Aligning Expectations With Reality

I was getting nervous. No one had signed up for the middle school work camp that I had worked so hard putting together. With only a few weeks before the camp started, I reached out to a coworker who shared a truth I had not considered. She told me that most of our congregation was nervous about filling out an online form because their citizenship could be brought into question. I had never worked in a multi-cultural setting, so the idea of an online form being a hindrance instead of a benefit was eye-opening. We quickly adapted and created a paper form. Word spread, and within a few days, the camp filled.

There will be times when you expect something of your congregation only to discover that what you want is never going to happen. Moments like these can feel defeating; however, it might be a sign that you are expecting too much. To align your expectations with reality, you need to:

Get To Know Your Audience

When you don’t know who you are trying to impact, it is easy to create expectations that do not match their reality. There will be unintentional obstacles your decision will create if you do not take the time to learn the limitations and expectations of the people in your mission field. To get to know your audience spend time getting to know them by:

  • Setting up town hall meetings and learning about their passions and worries.
  • Sit down for a cup of coffee with influencers and connectors in your community.
  • Spend time in the community going to what matters most (e.g., sports and community events)

The more you listen and ask questions like, “What is currently most important to you?” will make a world of difference in how you shape your ministry. You’ll end up gathering valuable data that will help you offer a ministry worth their attention.

Remember The Overall Vision

We forget that ministry isn’t supposed to be a mediocre social club. When you work for the local church, it is all about helping people live out their call to go and make disciples. What that looks like in your parish will differ from the next, but what you do is more than offer programs.

As a leader, you need to take time to pray over the vision God has given your parish. You need to collaborate with your team and develop systems and structures that evangelize, disciple, and commission the people in your mission field. This can be done during an intensive team retreat where you pray and dream together. The more you focus on vision and mission, the clearer the strategy will become.

Embrace Humility At All Costs

I used to believe the best youth ministry was the one I had wanted as a teenager. That belief did not match up with the current reality for many reasons. For one, the world is completely different (I was a teen before social media, 9/11, and of course the pandemic), and what once worked would not today. I also realized that the desires God had placed in my heart are different from those I’m trying to serve.

Humility comes from prayer and asking God what He desires from you. Leaders must do a gut check and explore what is percolating in their hearts. In addition to prayer, it is crucial that leaders go on retreat, seek spiritual direction and accountability. When we can identify God’s vision for our leadership, we can connect with the people we are trying to reach with clarity.

Don’t let false expectations keep you in the dark. Guessing and assuming that people will behave a certain way will only leave you frustrated when expectations are not met. Start connecting with those in your mission field, learning their story, and allowing the Spirit to lead you. What you will discover is far more rewarding than what you initially wanted to do.

How are you matching expectations with reality?

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