issue28 dale sstory bsutton 062123

Issue #28: Unrealistic Expectations and a Surprise Ending Pastor Dale’s Story

Faithful & Fruitful Pastoring

For the pastor, the only thing worse than uncommunicated expectations are unrealistic expectations.

Pastors are expected to handle a lot of responsibilities and meet many demands. Unlike most employees who answer to one or two supervisors, pastors answer to every person in their congregation. No, most official church policy isn’t written this way. This is an unspoken rule. Every pastor knows that when you’re hired, you receive a job description. But there are also other expectations—expectations you’re not aware of yet.

For Pastor Dale, he was about to find out what was expected of him. One day after church service, the deacons brought a five-page handwritten letter to him. In that letter, an anonymous church member railed against the pastor for a number of things, including spending too much time with his family. In the mind of this member, Pastor Dale needed to spend time more in his office making himself available to church members. To top it off, the anonymous writer threatened that if Pastor Dale wasn’t fired, they would leave the church. Sounds like a godly person!

This is a small sample as to what is expected of pastors. Neglect your family so you can be available at all times to meet our needs. We may not need anything right now, but if we do, you must be there for us.

I remember when we hired our pastor after having an interim for six months. When he was asked about how he would spend his time, he made it very clear that if his kids had an event—like choir at school or a baseball game—and that event conflicted with something on the church schedule—he would give priority to his children. It seemed reasonable to me, which is why I was surprised when church members were offended. Many of them thought the pastor should prioritize his church over his family.

Sadly, many pastors don’t have great conclusions to their ministries, and expectations can be a major contributing factor. But for Pastor Dale, he was about to have a surprise ending—at least for one relationship.

Fast forward two years from the moment he received the anonymous letter. A church member became ill. She’s in the hospital and now on her deathbed requesting to see her pastor. Dale answers the call. It’s the woman he suspected wrote the letter in the first place. And he was right, she not only admitted that she wrote the letter. She asked for the pastor’s forgiveness, which he happily gave. Shortly thereafter, this saint entered in the presence of her Lord.

Pastoral duties and obligations can be draining, but sometimes the Lord gives us moments like this that we would never expect.


  1. Accept what you cannot change. Brother pastor, you will never be able to change the fact that some people in your church expect too much from you. That will never change. Accept the fact that you will be misunderstood. Accept the fact that you will never be able to meet everyone’s expectations—one, because they are unrealistic; and two, because they’ve never been communicated. Accept these realities and you have greater peace.
  2. Minister to all Christ’s sheep. Dale’s story is sweet in the end. How many pastors can say that a belligerent church member repented and asked for forgiveness? What a story of grace. And what a story of Dale’s faithfulness. He didn’t give up on this woman, even though she was a thorn in his side. He still went to see her in her last moments. Brothers, we will give an account for the ones under our care. Let us minister to them well.
  3. Family is our first ministry. Paul said if a man cannot care for his family, he is not fit to be an overseer. If a pastor doesn’t make his family his first priority, not only is he failing them. He is unqualified to be a pastor. Don’t let anyone—not even your church—tell you different. Minister and take care of your wife and kids. Make this a hill worth dying on and never waver.

    Be sure to check out my new podcast—Faithful and Fruitful Pastoring. It’s on Spotify and Apple. It’s for pastors and ministry leaders and designed to equip and encourage you for you ministry.