Pastors and Expectations: Hypocrite or Holy?

In Series, Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone

Perfection, or somewhere darn near. That’s what we want from our pastors.

When Paul wrote Timothy “if a man desire the office of bishop, he desires a good work” he didn’t say anything about the incredible pressure that comes with it. Not to mention the pressure of actually doing the job.

Pressure, because the American Christian is over the top when it comes to what we expect from “professional” lay(wo)men.

Some of you are thinking, “Well, yeah, I do expect my pastor to be practicing what he preaches.” And I’m not saying you shouldn’t. Paul, himself, seems to endorse such an expectation in that same letter to Tim in his list of qualifications of a pastor. He names blameless, of good behavior, sober, patient, experienced (not a novice), and of good reputation. But how’s that gonna work? I mean, do we have to meet all those criteria or just some? What if I hit 80% of the list? Is that good? Because nailing each one of those may be too tall an order.

Paul’s not saying that only super Christians can be pastors. There’s no such thing as a super Christian. Just us broken down, messy ones. Besides, it’s not like the things Paul list are exclusive to laymen. All Christians are subject to that list. We should all strive to be blameless, patient, clearheaded, and reputable. We all are trying o follow Christ’s model of obedience to God’s will for your life via an active relationship with Him. Pastor or not.

Trying. That’s the key word.

Over and over, the Bible reminds us how blameful we all are. We are impatient, we behave badly, and we certainly aren’t sober all the time! In fact, we could probably go right down the list and disqualify ourselves one by one. I don’t think there’s ever been a truly qualified pastor by these definitions. Ever.

“But the bible clearly states…” man, again, will rightly say. It does clearly state. So what does it all mean?

I’ll make a similar point I made with the issue of openly gays serving as clergy in a previous post. The qualifications of an office is so much in actually being perfect. It’s in the trying, the striving toward perfection. The pressing on toward the mark as Paul states elsewhere.It’s all about motive and intention.

What if the purpose of the text is to remind us how, despite our inevitable failings, we should try to live the way God wants us to. Not simply because they are moral but rather because that is what a Christian does. I’m talking motivation not execution, intent not failure.

This delineation cannot be understated.  Our out of line expectations of perfection is the adhesive to the hypocritical sticker label that so many are ready to press upon the church and its leaders.


The Biggest Hypocrites

Our lofty expectations of our pastors has created many problems in the church. In fact, I think it’s the source of the biggest hypocrisy of the current day American church. This hypocrisy is not the sin we’ve found in the lives of pastors — sins involving, pride, sex and money. Truthfully, we all expect there is some sin in our pastors. That is, if we’re sane and reasonable. The problem is, they can’t talk about their sin.

The greatest hypocrisy in the modern day church is in the preaching of community, relationship and vulnerability from pastors, when they themselves cannot (will not) engage in authentic community, transparent relationships, and vulnerable confession themselves. At least not to those they serve.

Pastors are not afforded the luxury of admitting their flaws out loud like the rest of us. Because if they did, they would not be “of good report” or “blameless.” So instead, they behave like public relations managers as they navigate perceptions of their followers in order to retain their spiritual credibility. It’s as if they (we) believe the effectiveness of God’s ministry is dependent on their very weak and limited morality. They have to hide the sins they struggle with, smuggle the challenging thoughts they have of scripture and church, and (too often) succumb to teaching only what a congregation wants to hear. Because if they don’t, they’re out!

It’s amazing. Satan is a liar, but he’s also a worthy adversary to our faith. The web Satan has weaved to imprison our pastors behind the bars of fear is strong. And he’s using the church and our expectations as his main tool.

If the church is too ready to crucify broken pastors at the first sign of sin, it only makes sense that the unchurched will do the same. Even with the big sins. Jesus told his disciples that the world would know who(se) they were by their love “one for another.” That’s disciple to disciple. Christian to Christian. And for our purpose, member to pastor.

Let’s be real. Pastor’s aren’t any more a super Christians than you are a super parent. As parents, we aren’t Christian experts by any stretch, and yet, we are in prime position to teach God’s love to their children. Parents don’t have to be perfect in order to have a credible voice, because the truth is the truth.  A chronic liar is not disqualified from teaching their children to be truthful. A convicted murderer must teach their children, and any one who will listen, that killing is wrong. His previous crimes do not disqualify him from doing so. In fact, if they are a child of God, they are obligated to “train up the child” by teaching God’s laws, regardless to how many times they’ve disobeyed them.

Pastors fail all the time because they are Christians… and Christians fail all the time because they are sinners saved by grace. Sinners who hate the sin they commit daily. And that’s the point.

The sermons are God’s sermons. The pastors are God’s microphones, but they are also our brothers and sisters in Christ. They need us as much as we need each other. Let’s be careful about expecting too much from our pastors. Give them room to fall, courage to risk vulnerability, and the chance to voice their very real struggles, challenges and fears, and it will not only make them a better leader, but it might change the way we do church altogether… which may be exactly what a dying world needs!

Other Good Resources

Charles Stone:  When Pastors Don’t Measure Up 

Previous Post in “Pastors: A Blog Series”


Do you think Pastors are hypocrites? What do you think is the proper level of expectation we should have of Pastors?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry ( where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.