Saturday, August 18, 2012

Meeting expectations

This is a journal entry of a minister as recorded in Pastors at Greater Risk written by H. B. London Jr. and Neil Wiseman.  See if it sounds familiar.

If I wanted to drive a manager in the business community up the wall, I'd make him responsible for the success of an organization but give him no authority.  I'd provide him with unclear goals, ones the organization didn't completely agree to.  I'd ask him to provide a service of ill-defined nature, apply a body of knowledge having few absolutes and staff his organization with only volunteers who donated just a few hours a week at the most.  I'd expect him to work 10 to 12 hours per day and have his work evaluated by a committee of 300 to 500 amateurs.  I'd call him a minister and make him accountable to God.

If you pastor a church you may be able to identify with this minister's thoughts.  The expectations placed on most ministers are far beyond what most people have for their profession, and the problem is that it's possible that most of the people you serve have different expectations.  In my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry I discuss many of these expectations and how impossible it is to meet them all.  In addition to the expectations church members have for their pastor, the minister's family also has certain expectations for their relationship with the minister.  Then, on top of all these expectations, most ministers went into the ministry with certain expectations for what ministry would look like.  Personally, I believe that one reason so many persons leave the ministry after only a few years is because of the stress related to trying to meet the various expectations that are placed on them.

What can a minister do with these expectations?  First, he or she must realize that it is impossible to meet everyone's expectations for his or her ministry.  You have to give yourself permission to accept the fact that some people will not be happy with you.  Second, it's important to identify the things about ministry that energizes you.  The areas where you are gifted will most likely be where you will find those energizers.  For me it is when I am in the pulpit or leading workshops.  I believe it is in those arenas of ministry where I can make the greatest impact on people's lives, and I am energized even as I am driving to the place where I will be speaking.  I even enjoy the study and preparation that precedes the speaking engagement.  I am very disappointed if I feel that my message did not connect with an audience.

On the other hand, I'm not nearly as upset if I disappoint people who expect me to be a great administrator.  I am not a good detail person, and I need people who can help me in that area of ministry.  I would fail miserably in any ministry in which I was expected to be a micromanager.

Churches and ministers need to be very upfront with one another about expectations and strengths and weaknesses.  I've seen too many good ministers and good churches get at odds with one another because the minister was not meeting the expectations of the church, and often those expectations were not clearly identified until the minister violated them.  The best possible time to be candid with one another is before calling the individual to pastor the church.  That is the time for the church to clearly state what the church expects of this minister, and it is the time for the minister to honestly say whether or not he or she can meet those expectations.  And here is the important part...once the church leadership defines what the church needs from the pastor it needs to support the pastor when people begin to criticize the him or her for not meeting their expectations.  If the church tells a prospective pastor that it wants him or her involved in the community to make contact with as many unchurched people as possible, don't allow someone to come along and criticize the pastor for not spending 40 hours a week in the office in case someone from the church wanted to come by to visit.  That is highly unfair, but I see it happen much too often.  For more on addressing expectations in the ministry I encourage you to read The Healthy Pastor.

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