Why Ministry Leaders Should Clarify Expectations for Every Team Member

It’s no secret that one of the most prevalent killers of relationships is unmet expectations. In fact, you could say that all other issues are related to expectations. In marriage it might be finances or intimacy where expectations aren’t met. In a ministry relationship, it might be hands-on support or personal development.

James writes in chapter 4 that disagreements that lead to division often stem from desires not being fulfilled by one another. Those unmet expectations lead to envy and lust and physical fights.

And while you probably aren’t punching your volunteers or getting yourself run over by direct reports, strife and tension from unmet expectations in ministry is incredibly common. In fact, you probably have a story or two of someone who’s not serving with you anymore because of unmet expectations.

You can prevent a lot of that tension by being straightforward with your expectations with everyone you manage. That includes ministry staff and ministry volunteers. The expectations you should work to clarify are your expectations of your team and what your team can expect from you.

We’re going to look at both plus how you can clarify them for everyone.

Clarify Your Leadership Philosophy

Everyone leads from a philosophy of leadership, whether that’s intentional or accidental. Usually, an accidental leadership philosophy isn’t healthy. If it’s an accident, it’s probably driven and shaped by your internal desires, your ego, your past wounds, and your unspoken expectations.

That’s why clarifying your leadership philosophy is such a valuable exercise. When you spell out the motivations and assumptions that shape your leadership style and approach, you’re creating opportunity for accountability. You’re bringing light in a place that used to be hidden in the darkness of your mind.

If you don’t have a clearly spelled out leadership philosophy, you can start now. It can have elements of the actual and the aspirational. You can spell out how you approach your role as a leader and how you hope to approach that role in the future.

A simple format for clarifying your leadership philosophy can be broken down into two parts: how you see the world, your organization, or your team and how that perspective shapes the way you interact with each person on your team.

As an example, here’s my leadership philosophy in two paragraphs.

I assume the best of every person on my team. That means I believe each person is capable and responsible, has proper motivations, is honest, and does their best to approach all things with integrity.

I prefer to lead through open-ended questions because I assume you know or have access to the solution already. My job is to help you succeed in your role and continually work to keep the team aligned with our shared mission.

Clarify What You Expect of Direct Reports

I get incredibly frustrated when my wife expects something from me, but doesn’t tell me what it is until she’s already upset that I didn’t do it. I do it to her, too! Now in our 13th year of marriage, that happens a lot less often. But it happened a lot in the early days.

When you clarify what you expect of those who report to you, you’re doing your report a huge favor. You’re not micromanaging or oppressing them with expectations. You’re giving them structure and people tend to thrive with clear guidelines.

Your expectations also clarify what you don’t expect of them. For example, they may assume you expect a daily update on project progress when all you really expect is to be in-the-loop at a higher level. Telling them about your expectation frees them up to not have to write up a daily update. Huge relief and time-saver!

My expectations of my team are fairly simple and include things I don’t expect.

I expect you to care about our customers’ success as much as they care about their own success. I expect you to own your area and take full responsibility for it. I expect you to be the domain expert in your area and continually be learning and growing in that space. I expect you to be honest, treat others with respect, be helpful whenever possible, and act with integrity.

I don’t expect you to sacrifice for your job. That means I don’t expect you to work nights and weekends or give up time with family. I don’t expect perfection or agreement.

Clarify What Your Direct Reports Can Expect of You

Finally, it’s incredibly important to make sure your team can know what to expect from you. When you give your team clearly outlined expectations for yourself, you keep yourself accountable and give your team the tools to pushback when you get outside your own guidelines.

This step is a great opportunity to model what you expect of your reports. Most of your own expectations will mirror your expectations of your team. Those expectations that are linked to values, like honesty and integrity, should be part of what your team can expect of you.

Honestly, this is something I’m working to improve. As our team grows, I can see and feel that this is becoming more and more vital for the sanity of my team. New members don’t have the same level of access and interaction with me that team members had when we were smaller. That means I have to be more intentional about communicating expectations for them.

As I grow in this area, here’s how I’ll be communicating what my team can expect of me.

You can expect me to stay focused on our customers and their needs, leading the team to do the same every day. You can expect me to be transparent about the health of the company so you’re not blindsided by bad news or in the dark when things are good. You can expect me to not contact you outside office hours and model the work/life balance we value as a team.

You can expect weekly face-to-face time with me for open discussion about goals, enjoyment, wins, and challenges. You can expect my prompt response to communication and patient support in problem-solving to help you work through challenges you’re facing.

I do believe if you work to clarify expectations on your team that you’ll find that your team is happier working with you and working together, more engaged in the most important facets of your team’s work, and more likely to stick around for a longer time period.

Scott Magdalein

Scott is the founder of ServeHQ and has over a decade of experience as an Executive Pastor, Worship Pastor, and College Pastor. You can chat with him directly using the widget at the bottom of this page.

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