killer expectations

photo (16)the other day in houston, i got to choose a car in the rental lot, and this jeep wrangler caught my attention. i used to own a wrangler, back in the day.

driving in the rain down the freeway, last saturday night, a bunch of memories flooded back to me about getting fired from a youth ministry job at a church many, many years ago.

and it all started with a jeep. sort of.

the beginning of the end started when jeannie and i bought a jeep. a week later, i got called into a meeting with three of the elders: the board chair, the vice-chair, and the treasurer. they were seriously ticked. and it quickly become clear that they were ticked i had bought a jeep.

at first, it really seemed to be about the jeep itself. they said it was an irresponsible car for a junior high pastor, and that i was setting a bad image for the teenagers (what?). they said it was clearly a flashy and expensive vehicle (uh, i told them what i’d paid — not expensive). they said the insurance was clearly going to be very expensive, and it was therefore irresponsible (the vice-chair happened to be my insurance agent; i deferred to him, and he sheepishly told the other two that the insurance was very reasonable).

but then the real story came out: you are using your wife’s income to increase your standard of living, and that’s in direct violation of the agreement you made with us. you are deceitful, and a liar. (really, those were their words.)

short story: they didn’t want jeannie to work. with our college debt, that wasn’t an option. they had agreed (when they hired me) to “allow” her to work, as long as her income was used for debt reduction. what can i say? i was young and naive and really wanted the job; and i’d agreed. we were paying off our college debt at break-neck speed (which provided no savings, since college loans weren’t reduced by an expedited pay off). but we’d never understood the deal to be that every penny of jeannie’s income would go to debt.

shorter story: my explanation didn’t matter, and they fired me. they said, “we care about you, and we want to make sure you’re going to be ok, so we’re going to give you two weeks severance pay.” really.

of all the seminars i did over the years at NYWC, one of the favorites for me was the one year the smart and insightful mark riddle and i team-taught a seminar called “the expectations that killed the youth worker.” i remember mark saying that, in his experience, the vast majority of youth workers who lose their jobs do so because of misunderstandings around unspoken expectations. ever since mark said that, i have continually found that to be true. it’s one of the reasons i always coach youth workers to talk about values when they go through a hiring process, and to push hard on both spoken and unspoken expectations. better for everyone to decide that it’s not a good match because expectations don’t line up, than to have to deal with the damage of a bad departure.

if you’re having tension with your senior pastor or supervisor or church board, think about what unspoken expectations might be in play. ask questions about them. it might not be too late to prevent a train wreck. or a jeep wreck.

16 thoughts on “killer expectations”

  1. Wow. This is hitting a nerve with me, and I’m finding myself becoming very angry (with some sudden memories of similar unspoken expectations). It doesn’t put me in a good place mentally, right now, but thanks, Mark, for pointing this out. Definitely good advice.

  2. Great story, put the issue of shared understanding of the “job description” in stark relief.

  3. unspoken expectations, you gotta love em! I’ve been “slapped around by these things” before. Not sure why so many churches have them and then expect Youth leaders to know them. Thanks Marko for always being transparent!

  4. Wish I had seen the presentation that Mark and you put on. I went to a similar session at the NYWC in Pittsburgh 2002 (?). It was taught by Len Evans. That one has always stuck in my mind. Of course, 10 years later and now I’m the team leader/teacher for our youth group, and still an unpaid volunteer. At least my income comes from somewhere else. :)

  5. wow! going through all of the “unspoken expectations lead to firing” thing RIGHT NOW. this wednesday in fact, i get to tell my students and parents that i’m out of the job at the end of March.

    thanks for putting words to this experience.

  6. As a “grown up” youth pastor – now just doing the work a real pastor, I still get the stink-eye when my mud covered Jeep shows up in the church parking lot… Oh, but snowy Sunday mornings are a whole new story… Pastor, we are so glad that you could make it today – 4 wheel drive is a great thing.

  7. This is why I never quit my job to become a paid youth minister. I’m glad I’m a volunteer, all they can do is fire me when I screw up, not take away any of my money.

    I’m seeing this happen now at a former church of mine. They hired a PT youth minister, and now they’re upset that he’s working too much at his “real” job. Go figure.

  8. wow, so much wrong with that moment
    but what a valuable (if painful) lesson
    I was just sharing that in a premarital counseling session…don’t hide an expactation, get it on the table so it can be dealt with

    Jeremy…praying for you…may God carry you this week and especially on Wednesday night. May God’s grace captivate you, your students and your church even in this moment.

  9. Such a great post.
    Concerning the importance of this, I couldn’t agree more!

    In my experience, the vast majority frustration, disillusionment, etc among youth workers….and not just rookies… caused by a lack of mutual understanding of the culture and unwritten “rules” of the church.

    To make it tougher, on the rare occasion that an attempt is made to identify and articulate such unwritten rules…..the church leaders usually can’t. So then the conversation evolves into one of “fit”, which is a valid concern…..until nobody can identify or articulate why said youth worker doesn’t.

    Another problem with unwritten rules and unexpressed expectations is that they are often constantly evolving and usually extremely subjective.

  10. Do you have any statistics or research for the assumption that the majority are fired due to unspoken expectations or is it more anecdotal? I believe it to be true, but was wondering if there was any data.
    Thanks for your ministry to all of us in student/youth/middle school/junior high ministry

  11. David, no, sorry. Just my observation. You could say it’s based on the observational “research” culled from hundreds of conversations and email interactions with youth workers who have lost their jobs or are in conflict with their church leadership.

  12. @pbj, thanks. it’s gonna be tough, but we’ve been blessed with some good friends (new and old) that are supporting us through the process. a lot of that has been from the student ministry world. grateful for that.

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