Every church has expectations because every church member (including pastors) has expectations. Expectations can be both positive and negative. Unhealthy expectations can be distracting and discouraging. Healthy expectations can be both helpful and encouraging. If the expectations for a pastor are not consistent with God’s call and their biblical responsibility, then they become harmful to the pastor when he doesn’t meet them. Unhealthy expectations can be detrimental to the church if a pastor devotes his time to meeting those expectations and not fulfilling his responsibilities.
Expectations are not inherently dangerous. Scripture has a high expectation for the character of pastors (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1); and gives significant responsibility to church leadership (1 Peter 5). As a pastor, this is enough to be driven to work hard to fulfill the calling to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4).
The issue of expectations can be central to the tension and struggle between a pastor and the congregation. More specifically, the question of unspoken expectations causes conflict and discouragement in both a pastor and the congregation. Depending on the circumstance, discouragement can be felt by both sides of the issue, and often discouragement manifests itself with congregational conflict.
How can you respond to discouragement related to healthy, but unmet expectations?
If the expectation is valid or healthy, respond to it with grace and humility as you lead and serve the members of your congregation. If the expectation is valid, but there isn’t enough of you to go around to meet all the needs, gather your lay leaders together and present the situation to them. Let them help you develop a plan for meeting the expectations that you have discovered are real and valid needs in the lives of members.
How should you respond to unhealthy and unrealistic expectations?
If the expectation of a member is unhealthy or invalid, respond with grace and humility. Ask whoever has brought the news to you how they think you should answer. If they agree with the unhealthy expectation, schedule a time to talk through at another occasion to discuss it. Some space to settle emotions and think through your words is always helpful. If they disagree ask them to go back to the person with the issue and share with them that they don’t agree and why. Over time, this builds unity and health in the congregation and its leaders.
If the expectation is unhealthy but shared by many of the church and its leaders, proceed with caution. Grace and humility are necessary for whatever you do as a pastor, but this circumstance stands to bring harm to the church, you, and even your family. Take the opportunity to direct the church and its leaders to scripture. Meet with lay leaders to talk through your perspective and their perspective. Spend time in prayer with those who are helping you lead the church that God will move to bring unity on His expectations of His church and its leadership. Consider preparing a sermon series to teach the church what a biblical view of the issue is. Be transparent with the leaders and members of your church, but be gracious and humble in your delivery whether it’s from the pulpit or in the hallway.
Many times I have said the right words in the wrong way. Words delivered the wrong way are wasted words, and they are harmful to relationships. Take time to think through both what to say, and how to say it. Correcting members or the church as a whole on what is biblical is a part of the calling of a pastor. But, this should be done patiently, lovingly, and consistently. Read through Paul’s letters to the Corinthians for an example of the burden and heart a shepherd has for those who need to be corrected.
What issues do you face related to meeting or not meeting expectations?
What are the hardest expectations to meet in your ministry?