As a pastor, what should you expect of me? And as a congregation, what should I expect of you? And together, what can we expect of God?
It’s good to be clear about expectations when anyone is considering entering some kind of relationship. Marriage, for example, can be quite the downer for someone who enters it with expectations that are not met. If the husband expects the wife to stay home, for example, yet the wife expects to work, there will be conflict. And if the wife expects to have children, but the husband doesn’t want any, there will be disappointment. Any wise marriage counselor will suggest that all couples make clear their expectations before they get married to avoid these problems and disappointments.
God has demonstrated the wisdom of doing this in His own dealings with his people. When making a covenant with His people, He clearly communicated both what He expected of them and what they could expect of Him. He told them that He expected them to keep His law. In return, they should expect that He greatly bless them with a land flowing with milk and honey. The people agreed to these terms, telling Moses, “All that the Lord has said we will do…” (Exodus 24:7).
With this in mind, and since a pastor and his congregation is certainly an important relationship, it only seems wise that we should make our expectations clear, which is what I intend to hereafter do.
First: What You, the Congregation, Should Expect of Me.
As pastor, my first and primary concern will be to feed God’s sheep. The word ‘pastor’ literally means shepherd. It comes from a latin word that means ‘to lead to pasture,’ and ‘to cause to eat.’ A shepherd had one primary job: make sure the sheep are fed. There are secondary requirements associated with being a shepherd, for sure, but the secondary requirements were useless if the primary job of feeding the sheep is not accomplished. For example, it is a shepherds job to stave off the wolves. But if the sheep aren’t being fed, they’ll die without the wolves’ help. It is also the shepherd’s job to bring back sheep that stray, but what good is it to bring back a lost sheep to a starving fold? If the sheep are starving, it will be an endless game of trying to bring back straying sheep.
God made no mistake when He chose to call those who led local congregations ‘pastors.’ He had a very specific job for them to do: feed His sheep. In a passage unlike any other in the Bible, Jesus lays this out very plainly to Peter, who would be one of the primary leaders of His church, and specifically the pastor of the largest and most influential church at that time: the church in Rome. The passage is as follows:
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. (Jhn 21:15-17 NKJV)
There is no other place in the Bible that I can think of where a command is reiterated like this three times in a row. Furthermore, in no other place does Jesus say to His disciples, “Do you love me?” and then follow it with a command.
Has your wife ever come up to you and said, “Honey, do you love me?” What does it mean? It means that she wants you to do something that is important to her. In the same way, our Lord considers the nurture of His people of utmost importance, so much so that He conditions His relationship with those called to be pastors on this. In other words, He becomes mighty upset with those pastors who fail to do this. Observe what the Lord says to the wayward pastors of Israel in the prophet Jeremiah’s day:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the LORD. (Jer 23:1-2 NKJV)
Peter took very seriously Jesus command to feed His sheep. When faced with distractions that were noble in Acts chapter six, he refused to be pulled away from his primary duty to God. Poor widows had been neglected, not receiving the food that they needed to survive. Most people would have cleared their schedule and put the care of these widows on top of their priority list, but not Peter. He thought back to the day that his Lord looked him in the eye and asked, “Do you love Me?” There were others that can feed the widows. His job was to feed God’s sheep:
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Act 6:1-4 NKJV)
In like manner, I intend to primarily give myself to the feeding of God’s sheep. The sheep are His people and the food is the Word of God. I have been to plenty of churches were the pastors were distracted about by so many things. So much so that when Sunday morning or Wednesday night came around, the feeding was meager. Often time, other things are prioritized, and the Word of God, and prayer, is stuffed in here or there where it can be fit. With God’s help, I will never be this kind of pastor. The Word of God and prayer will come first. Everything else will have to fit around it.
The average pastor takes 16 hours to prepare his sermon for Sunday morning. That is two full work days. Add Wednesday night and more hours can be added to that. John Wesley, the founder of the great methodist movement that saw thousands of souls enter the kingdom of God, told his ministers to study for five hours everyday–and this besides prayer. The great revivalist Leonard Ravenhill famously said, “Ministers that do not spend two hours a day in prayer are not worth a dime a dozen.” All this sermon prep, study, and prayer add up to a lot of time. This is why Peter rejected other things so that he might give himself to ‘the ministry of the word and to prayer.’
