Grating Expectations

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Note: this is a fuller explanation of a bullet point in another blog post, which you can read here.

Grating or Cross-wired Expectations summary explanation

In the ash-heap, there is very very often evidence indicating a problem with expectations. Most often, unstated expectations were unmet. In others, the priority of importance of expectations was misunderstood. Also, evidence exists that expectations may have been brought in by a pastor that were not existent in the congregation. Any of these conditions may have created a short-circuit, starting the smoldering.

Un-Stated (Assumed) Expectations that are not being met

In days gone by, what was expected of a pastor seems to have been fairly consistent and clear from congregation to congregation. This is no longer the case. As multiple generations of one or more sub-cultures live in one congregation, each has a primary set of expectations of the pastor. In fact, each individual might have a unique set of expectations. So, one group might have an expectation of the pastor paying personal attention to them, another generational group might expect the pastor to focus on messages and teaching that really get them to think, and yet another sub-group might expect the pastor to show up to help fight social injustice by being at the food distribution regularly. For each of these sub-cultures within the church, that primary expectation is “normal’ to them. In their minds, it is exactly what a pastor should be all about. Trouble is, these expectations exist, but are so normal they are "invisible." They do not get registered or documented or presented properly, and if an attempt is made to do so, a dispute might arise about whether the expectation is appropriate. Since they are largely assumed, or invisible, they are often also not re-examined as to consistency with the purpose of the church either.

What happens then, when a new pastor comes, is that after a time some smoke and heat begin, as people realize they are sitting at home waiting for personal attention from the pastor that is not coming; or they find the messages not challenging enough; or they don’t see their pastor at the food distribution. Whose problem is that? And so we can add complexity to the example by noting that if in the call conversation, none of those three expectations were named or discussed and were posed as to whether they were meet-able by the candidate, can the new pastor really be held accountable for not meeting them? Yet there will be smoke and heat. So what then?

As an added note, not stating your expectations is a great way to manipulate. I can say more if people want to know what I mean.

Hidden Expectations (Agendas) that are later revealed

A version of this problem happens from the pastor side as well. A pastor may at one time be in a congregation where he or she wants to do more outreach, but the current congregation is not facilitating that, so it becomes part of their reason to look for another call. Such a person will be highly attuned to indicators that a congregation wants to "do outreach" in the call conversation. Even one small mention can get them enthused about the prospects in this new congregation. But they might not state clearly what they are intending. To that pastor it may even be “normal” that a pastor should be spending a lot of time doing outreach. So they don’t feel it needs to be made explicit, after all, everyone knows Jesus told us to go (into the world) and make disciples. And so, the call is extended and the work begins, and eventually smoke and heat arise, because the pastor is focusing on an expectation he/she had that was not revealed or discussed clearly. This version of the cross-wired expectations focuses on one person whereas the previous one is dispersed across a large number of people. Congregations can feel betrayed or tricked when this happens. So the pastor becomes the piece of paper the magnifying glass focuses on. And the potential for fire rises.

Prevention

To prevent both of the above, it seems that steps need to be taken to clearly identify ‘hidden’ or ‘so-normal-they-are-invisible-to-those-who-hold-them’ expectations as well and clearly as possible, in the call conversation. Pastor-Church Relations has a booklet that can help, called "More than a Search Committee." Bringing in a coach or an STM can help clarify these as well. And while identifying, some examination of whether these held expectations are actually biblically justified is worthwhile. For example: How does our belief in the “priesthood of all believers” match up with an expectation of personal attention from the pastor? Does it? And so on. Which expectation is rooted in Kingdom of God thinking, and which is from the Kingdoms of this World?

Stated Expectations that are not real or realistic

Basically, this cross-wiring is about polite lying to each other, a form of denial. It reflects an incongruity between stated values and lived values. A congregation may have in their presenting materials a clearly stated expectation that a pastor do outreach or that they need help with outreach. It might only be there because it is politically correct. In other words, everyone believes you are supposed to say that but don’t know what it entails. The actually-lived-out value in the congregation may well be “We like to keep this place safe for all of us of a particular sub-culture.”  A pastor who accepts a call to such a church taking that stated value seriously, will soon be generating heat and smoke. Especially when an other-cultural ‘outsider’ becomes part of the ‘harvest’ and is brought in, threatening the real-but-unnamed values and expectations in the congregation. Here the pastor can feel betrayed but the congregation as well.

Within this heading there are also expectations placed on the pastor that are simply unrealistic to expect from one person. We all, I’ll presume, know what that is about. And pastor’s also often have higher aspirations for congregations than they can readily and easily attain.

Looking for feedback:

Does this fit your experience, your observation?

Are there categories I have missed? Help us all by sharing.

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