The importance of clarifying expectations cannot be overstated. People may not even be conscious of how they arrived at their beliefs about how you should behave as a pastor. Consequently, there may exist no possibility of a rational discussion until you clarify!
Use the seven tactics below, as appropriate, to clarify expectations.
We’ve been following the story of Ms. Jones. She blew up at Pastor Linda for not caring about her ill husband. Let’s imagine some things Pastor Linda might say to skillfully clarify Ms. Jones’ expectations.
1. Use open ended questions
Ms. Jones: “Why don’t you care about my husband? He’s been very ill in the hospital and you barely came to see him at all!”
Pastor Linda (taken aback, yet concerned): “Please sit down and tell me how your husband is doing today… Please also tell me more about my not caring and barely visiting.”
2. Listen carefully to identify expectations and underlying concerns.
Ms. Jones: “When my Momma was ill, Pastor Bob was there every day. I don’t know how we’ve have gotten through it without him. And then when my dear Father was ill and passed away, Pastor John was our rock. He came every day and prayed with us.
Pastor Linda: “It sounds like you expected that if I really cared, I would be by to visit your husband every day when he was in the hospital.”
Ms. Jones: “Of course. All of the pastors I’ve known since I was a little girl visited every day. I felt scared my husband was not going to be ok and I felt alone without you there."
Pastor Linda: “Oh. I am so sorry to hear that you were feeling alone and scared. Thinking I didn’t care must have made it worse for you.”
4. Affirm the underlying concerns represented by the expectation.
Pastor Linda continues: “Pastoral visits are important and I do care very much about your husband and about you. I don’t want you to feel abandoned or that I don’t care. “
5. Share regarding your own rationale and expectations.
Pastor Linda: “It sounds like your prior pastors all visited ill members daily. Throughout my pastorates, most of my members have told me about twice weekly works well for them. It allows me to stay in touch without worry of intruding too much. Plus, it allows me to manage many other tasks most efficiently.”
6. Thank the person for the feedback and for bringing this to your attention.
Pastor Linda: “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’m so glad we were able to talk. I wouldn’t want you to be thinking I didn’t care.”
7. Invite further conversation.
Pastor Linda: “Perhaps I can check back on this topic with you. I want you know that I’m here for you. Plus, I’m wondering now if other folks in the congregation may have similar concerns as you.”
The tactics above, used appropriately, work! The most difficult obstacle you will face in using them often may be your own emotions. It is hard to stay cool when someone is slinging at you what are, in your perception, unfair expectations. However, keeping cool in these kind of situations is exactly what emotionally intelligent pastors manage to do!