My Chicken Sandwich and Your Congregation's Expectations

Delicious Sandwich.jpg

The conference ended for the day, the summer evening perfect, Bud and I headed up to grab a meal on the rooftop patio of a downtown Chicago restaurant.

The prices helped us decide to split the least expensive item on the menu: a chicken sandwich.

Wow! Amazingly, my expectation for an average chicken sandwich dissolved under the fantastic flavors of what I considered the best chicken sandwich I had ever experienced. I didn’t know a superb chef could elevate a chicken sandwich to a whole other level. I was delighted!

I talked about it. I planned my return visit. Unexpected positive emotions exuded from one simple experience.

You know, we all have expectations and that human behavior impacts especially on pastors.

Of one thing we can be certain: Everyone has expectations of us. And everyone discusses them with other people. After a Sabbath morning sermon, church members talk about how well we met their expectations. Fellow pastors discuss what they expect from their peers. Conference office personnel talk about what they want to see from pastors, just as pastor’s share with each other what they need and expect from conference office staff [1]

No doubt, my expectations for chicken sandwiches arose from my accumulated past chicken sandwich experiences.

Same thing for congregants: that’s where most get their expectations. (Well, not from chicken sandwiches.) They get their expectations from past experiences with former pastors. Or things they’ve heard about. Or what they’ve imagined or believed a pastor should do. Often without much real information to guide their expectations.

These unrealistic expectations then create a proven collision course towards conflict, disappointment, disillusionment, even feelings of betrayal or unfairness.  

That’s why savvy pastors work to articulate and clarify and then manage congregant expectations. The process has two big parts: helping them realize that some of their expectations may not be realistic and educating them on what realistic expectations look like.

Often, your members don’t even realize what their expectations of you are – until you violate them! They certainly don’t think their expectations are “unrealistic”.

So, what would you think about actually creating a list of “Expectations for My Pastor” that you could share with your board or members to spark some conversation? From your perspective, the list would consist of your commitments to the congregation. From the congregation’s perspective, it would be a check on what they can realistically expect.

Need some help getting started on the list? Here’s some food for thought. Melvin Banks identified ten traits researchers found church members want in a pastor [2]:

  1. someone who loves people

  2. an effective preacher

  3. good character

  4. a good work ethic

  5. a vision for the church

  6. lead without dictating

  7. a positive outlook

  8. does not easily yield to critics

  9. transparent

  10. a heart for evangelism

Jason Bradley recommends focusing on the larger community expectations rather than getting caught up in conflicting individual expectations. He lists such community expectations as [3]:

  1. scriptural understanding

  2. ability to listen

  3. competence

  4. teaching ability

  5. good character

  6. vision

  7. ability to build a team

  8. disciple-building focus

  9. self-awareness

  10. drive

Wow! Two tall lists. Still, they could give you a good start on making your list of commitments and expectations. By the way, Phillip Follett recommends congregants expect their pastors to make some mistakes. Maybe that’s a good bullet for your list!

Truth is, “expectation” is not a dirty word. We all have expectations about all aspects of our lives. Expectations lead to powerful emotions – positive and negative. So they can be good: like the delight I felt when the restaurant exceeded my chicken sandwich expectations.

So what should your congregants realistically expect of you? And do they know that?


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 [1] Phillip Follett. What I expect of a pastor. Ministry International Journal for Pastors, April 1984. Accessed August 30, 2019 from

[2] Melvin Banks. What Do Church Members Expect of a Pastor? Urban Ministries, Inc. The African American Christian Publishing & Communications Co, December 16, 2015. Accessed August 30, 2019 from

[3] Jason D. Bradley. 10 Qualities Church Members Expect in a Pastor. Ministry Advice, January 4, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2019 from

Dr. JeannieComment