What Savvy Pastors Know About the Power of Expectations

Remember Ms. Jones from last week’s blog? She was very upset about Pastor Linda “only” visiting her husband a couple of times. Pastor Linda didn’t understand why she was so upset.  Pastor Linda visited Mr. Jones two times that week, following her typical regimen for hospital visitation.

However, Ms. Jones’ prior pastors had visited parishioners in the hospital daily. She had come to believe ‘that’s what pastors do’. It had not occurred to Ms. Jones that pastors do things differently and are all unique.

Therefore, she concluded that Pastor Linda had purposely not visited her husband as much as the other parishioners and didn’t care about him or her. Ms. Jones felt deeply hurt, betrayed, and angry. Pastor Linda, caught completely off-guard, wondered what in the world was going on.

As unintentional as it may have been, Pastor Linda breached the psychological contract.

“Psychological contract” describes the implied agreement between two interdependent parties in a working relationship. Even when a written contract exists that spells out some specifics, people may still interpret these specifics differently! The psychological contract still operates and beside that, no written agreement can possibly cover all the assumptions and expectations of all the persons involved

The reality of the psychological contract is that a pastor and parishioners hold deeply held unstated and assumed expectations based on such factors as stated agreements, conversations that provide additional information about expectations, past experiences, as well as personal values and beliefs.

This invisible and unspoken psychological contract between a pastor and congregation always exists. Breaching it can create bitter, difficult conflict. Building awareness of it and managing it deftly can reduce the likelihood of unnecessary and destructive conflict erupting.

Your first step in mastering the psychological contract- awareness. Recognize that it exists. Masterful pastors know that a psychological contract exists and their alertness to it reduces the chances they will wander into an unmarked minefield!

The next few blogs will spell out a 4-step process that will help you to masterfully manage the psychological contract. Stay tuned to learn more about these four essential processes: identifying, clarifying, educating and negotiating the unspoken expectations which constitute the psychological contract between you and your parishioners.


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