been the most impactful “rug pulling” experience of all. I say this because it led me to assume that I would have to spend the rest of my ministry keeping my hurt, pain, and disappointment to myself. It was then that I became personally acquainted with Proverbs 13:12. In fact, this verse became my life’s verse in a season.

“Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, 

but a sudden good break can turn life around.” 

Proverbs 13:12 (MSG)

Experiencing what seemed like never-ending waves of disappointment for several decades became too much to handle. Somehow, anticipating disappointment had become the norm for me. When you factor in the eventual church split we went through, you can see why I had lost hope that things would ever get better. I believed that I was a failure to Jesus, my family, my church, and myself. 

Get A New Definition

In order to believe that you are a failure, you must clarify how you define success. The title of my book, “STALLED: Hope & Help For Pastors Who Thought They’d Be There By Now,” sheds light on what my wrong definition of success was. Although I was on a focused journey to get there, I eventually discovered that I didn’t know where there was. All I knew was that I wasn’t arriving at it any time soon.

Maybe you’ve gotten to a point in your ministry today where unrelenting disappointment is making you heartsick. The effects of the global pandemic on pastors and church leaders have left many of us overwhelmed and exhausted. Navigating the past two years of trying to push our ministries forward has undoubtedly created thousands of discouraged leaders. Yet, I think that our misguided definition of success could have made these challenges even harder. 

Yet, I think that our misguided definition of success could have made these challenges even harder. 

Today, I want to encourage you by giving you a few tips that can help lead to true success as a pastor or ministry leader. My hope is that these five principles will provide you with a fresh perspective on who you are and help you prioritize the important things in your life. Take a look:

1 – Stop defining your life by being a pastor.

Pastoring is what you do. It’s not who you are. Defining the purpose, or importance, of your life by being a pastor is neither helpful nor hopeful. This type of thinking pattern always leads to approval addiction. Therefore, your internal view of yourself is based on your ability to meet everyone’s needs as their pastor. Remember, you’re a person with a purpose and plan designed by your Creator. Yes, He called you to ministry. However, He intends that you do ministry FROM Him and not FOR Him. 

2 – Make your family a top priority.

There’s a reason that the Apostle Paul tells us that it’s better not to marry because marriage takes a lot of work if you want to do it right! The responsibility of nurturing your relationship with your spouse never stops, and if you’re a parent, then your responsibilities increase even more.

True success happens in your home long before you can call your vocational ministry a success. There are way too many stories of pastors who have lost either their marriage or their children to the idol of ministry. Please don’t become another statistic.

3 – Take control of your life by managing your calendar.

Have you ever noticed that your congregation typically expects you to be on call 24/7? There are always emergencies that arise that must be dealt with immediately. However, it’s not in your best interest to live and lead as though everything that people encounter requires your immediate attention.

If you don’t control your calendar, your calendar will control you. It’s not sustainable for you to be on call all of the time for all of the people.

4 – Embrace the Biblical purpose of preaching.

Take a moment and think about this question: What is the purpose of your preaching? You’re likely reciting all of the “normal” answers, but I’d like for you to examine if there may be some wrong motives deep inside your heart. 

Does preaching a well-crafted sermon feed your internal emotions? Do you get your self-esteem bolstered through communicating God’s Word? Try this—draw an imaginary line through your heart. One one side, put being used by Jesus to edify His Church. On the other, put experiencing the rush of fulfillment you get from “knocking it out of the park” on a sermon. Which side gets the most real estate? 

I meet a lot of pastors who tell me how much they love to preach. Preaching is awesome! But according to Ephesians 4:11-12, Jesus placed ministry gifts in His church to equip members for service. I hope that you’ll take an honest inventory of your heart to make sure you’re being driven to equip your flock rather than attempting to enthrall them.

5 – Be willing to create other streams of income.

Far too many pastors feel trapped in a bad ministry situation simply because they can’t afford to get out of it, and just as many live in constant stress from having more bills than the money to pay them. It’s quite the indictment against many churches which seem to take pleasure in the financial struggles of their leader. Some, in fact, embrace a poverty mentality as a sign of spiritual maturity.

The thing that has always amazed me about people in these congregations is that they don’t seem to practice what they preach. They love to give a pat on the back to the pastor who can’t pay their bills (in case you didn’t know, they don’t take pats on the back as a form of payment at the power company). However, they don’t live this way. 

Pastor, you must take responsibility for managing your finances. I’m sadly encountering many pastors who have reached retirement age and don’t have anything to retire on. While I certainly believe Jesus takes care of His own, He also expects us to steward what He’s given to us. Sometimes our stewardship is making sure we can live on what we’re being paid.


No one will understand and address the unrealistic expectations that people put on pastors until we get honest about the unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves. It’s our job to create the necessary margins and healthy boundaries that we need to live out God’s calling for us effectively. I say it often because it’s so true…an unhealthy leader will always create an unhealthy organization. Today, I hope you’ll start the process of establishing realistic expectations of yourself and your ministry. Your endurance for the long haul depends on it. 


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