I must confess that I have not attained this level of spirituality. But I do spend quite a bit of time in study, and I wish to spend much more time in prayer. And my goal is not to spend less time in prayer and study, but more. I want to be clear and tell you this now, because this is how I am going to conduct my time.
All this is not to say that I won’t be engaged in other important pastoral duties. I intend to fulfill my role as shepherd with all its duties. But my main thing will to sit at the feet of Jesus, and I will not allow that to be taken away from me.
What I, As Pastor, Will Expect of You, the Congregation
You are the people of God; God’s very own children, chosen and beloved. He loves you as a father loves his children. And if you have had the privilege of becoming a father, you have a little glimpse of the feelings of affection that God has for His people. He loves them dearly. Yet also, as fathers do, He expects His children to conduct themselves in a certain way, in a way that ultimately brings good to themselves, those around them, and to the world at large. No father is good who has feelings of affection for his children yet allows them to live however they please. Every good father has certain expectations of his children, and God is no exception.
God has placed pastors and other called ministers in the body of Christ to be sure that the people of God understand these expectations and fulfill them. And as ministers of the gospel, called by God, we also expect the people of God to fulfill them. It will be my duty, as a pastor, to expect the people of God to act like the people of God. In other words, I expect you to follow the example of Christ.
I say this plainly because I have much experience with people who claim to be the children of God but act as if they were the children of Satan. The amount of back-biting, gossip, hatred, bitterness, and unforgiveness in the churches of the living God is appalling. People are often offended when corrected, unforgiving when done wronged, and bitter when they don’t get their way. We sadly forget the very elementary principals of the gospel of Christ.
I don’t intend to outline here the proper conduct of a Christian, but I seek to emphasize God’s expectation of how we live over whatever ever label we might desire to place upon ourselves. All throughout the Bible, God expresses that He is much more interested in what we do than anything else. The apostle Paul said this in his letter to the Philippians:
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. – Philippians 1:27
Notice that Paul linked their success in striving forth in the gospel with their conduct as Christians. In other words, if our personal lives are not together as God expects them to be, there is no moving forward in our work as the church of God. How can we expect to see others saved from their sin if we cannot be saved of our own? How can we expect to see others free if we are bound up ourselves?
The word ‘conduct’ in this passage can more literally be translated as ‘citizenship.’ So it could be read like this: “Let your citizenship be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” or as the New Living Translation puts it: “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” Imagine a country whose citizens ignore the law. Would you want to visit such a country? Would you want to live there? In the same way, why would anyone want to be a part of a church that routinely ignores the command of Christ? Unfortunately, there are many such churches.
Observe what James, the Lord’s brother said about this:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. – James 1:22
And Jesus spoke on this subject on several occasions. He powerfully demonstrated the danger of hypocrisy of hearing but not doing by comparing it to a man who built his house upon the sand:
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” – Matthew 7:26
And we should not think that Christ meant by this passage that those who hear but not do will simply suffer a difficult life, although that is certainly true. But He means that they will fall as Satan did, and will be lost forever. He makes this clear just a few verses prior:
Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Matthew 7:21-23
Notice how Jesus said it was only those who ‘DO the will of [the] Father’ who enter kingdom of God. It’s not those who only hear the word, or sit in church, or even do good things. The ones that Jesus spoke of did good things. They prophesied, cast out demons, and did many wonders in Christ’s name. What they didn’t do, however, was obey the commands of Christ to live a holy and devoted life.
I say all this that you may know that I do not intend to coddle you into hell like so many pastors do. I intend to preach the word and I expect you to obey it. I don’t expect that you obey my words, but I expect that you obey His words. This doesn’t mean that I expect that you will do this perfectly. But it does mean that when you fail, I expect you to be sorry and to seek forgiveness from God and those whom you have hurt. And I also expect you to forgive others who have hurt you.
