I have just begun my eighteenth year of ordained, full-time pastoral ministry so I can talk about this not only with confidence but with competence because I have myself been held to these three types of standards. Only one of these standards is healthy.
The Pastor Should Be Held to a Higher Standard
This is healthy. The pastor is supposed to represent Christ to the people under his care and lead them in walking with Christ and growing to maturity through Word, Spirit, and the Fellowship of the Saints. This doesn’t mean being perfect (more on that in a minute) but honest about the struggles of the Christian life and open about how Christ sustains one in the midst of those struggles. In interpersonal relations the pastor must take the high road and demonstrate the graciousness of God and the love of Christ to those inside and outside the church whether in business dealings, personal dealings, or opposition. There is much more that may be said about this but you get the point.
But there are two other standards to which pastors are often held that are not only unhealthy, but just plain wrong.
The Pastor is Often the Victim of a Double Standard
What I mean by this is that some people will expect that they can treat you in ways that they themselves would not tolerate from another. For example, it is wrong for a pastor to be rude, unkind, and mean during a meeting with other leaders in the church. That goes without saying (or should). But it is also wrong for any Christian, deacon, elder, average church member, to be rude, unkind, or mean during a meeting or anywhere else. The exhortations to gracious speech and grace in our dealings with each other do not apply only to the pastor, but to all Christians.
Hear what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that if church members get nasty the pastor is justified in being nasty. I am saying the exact opposite: No one should behave this way in the body of Christ. If it is wrong for your pastor to behave this way, it is equally as wrong for you or someone else to behave this way. To expect the pastor to live by a Scriptural standard while refusing to live by it yourself is a double standard. And it is wrong.
Here is an example from my own experience. Back when the church was going through a difficult time financially, a man told me that if my wife would get a job (we had small children at the time) then the church could pay me less and save money. Now think about this for a moment. If this same man was working at Ford or GM (I live and serve in Metro Detroit), and his boss said this to him, he absolutely would not stand for it. Neither should a pastor.
This leads me to the final standard.
The Pastor is often Held to an Impossible Standard
This is a real and true conversation that once happened between me and an older woman in my congregation (who is now with the Lord).
Woman: Pastor, I am very upset! You didn’t visit me when I was in the hospital last week.
Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were in the hospital.
Woman: You still should have visited me.
No, I am not joking. That is what she said.
Another time a woman chastised me in front of a crowd of people in the church auditorium for not visiting her after her (grown) daughter died. She was still angry after I reminded her that I was out of town when her daughter died and by the time I returned she had gone to stay with her sister, who lived several hours away, for six weeks (and I didn’t even know who her sister was or where exactly she lived).
You should be able to see my point. These are impossible standards. The previous pastor at this church would have apologized profusely and attempted to make up for it. But you do a disservice to the Gospel ministry, to the church, and to these people when you permit such things to go unanswered.
In both cases I graciously reminded them that what they were demanding was impossible. How am I to visit you in the hospital when I don’t even know you’re in the hospital? How am I to visit you at your sisters house when I have no idea where it is, or how even to get in touch with you?
You must be gracious, but you do not have to allow them to do this. Graciously and lovingly manage their expectations by letting them see what is reasonable and right.
And hopefully you’re already holding yourself to a higher standard. Demanding more of yourself will eventually do away with the other two standards.