Ever walk into what you thought was an automatic door because it didn’t open (plenty of these on Star Trek outtakes on YouTube)? How about someone getting angry because you did not complete a task by their deadline and you didn’t know there WAS a deadline? Maybe something got left behind on a trip because everyone thought someone else had it? I was left in front of a store for several hours in the Ohio winter as a teenager because my parents both thought I was picked up by the other! Every day our churches are filled with people who have expectations, and much of the anger, disappointment, and wasted time in ministry comes from those expectations not being shared! We assume everyone is on the same page, understands expectations, has the same passion, vision, and commitment, only to find out that little or none of that was true.
I remember a time when communities, churches, schools, neighborhoods, and even our nation had a set of shared, commonly understood expectations and values. We taught them in church, in school, and in our home – the same fundamental values and expectations. Not anymore! In our multicultural, multiethnic, multi-generational, post-modern, post-literate and post-Christian culture, very little is commonly held by anyone, even in groups that were at one time homogeneous, like churches. To be a healthy church, you must be much more explicit about expectations and values, and you must communicate them both orally and in writing multiple times. Here are three areas that require extra work to have the shared expectations that help a church get and remain healthy.
Permission or Ownership. When a pastor or team leader presents an idea to church leaders or the congregation, are they looking for approval or ownership? Merely saying “yes” to a plan does not answer the question! They may only be saying yes to the person who presented the idea to spend their resources and time to make it happen; in other words, permission. However, if that yes must be one of ownership, expecting other people to do or give something, then what is expected and what risks and sacrifices and commitments are involved must be communicated before a yes or no can be given. Numerous times leaders are frustrated, angry and confused because they thought they had people owning an idea, when in fact they had merely been given permission.
Deadlines. “I’ll get that done as soon as I can,” is NOT a deadline. People have different perceptions of time and differing life priorities. Even “Be on Time” can mean different things to different people, from 10 minutes early to 30 minutes late. Healthy churches communicate at every level when something needs to be done, and all parties involved understand what the language means. My wife knows that if I say, “I’ll be home at 6:30”, it could be 6:45, or even 7. We’ve been married for over 37 years, so we know each other’s “time language.” However, in a church, we must always put clear deadlines on all our communications and activities, so that the expectation of a task being completed at a certain time is known by all. Telling a visitor “I will speak to you this week,” and then waiting until Friday may meet your expectation, but if it doesn’t meet that of the visitor, there will be bad feelings. Better to ask, “when can I contact you?” and make an appointment. At least if you miss it, everyone will know that a deadline was missed.
Ministry Descriptions. Years ago our church developed a ministry description for every position, both paid and volunteer, in our church. It lists the qualifications, time requirements, and selection process, position expectations, and to whom they are immediately and ultimately accountable. This has saved countless arguments and misunderstandings among our volunteers and leaders because they know what is expected, and who will oversee their ministry. Of course, if no one reads it, or makes sure all volunteers review it regularly, or it is not kept current to reflect what is happening in that position, it loses its effectiveness.
Expectations only matter to the people with whom they are
shared. Don’t communicate them in a way you know others will hear, and you will be the only one with expectation, and you can expect there to be hurt feelings, broken relationships, and ineffective ministry.
Thank You for this very appropriate article on how to communicate with clarity your expectations for leaders in each part of ministry. Very helpful!
These insights should be helpful if we can put them into practice and not just affirm them. Thanks for the good article.
Your comment about ownership makes us aware of why so many programs or ideas fail in the church. One person or perhaps a committee is given permission to proceed but the congregation does not own that program which ends up ineffective,
Thanks for a great article