This sentiment is expressed well in our church’s constitution and by-laws. I have included an excerpt here:
We will watch over each other with brotherly and sisterly love and kindness, not that we may have whereof to accuse our brother and sister, but that we may with meekness correct each other’s faults. We will abstain from filthy conversations, and from backbiting and gossiping about our fellow Christians, being patient with one another in love, and endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in bonds of peace. We will warn them that are unruly, or who walk disorderly; comfort the feeble minded; support the weak; be patient toward all men; see that none render evil for evil unto any man; and ever follow that which is good, both among ourselves and those who are without. We will provide things honest in the sight of all men, and if it be possible, as much as is within us, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:17). – From Connect Church Constitution and By-Laws
As members of the Body of Christ and of this local assembly, I will also expect that you contribute financially to this church. If the Lord has put it upon your heart to be members of His body and of this local church, then you can be sure that He expects you give towards this local work. The Lord has made it clear that the workman is worthy of his hire, and that you should not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain. Those that are employed in this house should be adequately compensated for their labor. I have a family of eight. We all have expenses and needs. God expects each local assembly to meet the needs of their ministers. Ministers who are burdened down by financial distress will not be able to serve the needs of the people properly.
This is not something that I preach that I have not modeled. From the moment I was saved at 16 years old, I began tithing (giving 10% of my income to the church). I have done that faithful for my entire Christian life and will continue to do so until the day that I die. I also give above my tithe to other ministries I believe in. Tithing is a good start, and I know that God will bless you if you do it.
Again, I will include an excerpt from this church’s constitution and by-laws:
Realizing that the church is the Body of Christ, and that He purchased it with His own blood, and since we are members of His church, we will faithfully attend its services and support it with our tithes and offerings. We will strive to so live as not to bring any reproach upon the church and will faithfully seek to adhere to its doctrines and teachings, as well as support its programs. This we will do by God’s divine enablement, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. – Connect Church Constitution and By-Laws
What We Can Expect of God
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen – Ephesians 3:20-21
I want you to notice that this verse says that God is ABLE to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. It doesn’t say that God WILL do above all that we ask or think. This is an important distinction. In churches all over the world, many, if not most, would not describe their experience in their church as God doing ‘exceedingly abundantly above all that they could ask or think.’ On the contrary, it is safe to say that most churches are struggling. And many churches close their doors. But that isn’t the story for all churches. Some churches thrive. I know of many churches that thrive and many churches that do not thrive. Some churches can honestly say that God has done exceedingly abundantly above all they could ask or think. Other churches wonder where God is. Why is this? Can’t God do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think in all churches?
As I was thinking upon this subject, this thought, which I believe was from the Lord, occurred to me. There are two reasons why God does not work abundantly in some churches. It is either because the pastor is not doing what is expected of him or it is because the congregation is not doing what is expected of them. Of course, if neither are, then you can be sure that church has had its candlestick removed from before God (See Revelation 2:5). That church will either close or became a haunt for demons, working unwittingly for Satan himself.
However, if the pastor of a church fulfills the role and diligently seeks to fulfill those expectations which are laid upon by God, and if the church is serious to fulfill those expectations which are laid upon her, both have grounds to expect that God will do exceedingly abundantly above all that they ask or think.
Let’s look at some passages that prove this point:
“By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you (Abraham) have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.- Genesis 22:16-17
Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God: “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country… (and many more blessings) – Deut 28:1-13
We don’t mean to apply these promises in a material way. But we know that Old Testament material truths often symbolized New Testament Spiritual truths.
Acts chapter six, which we already referenced, was a referendum of this very topic. When an issue was brought up that could have distracted the leadership from their primary role and denied the people of their primary roles, it was dealt with properly. The shepherds of the church were diligent to keep with their role, and the church as diligent to fulfill their role. What was the result?
Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Act 6:7 NKJV)
What then can we expect? If we are diligent to do what God expects of us, you can be sure that God will bend over backwards to bless us beyond anything we could imagine. Blessing for us is not riches or comfort or fame, but a harvest of souls to present before the Lord our God.
My great desire is to finish the race of my life fulfilling the expectation that God has for me. I also have a great desire to see God move in a mighty way. I will commit to doing my part, and I pray also that you also will give yourself entirely to God as he expects of you. Then, together, we will see God do an amazing work among us, a work greater than our feeble minds could ever imagine. Amen!