Mind the Gap

A British voice intones over loudspeakers, “Mind the gap!” as passengers on the Underground enter and exit subway cars in London.  It serves to alert passengers to avoid mishap by noticing the gap that exists between the platform and train.

Differences that exist between the expectations of a pastor and those of congregation members in regard to all aspects of church life create gaps that, like those in the Underground, pose potentially serious hazards.

Ms. Jones (learn more about her in our two previous posts) expected that Pastor Linda would be by to visit her husband in the hospital daily. She believed this because that is what all pastors in her prior experience had done.

Pastor Linda, a busy and organized pastor, managed her priorities at the church and community. Carefully budgeting time for hospital visitation among the myriad of activities, she felt sure others would be pleased. After all, she visited Ms. Jones husband not just once but twice that week!

Unaware of the gap in their assumptions about hospital visitation, Pastor Linda found herself blindsided, shocked and stunned when Ms. Jones unexpectedly dropped by the church office and delivered a disrespectful, blistering critique.  

How can a savvy pastor “mind the gap” and reduce the likelihood of such harsh, bitter and usually non-productive confrontations? Is it even possible?

Yes, it is possible. Here’s the secret.

“Mind the gap” by making the implicit explicit.

How do you make implicit expectations explicit? Talk about them!

Expectations exist in everyone’s mind. Problem is, we don’t talk about them enough. (Ask any newly married couple and they can tell you all about the differences in expectations they didn’t know they had.)

Of course, there exist formal ways of understanding congregational expectations, such as surveys. However, simple conversations and asking the right questions go a long way. (Click here for a free download, Ten Powerful Questions Pastors Should Ask Their Members.)

As I stated in last week’s post, four essential processes lead to masterful management of the psychological contract: identifying, clarifying, educating and negotiating around expectations.

Minding the gap – working continuously to identify areas where your expectations and those of your congregation don’t match – will get you started.

Skillfully managing expectations can lead to improved sense of community and lay the groundwork for greater involvement and teamwork in the mission of the church. The first step: identify your own expectations, those of others and any gap that exists between the two.

Stay tuned to our next blogs in which we discuss next steps: clarify, educate, and negotiate in regard to expectations!

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