I’ve been doing ministry for nearly thirteen years in dozens of churches in New York, a large church in Los Angeles and a small church in Northern Michigan. People put a plethora of expectations on their pastors and spiritual leaders. Some of these are appropriate. A few of them are not.
This is one of the most common erroneous expectations put on pastors: The pastor should know my needs and he should fulfill them.
The problem with this expectation is that your pastor is a mere mortal and can’t possibly anticipate what you need and when you need it unless you tell him. Now, I know this sounds obvious and rational, but if I’m being really honest here, I must confess that I’ve held this expectation against a number of pastors I’ve been under. And even though this expectation sounds so unrealistic when put into words, I have never served at a church where this expectation was not present.
From coast to coast I’ve often heard things like this:
“I was in the hospital and the pastor never came.”
“My kid got arrested and he never even called.”
“My husband/wife left me and he never said a word.”
“My relative died, we had a funeral, and he never reached out.”
“I was in the pit of depression and he didn’t even care.”
And I will, of course, first and foremost empathize and acknowledge their deep hurting. But I also have to ask, “Did he know about what happened? Did you ask him to come over or visit?” And most often, the answer is, ‘no’.
This is called passive aggression and I’m very familiar with it because I have a tendency to be passive aggressive. Let me give you an example. A number of years ago, while living in L.A. and attending seminary full-time while simultaneously serving as a youth pastor I came home and found my wife on the computer doing something I thought was frivolous. I didn’t say anything though, and my frustration and anger grew as I stomped around our 450 square foot apartment. Finally, after about an hour of this, my wife asked, “why are you so angry?” And I blew up, “I have a major report due tomorrow, I have two hours to type it up and you’re doing research on curtain patterns!” (Or whatever it was.) And she looked at me, closed her work and said, “You never said anything. If you had asked I would have given you the computer.” And of course I responded with something I once heard on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “I shouldn’t have to ask, you should just know.”
I know, I know . . . it was ridiculous and obnoxious of me. It was passive aggressive and a terrible way to relate to anyone, and yet many of us do this to our parents, spouses, significant others, co-workers and in particular our pastors.
And it’s wrong.
But still, we get angry when the pastor doesn’t call, doesn’t visit, and doesn’t know.
Pastors aren’t God. They’re not omniscient. We try to be, though. Personally, I try to anticipate the needs of my congregation, but the reality is if a person needs to talk or needs a visit, I need to know. I feel bad when I didn’t know that someone was in the hospital, arrested, or that a family member passed a few weeks ago. I really do. But I can’t do anything if I don’t know. I’m not God.
Speaking of God, though, expecting the pastor to know and fulfill unspoken needs goes beyond what God is willing to do!
God is omniscient (all-knowing). He’s also omnipotent (all-powerful). He is aware of all our struggles, hurts and pains. And yet, God himself, does not comfort us in our desperation or give us what we need unless we ask him!
Consider James’ words: “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2b HCSB).
Or look at what Paul tells us to do with our worries, anxieties and difficulties: “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 HCSB).
Yes, God knows your situation, but he puts such a high price on having a relationship with us, that he withholds his comfort, answers and blessings until we come to him and ask.
So, I suspect that my little blog post won’t transform all churches for all times. People will still passive aggressively expect their pastors to do things that even God won’t do. But, please, if you’ve stumbled across this little blog, don’t expect your pastor to know what your needs are. Your pastor loves you. He cares for you. He wants to meet your needs... but he needs to know what those needs are.
Note: This blog post has not arisen from any recent occurrence or event. It actually arose from a recent sermon in a series through the book of Philippians.