Negotiate Expectations

You may feel comfortable negotiating some purchases such as automobiles.

You may be less accustomed to the idea that a pastor can or should negotiate congregational expectations.

However, negotiating expectations constitutes the essential fourth aspect of the process I suggest for reducing unnecessary conflict in a congregation by managing expectations.

Allow me to present an illustration.

You're likely familiar with the story related in Acts 6:1-7.  Grecian Jews in the church complained against those of the Aramaic speaking community because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

The 12 apostles gathered all disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to serve tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We'll turn this responsibility over to them and will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word."

Notice that the Apostles’ role in distributing the bread had become an expectation. When a problem arose, everyone naturally assumed the Apostles would solve it.

The Apostle’s, however, “negotiated” a new set of expectations.

Let’s analyze their approach using negotiation principles from the classic Harvard Negotiation Project book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In:

  • Disentangle the people from the problem. In the early church situation, the problem could quickly have flared into an ethnic dispute, Grecian Jews against Aramaic Jews. The Apostle’s instead focused on the substantive issue: how to best distribute the bread.

  • Focus on interests, not positions. Simply put, the Apostles were interested in preserving their time for prayer and preaching; the Grecian Jewish Christians were interested in their widows getting a fair share of the bread. Clarity about those points made problem-solving easier.

  • Work together to find creative and fair options. You know the story: the Apostle’s permitted a selection process that put seven good men – based on their names, apparently all of the Grecian group – and placed them in charge of the distribution. Creative, fair.

You also know the rest of the story. This potentially divisive and thorny ethnic dispute was effectively laid to rest and so, “the Word of God spread.” (Acts 6:7)


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Dr. JeannieComment