When a church hires someone new, communication is vital to the success of the new minister and the church. Success is often contingent upon relationships that are rooted in an appropriate understanding of expectations from both parties. A minister and a church may have differing ideas about what the expectations are from a person in a ministry role. For this reason, it is crucial that a church clearly outline the expectations they have of a minister before the minister even steps into the role, and that the church ask the minister what their expectations are of the church.
Misunderstandings over expectations can quickly become a source of conflict and tension in a church. I have been in churches where this has been the case. I have understood my position to require certain tasks, while the church I worked for has expected something different from my time and efforts. In these situations, neither party is necessarily wrong, except in their failure to communicate. Unfortunately, many times this source of conflict is not correctly identified, and hurt feelings and broken relationships cause ministers to leave and churches to divide.
Churches should clearly define the expectations they have of their new minister from the outset. A basic list and description of ministerial duties should be posted alongside the job posting. Expectations should include what a minister is expected to do with their time as part of their job, character expectations, and any other requirements. Churches should also meet with the ministry candidate and ask as part of their interview what the minister’s expectations are of the church, and what their understanding is of their ministerial role based on the expectations outlined in the job description. Sometimes a search committee or minister may discover they are not a good fit for one another. However, it is better to find this out early in the process than to hire a new minister and later find out they are not willing or able to fulfill what the church expects of them.
Although this is ideal, many ministers find themselves in a position where what is being asked of them does not align with what they believed they are expected to do, and vice versa. In this situations, what can a church do to save the ministry relationship?
First, I believe those responsible for defining ministry roles in a church (deacons, elders, etc.) should meet with the minister and discuss what each of their expectations are. Both parties must be willing to listen to the other and compromise in some areas. No minister is going to be the “perfect” fit for any church, and sometimes a church may ask too much or a minister may give too little and this needs to be addressed.
Once this meeting is held and an agreement is made, a document should be drawn up outlining expectations in writing. The document should then be signed by everyone present at the meeting. In some churches, it may also be appropriate to bring the document before the church and hold a vote before approving the new list of expectations.
After expectations are laid out clearly in print, it is then appropriate for the church and minister to hold one another accountable to meeting those expectations. Any conflict can be resolved by consulting the appropriate documents. This can be a refining experience for everyone involved.
Regardless of how your church decides to handle issues of conflicting expectations, it is important to have grace and be humble. No minister or church will get everything right 100% of the time. It is our calling to have grace for one another even as we hold one another accountability for our responsibilities as a church.