pastor in church

Christians suffer and struggle just like anyone else. They have to deal with loss. They have to deal with confusion. They lose their jobs and wonder what they are going to do next. They fall in love and get their hearts broken. They lose a loved one and wonder why God would take someone so wonderful from the earth so soon. During those times, many Christians turn to their faith for comfort. They may go to more services or reread their Bible. They may also seek out their pastor for advice and comfort.

Christians across the nation turn to their pastors for spiritual guidance on a wide variety of topics. Teens might go to their pastors to find out how they should handle girlfriends or boyfriends who want them to engage in premarital sex. Couples who are struggling with their marriage may seek their pastor’s advice. New parents may ask their pastor how to ensure that their child grows up to be a faithful Christian.

Pastors have to answer problems that range from the mundane and every day issues to concerns that indicate a person is having a very real and very grave spiritual crisis. Regardless of how serious the issue is, Christians often look to their pastors for help. 

Some of the problems that are brought to pastors are not religious in nature either. Parents may ask pastors how to make sure that their teen gets good grades or for advice on how to help them get into the college of their choice. Despite the fact that such questions may be well outside of a pastor’s expertise, they are expected to have the answers to parishioners’ every question.

Pastors are often expected to do it all. They are supposed to be everyday people who understand the struggles and trials that come with being human. They should be flawed and thus able to relate to their congregation. At the same time, however, pastors are expected to be wise and have knowledge of God that the ordinary person lacks. They are supposed to be, spiritually, a step above the average man or woman. Pastors are supposed to be heavily involved in their church and community. They should be leading mission trips, helping to organize charity events and ready to lobby city council members when a law that goes against the church’s values might be passed. At the same time, pastors are supposed to be deeply committed to their family. They should have a marriage that is solid as the bedrock beneath their feet. If they have children, they should be at every soccer game, every parent-teacher conference and always there to help their children with homework. They are expected to be able to do everything and do it all perfectly.

While many people have a subconscious expectation that their leaders should be able to maintain both a perfect career and a fulfilling personal life, this is not realistic. People can do a wonderful job in their work while maintaining a healthy personal life, but they must compromise in both areas. Work-life balance requires a person to prioritize events and decisions in both their person and their professional lives. They may have to choose between their daughter’s basketball game and the welcome dinner for the board of directors. They may have to miss the company retreat and its networking opportunities in order to attend their brother’s wedding. Sometimes they can do both, but often, people have to choose whether their professional or personal life is going to be the priority at this juncture. 

When confronted with the reality that their leaders are human, most people feel a bizarre sense of betrayal. How could their leader have feet of clay? How could this person that they put on a pedestal be as imperfect as the rest of humanity? When people stop to think about the fact that they are angry that a leader suffered from human error, they tend to be rather sheepish. Why would they expect a man or woman to have a fundamentally different nature than the rest of the species simply because they were in a higher position? The idea is nonsensical.

Unfortunately, that subconscious belief in a leader’s perfection is rarely more readily on display than in how people treat their pastors. Pastors are expected to have some deep well of purity or holiness that keeps them from struggling with the everyday foibles that are part of every human being. Many people expect their pastors to have some secret knowledge that keeps the pastor from sinning. These beliefs, however, are more than illogical. For Christians, they are dangerous.

Expecting, even subconsciously, for a pastor to be perfect is a slippery slope. If a pastor is perfect, they are without sin. This means that they are not human, but divine. Add to that pseudo-polytheistic belief the idea that pastors have some special, secret knowledge, and a Christian is practicing something more akin to heretical Gnosticism than orthodox Christianity.

To keep themselves safe from this sort of slow slide into Gnosticism, Christians need to remember that there was only ever one man who was perfect and that was Jesus Christ. Pastors are not Christ. They love Jesus, but they are everyday people who sin just like the rest of their congregation. They lie to their sister about why they were late to dinner. They see if they can sneak expired coupons past the cashier. They get angry with their children and say something harsh. They make mistakes just like everyone else. Pastors are human and, just like everyone else, they hope to end up in heaven. Like the rest of humanity, however, they can also go to hell.
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