Grat(ing) Expectations

No, I have not read the famous book called “Great Expectations” at least I can’t remember if I did or not.  I’m just playing with the title.

In the church, each individual has expectations. They can be known or unknown to others, even to the person themselves. We might expect the lights and heat to be on when we get to the building. We expect other people to show up. We expect people to either say “hello” or leave us alone. We expect to sing, and to hear a preacher preach. Most of our expectations are clear to us. King peppermints, not Mentos. Wilhelmina brand, maybe. Next time you come to church, start to notice what you expect. It is easiest to notice when something you expect does NOT happen. If you catch it, you can then ask yourself “What did I expect, and why?”

Some of the expectations in a congregation are clear to the pastor. Some are not. In fact most are not. There is no list he is handed saying “We expect you to wear this and not wear that” We expect you to recognize us forever after we have introduced ourselves.  So-and-so will not come and introduce themselves but expects you to find them and introduce your self. Those expectations are part of the ‘water’ (you had to be there in the pm service Apr 21 to know more of what that means) of the congregation. So coming to a new church can be both interesting and baffling for a new pastor.

It’s like the perported accident report I once read. Someone turning left off the main road in a small town had been in an accident because they did not signal. In their report they stated “Everyone knows I turn left there at 2 in the afternoon!”

Part of the work of being church, and being healthy as a church community, is being clear about expectations. That is hard if we live like the accident report person. In fact we can see it is kind of arrogant to expect others to sniff out what we expect and then comply with it perfectly. We all may know people who play that power-card all the time and manipulate people with it. Well, congregations can do that too, or pockets of people within congregations. So can pastors, by the way.

So, it can be very helpful for congregational life if we learn to identify our unwritten expectations, and hold other people to them rather loosely. It can be helpful to be clear beforehand what expectations we are working with. It helps to dig around and find out where our expectations come from. In the church, we can ask ourselves if our expectations are in line with what the full scope of scripture and gospel call for.

Hopefully what I’ve shared has stuck in your awareness by now, because I’m about to mention an example I think may be immediately relevant, and there is a huge danger that you get to thinking so much about that you forget the point I’m making.

From the sounds of a few things I’ve heard, your recent Bazaar is a good example of expectations both being met and not met. For some, it sounds like their expectation of a Bazaar is to have a cozy social time together as people who know each other, and in the process raise/contribute some funds to whatever the proceeds go to. Those people like to be able to hear clearly and to know everyone there. But, those expectations are probably not written anywhere. They might not even be known by the people who organize it. They only find out if the expectations are not met, or they might get positive comments when they are. Please note that I am not saying there is essentially anything wrong with the expectations. The problem arises when they are at work and not known.

But there is another set of expectations. For some, it sounds like their expectation of a Bazaar is to have a community event where you can meet your neighbours and get them even slightly connected with the church, and have them buy and do things that help raise money for the cause, even participating in the exciting action of the auction. The expectations of this group are probably not written anywhere either. They might also not be known by the organizers. And, this set of expectations can easily be presumed to be in direct conflict with the first set of expectations. There is not necessarily anything wrong with these expectations either. But when one or the other is fulfilled, it will seem to be at the expense of some discomfort and disappointment for the other.

And so, you have grating expectations. These are a source of hurt feelings and other forms of conflict and stress. Trying to be a leader in the middle of conflicting expectations is hard. Many of those who begin to step out of attempting to lead in the church state they are burned out from trying to either guess and live up to changing expectations, or simply tired of being in conflict over them.

Our challenge is to see if we can find a way to navigate these waters together in grace and wisdom. It ain’t easy. I believe it is possible.


For a printable pdf edition of this posting click on this link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/a3nqne47uwu9enp/Grat%28ing%29%20Expectations.pdf

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