I’ve been a Lead Pastor going on five years now, and believe me when I say, I have let some (more likely, many) people down. I wish I could say it was all the other person’s fault, but truth be told, I know I’m not a perfect shepherd. By God’s grace and in his sanctifying work, I have come to see why that is a good thing for both me and the church I serve.
1) Disappointment reminds us that pastors are only placeholders.
Peter did us a great service when he described Jesus in 1 Peter 5 as “the Chief Shepherd.” By doing so, he put pastors in their proper place. That is, they are not the primary pastor of God’s people. They are only under-shepherds who have been called to care for his flock under the authority of the word and in the knowledge that they are accountable to the Chief Shepherd, to whom the flock belongs. One day, the Chief Shepherd will return and all human shepherds will be redundant and no longer needed. In the end, God’s people will all have one shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24).
Dissatisfaction with your pastor, your temporary human shepherd, should increase your satisfaction in the Good Shepherd, Jesus himself. Ironically, the truly disappointing thing is when someone thinks a human pastor could be fully satisfying in the first place. One of the primary points of the Old Testament is that God’s people desperately need a perfect Shepherd—one who never sins and lives forever. This meant that God’s people needed a better Moses, a better Joshua, a better David. If men as great, and yet as imperfect, as Moses and King David were mere placeholders, who increased anticipation and longing for a perfect Shepherd, then you can be sure your pastor is intended to do nothing less.
2) Disappointment reminds us that not all of our desires are holy and spiritually beneficial.
In our walk with him, God is working to drive out our errant desires. We are sinful people, which means that we are prone to want things other than God and his glory. When a person is disappointed with their pastor, it is a God-given opportunity to test the desires of the heart. James 4 states outright that quarrels and fights—which would include our quarrels and fights at church—are because of the “passions” (i.e. desires) that are at war within us. It takes humility to admit that not everything we want is spiritually good for us or intent to bring God glory. In fact, we should assume that most of our desires are sinfully tainted.
What in us wants the pastor to preach a shorter sermon? To be sure there is a fine line between rambling that goes on and on about the same point and a long, deep, expositional dive into the text. Nevertheless, do we ever stop to ask what craving for shorter, more entertaining, less theological sermons might say about our faulty desires? What in us wants more concert-like worship services, or a pastor who dresses more fashionably, or a pastor who is willing to do whatever (even if it is not biblical) to make you happy? Disappointment in people or in church could be God’s way of highlighting the fact that we want something that is not altogether good for us.
3) Disappointment reminds us that God uses weak and imperfect people to display his strength.
God chooses to use imperfect people—which includes your pastor. It also includes church members. If God only used perfect people, then he would use none of us. It was not weak and imperfect Moses who redeemed Israel from Egypt, but Yahweh himself! The leaders God appoints to shepherd his people are imperfect and lacking in order to show that God is perfect and lacks nothing. Kingdom-building is ultimately dependent on the King himself, not on his insufficient servants. The Kingdom is growing. People all over the world are hearing the good news of Jesus. If Chinese persecution cannot eradicate the gospel, then neither can your pastor’s idiosyncrasies. The King is not hindered and his Kingdom will fill the earth.
4) Disappointment reminds us to pray for pastors to be increasing conformed to Christ’s image.
Pastors face a number of spiritual attacks on a daily basis. On the one hand, they try their best to keep their heads down and their hearts humble; while on the other hand, they dislike being walked on and their feelings hurt as much as you do. They have daddy-issues, imperfect marriages, hectic little league schedules, car problems, little children who long for their attention, unbelieving neighbors who mock their faith, and a whole of bunch of people whose disappointments with the church tend to be thrown on him. When he walks into the hospital room, people do not always see him as a welcome representative of Jesus. Oftentimes, he’s expected to be God’s Public Relations Officer: “Why would God allow this happen?”
Ministry is a joyful stress that comes with the normal stressors of life. For a healthy pastor, ministry is not just a career—it is a cross that is to be carried as he follows his Savior who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). The Bible expects shepherds to become Christ-like as they joyfully endure suffering in service to the church. This requires your pastor’s daily execution—the death of his own ambitions, his will, his tendency to build his own kingdom. That being said, humanize your pastor, knowing that he is in process just as you are. He wages spiritual war against sinful serpents in his own heart, just as you too struggle with temptations and sins. Ask yourself, How would I want other believers to handle my weaknesses? Chances are, you would expect believers to lovingly bear with and pray for your weaknesses—and you might even expect them to do it with patient longsuffering. So, why not grant your weak and imperfect pastor the same grace? He needs your prayers for his own sanctification, just as he is praying for yours. Instead of complaining that your pastor is not Christ, pray that he will become increasingly Christ-like.
5) Disappointment sweetens the hope of future grace.
Your buttermilk pastor, ironically, is helping you enjoy the sweetness of God’s promises better. Your pastor is limited, but Jesus is not. Your pastor will quit, move, retire, or die and your pulpit will need to be filled again; but Jesus died, rose again, and his throne will never be empty. He is the eternal King who for all eternity will lavish his grace and kindness upon us. The bitter disappointments of a pastor prepare us for the lasting, sweetness of life in the New Creation—where God himself will raise the dead, wipe away tears, and fill our emptiness.
Here’s Some Advice from a Disappointing Pastor
Don’t let your disappointment turn into disgruntlement. On the one hand, we are all called to a holy discontentment, knowing that we should not seek satisfaction in people or in things. However, this kind of discontentment is entirely different than bitter resentment. Holy discontentment drives our eyes upward to “things that are above” and transfixes our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Disappointment with your pastor, with other believers, or with your church should send you to your knees in prayer, not out the door with a dramatic show of indignation. It should increase your love and affection for Jesus, the only perfect and eternal Pastor. If your disappointments do not do that, then you should ask God to work his sanctifying hand and to bring you satisfaction in Jesus alone. One day, our perfect Shepherd will split the heavens, and he will dwell with us forever! Acknowledging that pastors are merely human shepherds, how good it is to know that “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).