An Expectation Reset: A Guide for Leaders and Pastors


Feeling overwhelmed by the unspoken expectations of your team or congregation? Explore practical steps to reset these expectations and foster a healthier, more productive environment.

People Expect Too Much From You

Or, at a minimum, people’s unfair or unvoiced expectations of you.

I’ve had two conversations with pastors in the past week about expectations.

I’ll tell you what I told them, but let’s first ponder why expectations are so frustrating.

FYI: I talk a lot about dealing with expectations in my book, Big Shoes To Fill.

Unmet Expectations

Nearly all frustration occurs in the gap between experience and expectation. If you are a leader, every person on your team has expectations of you, how leaders should lead, and the organization at large. These unsaid expectations frequently go unmet, creating frustration with you, your leadership, and the organization.

The results are dangerous. Frustrated staff underperform and over-complain. Not initially, but as unmet expectations increase, so do poor attitudes.

Pastoral Expectations

For pastors, expectations are on steroids. Every single person in your church (and probably in your community) has an expectation of how you should lead and pastor based on…

  • How their childhood pastor did it,
  • How their last pastor did it,
  • What they’ve decided is theologically accurate,
  • How they think pastors should behave,
  • How they need you to behave in their unique circumstance in this very moment.

The list is endless. Unlike the marketplace, ministry expectations are broader and more personal, making them much more challenging. Heck, if you have a church of more than one, you won’t meet each person’s expectations.

Resolving the Expectation Situation

As we know, frustration occurs when a person’s experience doesn’t match their expectation. One solution is to force people to scrap their expectations. As this is entirely infeasible, try this:

1. Proactively Communicate YOUR Expectations

Rather than allow everyone to set their own expectations of you, what if you proactively informed them of what they can and should expect from you?

Hang with me for a moment. When I was leading Woodstock City Church, I felt overwhelmed by the exceptions everyone had of their pastor. Meeting these expectations was absolutely impossible. Allowing everyone to experience a gap between their expectations and experiences wasn’t a great solution, either.

So, I decided to voice what they could and should expect. I didn’t do this on a Sunday morning (as far as I can remember), but I often communicated this in individual conversations, small group meetings, and other spaces where it felt appropriate.

Say something like, “I understand you all have expectations of how a pastor should pastor. I do, too. But I want to be honest – if I attempted to meet everyone’s expectations, two things would happen: 1) Everyone would still be frustrated because that’s impossible, and 2) I wouldn’t be able to do what my job requires. So, here’s what you can expect from me…”

If you’re in a small, medium, or large church, give this a try.

2. Communicate Your Expectations Often

We’ve all heard the term “vision leaks.” I’m here to tell you that everything leaks. Mission, vision, strategy, and appropriate expectations.

If you set healthy expectations once, don’t believe for a second that is enough. Every day, these expectations leak out of the hearts and heads of our congregation/staff/volunteers/followers/etc. You’ll need to regularly communicate what can and should be expected to help reduce people’s frustration.

3. Ask For Forgiveness In Advance

Even if you appropriately set expectations, you’ll fall short from time to time. Acknowledge this up front and ask for some grace before it’s needed.

It helps everyone overcome their frustrations when you’re open with them about your humanity. No leader gets it right every time. Preemptively allow this truth to lessen the blow when you fail.

Communication Is The Key To Expectations

Meeting expectations isn’t the secret to success. Effectively communicating what can and should be expected is the secret. When those around you know what they should expect, it resets their expectation gauge and positions you to fall short less often.

Give it a try. Hopefully, you’ll experience a bit less frustration,