Several weeks ago someone, I think it was a young pastor, asked me what is the most frustrating aspect of pastoral ministry. I had to think for a second, not because I couldn’t think of anything, but because he didn’t ask for ten things, only one. And the number one frustration rose to the top pretty quickly -
(Yes, I am screaming it)
Unspoken expectations are different from the things that folks tell me they would like me to do, and I can then say, “Oh, sorry, I never thought of that. I’ll do it next time,” or “Thanks for your opinion, but I don’t think I can do that.” Unspoken expectations are different because they are ... well, unspoken. They are those things that someone wants me to do because they think a pastor should do them, and maybe even a former pastor has done them, but I am not doing them. And it bothers them, usually because they think it is obvious that a pastor should do them.
One example - likely the one that has already occurred to every one of the many (okay, three) pastors who are reading this - is home visitation. Now, for some folks in my congregation, the very idea that I might stop by their house, unannounced and uninvited, is the stuff of 3:00am nightmares, or at least a “Why are you here?” question. Yet there are a few folks, typically of an older generation, who not only see no problem with such a visit, but believe it to be what good pastors do. Even though I have told them, “If you would like me to come by, then just invite me,” this does not solve the problem. Because if they invite me, then in their mind it is not a pastoral visit. They want me to come, not because I am invited, but because that’s what they think good pastors do.
(For more information on the deep psychological reasons for why I don’t like home visitation, see my previous blogpost “Socially Awkward.”)
And because I am not doing what they believe a good pastor should do, or that any pastor would see to be self-evident to do, they are left with only one of two conclusions about me:
1. Either I am a really bad pastor who doesn’t have a clue (definitely a possibility), OR
2. I really don’t like them (not true at all).
I'm sure there are other unspoken expectations, some of which I only surmise - not because I have been told them - but because, like black holes in the abyss of space, we only know of them because of their effect on other aspects of church life. Like gravity, unspoken expectations bring down everything around them.
It should not come as a surprise that unspoken expectations are a problem in ministry. After all, they are a problem in many relationships. When I see a couple for marital counseling, inevitably unspoken expectations become a topic for conversation. While the stereotype is that it is women who don’t tell husbands what they want - “If you don’t know what I want for Valentine’s Day, then I’m certainly not going to tell you” - men are often guilty as well.
The truth is, I’m just as guilty. I will stand there, on Sunday morning, hoping that someone will tell me that the sermon blessed them, or challenged them, or made them think - even made them angry. Usually, I get nothing, nada, zip. No one says a word.
Now, you may ask, “Mike, have you told folks that you need this kind of feedback? Do they know that it blesses you when they say something about how the sermon blessed them?”
Come on - of course not. After all, if I have to tell them, then it’s not as good. They should just know.