• Well, you are the Youth Pastor, it is your job to fix her!”
  • “Hey – you have been here two years, why hasn’t the group at least doubled by now?
  • “Yeah, evangelism is fine…but I don’t want my kids around those kids.”

There is constant pressure in ministry to meet everyone’s expectations. It can feel as though others want us to be super heroes. These expectations are often unspoken and contradictory, leaving us caught in the cross hairs. Also, some of us really want to be super heroes and all things to all people.  How do we balance it all?

Diapers of Doom and Haunted Hayrides?!

I was a part-time youth pastor.  At 22 years old, I was horrified to find out that it was my unquestioned role as youth pastor to run a “parents-night-out.”  Working with teenagers does not give one the innate ability to work with children.

I remember that night.  Chaos.  Little kids running around.  Hyper teenagers watching unruly children. Without the gory details, it was the first time I changed a diaper.  There was lots of crying and screaming…but it didn’t come from the baby! I was mortified!

Another time at this church, I was told to lead the kids in scaring adults in a haunted hayrack ride. It was church tradition – but as the adult-in-charge, no one told me that it was “normal” for the kids to bring real chainsaws (chains removed), dress up as demons, and run around the woods like they were in a horror movie!

Maybe neither of these are the most intense of examples, but the truth is this: when you step into the role of ministry, most have already decided what it is that they want you to do.  Maybe it’s not changing dirty diapers or running around in the woods like Michael Myers, but there are always expectations.

You can’t let expectations cause you to miss the Lord’s calling.

“Yay!  I get to do only what I want to do!”

No. Sorry.  Sometimes you have to fulfill some of the expectations, even if you don’t like it.  Saying you can’t let expectations get in the way does NOT mean you can say, “Yeah, I know that kid got sick in the bathroom – but it’s the church’s custodian who has a calling to clean that up, not me.”

Empathy First

You have to consider expectations from the others’ perspectives.  Maybe they have been a part of this church the last 38 years, and they had always had an annual youth Sunday.  They loved it; it was important to them. Perhaps you don’t like youth Sunday, or it doesn’t fit in your awesome ministry model.

But think about the people of the church – who have likely been in the church longer than you – and the things that they want and desire.  Is it wrong to have a youth Sunday? Does it hurt you or the youth?  Probably not.

So where’s the line? Am I everyone’s puppet just because they have seniority?

Of course not.  Having empathy doesn’t mean having no backbone.  While you can err on the side of becoming too “I won’t bow to your wishes, I am the Youth Pastor;” you can just as easily err on the side of Igor, “Yes, Master! Whatever you say, Master!”

There is a balance of doing the important ministry tasks that you enjoy and the full work that your position requires, offering grace and respect to those around you.

Keys to Dealing with Expectations:

Always Talk About Expectations First.  Ask people their expectations!  Seriously!  I am amazed at how many people don’t discuss this ahead of time.  Had I asked more questions, I would have understood what I was getting into for the hayrack ride.  Never take a job without a written agreement of expectations.  Always ask your supervisor what they are expecting. If you don’t know what others are thinking, it will come back to bite you.

Communicate! If you think an expectation is out-of-bounds, you must talk about it.  They won’t know unless you engage with them.  The people around you – your church members and likely your board, likely haven’t been in direct ministry.  You have to be open about struggles or issues, or they won’t know about it.  With all respect and kindness, educate them and look for compromises.

Don’t Always Say “Yes.”  There is a part of us that wants to be super heroes.  We may long to please everyone or try to do everything.  As a perfectionist by nature, I always want to say “yes.”  Take the time to pray about the expectations around you, and remind yourself that you are not Jesus, and that’s ok.

Understand the Sacred Stones.  Some things just feel super important to the church members.  Unless it is a morality issue, this is ok. Even if it is silly.  Let it go.  You can try to influence it and ask the Lord to change the hearts of those around you, but make sure if you are going to “battle,” that it is worth the cost.  Don’t go down in flames because you want to give out soda but the pastor prefers lemonade.

Pray and Seek Guidance! Yep, if you are struggling with something or someone in ministry, praying matters.  Asking God for perspective, to change hearts, and to give wisdom – these all can completely change the entire situation.  I also suggest you find a person with experience and that you can trust to give you guidance.  Be respectful of confidentiality, but sometimes talking it through can help you see things in a new light.

Dear Jesus,

Help us to be a people that are kind and full of empathy.  Give us the strength to stand up for the things that we “must” do, and give us the strength to let go of the rest.  May we not be hindered from Your calling because of other people, yet may we be of enough character to really care about what they have to say.