Expectations are important. They are important for life. They guide individual lives and the lives of organizations and communities. Expectations can range from very positive to extremely negative. And expectations fluctuate. Maybe the hardest thing about them is that some are out in the open and some are unspoken. When you are an outsider, coming into any group, it is best to get a grasp on the expectations as soon as possible. From there, you can decide to either get on board with them or figure out a way to confront them openly.
Expectations certainly happen in churches. When a new pastor is called, there are expectations. Expectations from the congregation, from the leadership of the church, from the pastor, from the higher authorities in the church, and from community the church is in. That’s the known expectations. There are other expectations too that most people don’t think about – expectations from the pastor’s family and friends. Expectations from previous pastors. Expectations from other churches and religious organizations in the area. Expectations from local government. Expectations from the neighbors right next to the church. Expectations from local businesses (churches have to buy stuff too you know). Expectations from funeral homes. So many expectations.
Carey Nieuwhof wrote a great article on three things sabotaging the church’s future. He made these three points about sabotage in the church:
- Leaders confuse the method with the mission.
- There is a failure to clarify what the real mission is.
- There is an unwillingness to change methods to support the real mission.
All of those points are true. And I want to adapt his list, because I think it fits with our little discussion about expectations. Here’s my revised list:
- People confuse the expectation with reality.
- There is a failure to state the expectations and the reality of the situation.
- There is an unwillingness to change expectations when it conflicts with reality.
When we follow these three rules above, bad things happen. There is division, blame and other nasty things. People leave, pastors leave. A church falls apart. And in the process creates more unnamed expectations – usually unhealthy expectations – for everyone.
One way to deal with this is to be open and honest and to state openly what the expectations are at a church. No matter how irrational they might be. Bring them out in the open. That’s the only way you can deal with them and decide how to move forward. Honesty and openness are essential. Without them, we can just expect to be disappointed.