The Expectations Trap

Josh —  July 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

Go read Thom Rainer’s post telling of the time he asked his deacons to set out minimums for his work week. Here are the results:

  • Prayer at the church: 14 hours
  • Sermon preparation: 18 hours
  • Outreach and evangelism: 10 hours
  • Counseling: 10 hours
  • Hospital and home visits: 15 hours
  • Administrative functions: 18 hours
  • Community involvement: 5 hours
  • Denominational involvement: 5 hours
  • Church meetings: 5 hours
  • Worship services/preaching: 4 hours
  • Other: 10 hours

Total: 114 hours/week

You can read the context here and see this wasn’t scientific but incredibly revealing.

This wasn’t a random selection of congregants, this was from the deacons who have been presumably walking with him in leadership for some time. They have a better understanding than most of the realities of being a pastor.

Here’s the lesson: expectations aren’t as important as they seem and more destructive than they appear.

If you try to meet everyone’s expectation you will burn out and fail. Maybe not immediately and maybe not spectacularly but without change it will end badly.

This isn’t license for unaccountable leadership. Let expectations inform you, put forth expectations for yourself to those you are accountable to and are leading, allow them to push back as you explain why some things were omitted, and then create opportunity for this to be revisited as a standard.

The healthiest thing you can do with this conversation is to discuss the need for other leaders to step up.

Two things tend to happen when you ask someone with unmet expectations to join you in helping.

  1. They jump in, realizing it is impossible to do everything while getting things closer to the goal.
  2. They shut up, leading is hard to sustain and takes a lot of effort. So they will either back off permanently or you’ll hear they are undermining you. When you Biblically confront them on their unrealistic and unBiblical expectations for a Pastor you can refer back to the time when you invited them in. It even might be helpful for them to do the weekly hour exercise that Rainer outlines.


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Josh is a Rookie Pastor who after nearly a decade in student ministry is planting a church in Northern Kentucky. Like everyone else he doesn't know what he's doing Rookie Pastor is just the venue to share the mistakes and what he is learning along the way.

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