CP 54: How To Have Realistic vs. Unrealistic Expectations

This is an excerpt from my latest book: Naked Man Running: 100 IDEAS that work in a small church. More excerpts coming! Get all 100 ideas here.

Catagory: Pastor’s Personal Life, Chapter 54: How to have realistic vs. unrealistic expectations


You’ve heard it before, “Set the bar high. People will rise to the level of your expectations.” Or, “Expect great things from God.”

To be honest with you, and please don’t burn me at the stake for heresy, I’m not sure such statements are always true.

One reason why we experience frustration and disappointment in the ministry is due to unrealistic expectations. You can have unrealistic expectations for your people, and you can have unrealistic expectations for God. Let’s start with God.

An unrealistic expectation for God is when we expect God to do something that He hasn’t clearly promised to do. Now, granted, Christians will differ on what God has promised in the Bible and what He hasn’t. Based on your theology, or hermeneutics, or denomination, you might think one thing is a promise to expect God to fulfill, while another pastor might think differently. But what I’m referring to are the many voices (usually pastors of large churches) that tell us things like…

God wants your church to grow.

God wants to use you to reach your city for Jesus.

If you want to grow your church, so you need to focus on _____ or _____ or_____.

God wants to do great things in your ministry and through your church.

I kind of believe those statements, but the problem is that such statements revolve around formulas and numbers. Formulas don’t always work. Numbers don’t always indicate church health.

There are more ways for a church to grow than merely by numbers. A church might grow in numbers but very, very slowly. I haven’t heard of a church that has successfully “reached its city for Jesus.” Why is it that “great things” are seldom “small things?” If formulas work, then why are there so many churches that have implemented the formulas and still are not experiencing numerical growth?

What are you believing God for? What are you expecting Him to do for you? What are you basing that on? If you are convinced that your expectations are based on the scriptures then fine, hold on to those promises. But if not, rethink your expectations.

And what about the expectations we have for our people?

If you expect your people to be as ‘into it’ as you are, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If by raising the bar of commitment, you have seen your people leap up and over that bar like Superwoman (or man), then good for you, congratulations, you’ve accomplished something most pastors never experience. I’m not exactly suggesting that we lower our expectations…but maybe I am.

Maybe it’s more about having realistic expectations than unrealistic ones. And to be honest with you, some of the pastors I interact with have unrealistic expectations, and that is why they are so discouraged, frustrated, and lack peace and joy in the ministry. In regards to goals, I have a saying, “Set the bar so low that you can’t help but step over it.”

Don’t stop praying and planning to reach new people for Jesus. Ask God to do great things with your church, just be careful how you define ‘great.’ Be content without becoming complacent. If you want to have more peace, discover those unrealistic expectations you have with God and your people, and adjust them accordingly.


99 more ideas are waiting for you here.