Dealing with Unfair Expectations As A Youth Worker

Stephanie Caro
April 28th, 2020

“They want me to do what?! Can you believe it?! I did not sign up for this!”

Spend any time on staff at a church, and I bet you make some form of this declaration as well. Every job, inside and outside of ministry, leads to unfair expectations or demands because . . . well . . .  we’re human, and we all make mistakes. The “I blew it” arena includes bosses/pastors, employees/staff, executives/deacons, etc. At some point we say, do, and demand the wrong thing for and from people we work with. It’s a normal part of the work-life existence.

The messy comes when normal slides into abnormal. Unfair expectations are not black and white. Instead, they’re on a sliding scale where, after a certain point, the expectation becomes too unfair and something has to change. When we navigate a job inequality, feelings get hurt, hurtful things can get said, and politics can set precedents.

It can be hard to distinguish fair from unfair or acceptable from unacceptable when you’re on the inside. I’m thinking unfair looks a little like this:

  • When your schedule doesn’t allow you to have a life (“Being out of the house four nights a week is part of your job.”).
  • When workaholic is a celebrated character trait (“You’re in ministry—working a 60+ hour week is part of the deal, right?”).
  • When church leadership has unwritten rules for measuring your job performance (“We’ve just always done it this way—it’s not written down anywhere.”).
  • When leaders/bosses have varying sets of rules for measuring your job performance (“I’m the pastor. I don’t care what the board told you—you’ll do it my way.”).
  • When you’re expected to do things that cause physical unhealthiness (“So what’s an 18-hour day a few times a month/week?”).
  • When what you’re asked to do is unethical (“We don’t really follow the Safe Sanctuary policy here—it would make our members mad.”).
  • When too much of your own money is needed to run your ministry (“Yeah, we really don’t have the budget to reimburse you for gas money when driving your own car on the youth mission trip.”).

So how do you avoid unfair expectations? I think we can carve the answer up three ways: Before you take the job, Already on the job, and It is what it is.

Before you take the job

[bctt tweet=”You have as much right to interview the church as they have to interview you.” username=”ys_scoop”]

Ask questions and read the job description carefully. Ask to see the employee handbook, and then ask lots of questions. If these items don’t exist or aren’t current? It doesn’t count the church out, but that should be a red flag.

Already on the job

If something comes your way that seems unfair, you have to consider two things. First, consider if this is a hill worth dying on. In other words, is this unfairness something that doesn’t happen often and maybe you should just do it this once? Second, if this is an ongoing took-an-inch-but-now-taking-a-yard occurrence, follow the protocol in place. If no such process exists, create one. Ask to meet with your direct supervisor. Write out your concerns (Write them well. Make sure there are no typos, because others will see this—count on it.). Make a copy for you and a copy for your supervisor. Go in with a professional, non-anxious attitude. Get defensive or cocky and you’ve lost.

It is what it is

I just had this conversation with a long-time veteran in youth ministry. He loves his job, but there’s this one thing that drives him crazy, and it doesn’t look as if it’s going to change any time soon. Together we weighed all the options, and when it came down to it, the good outweighed the bad. The ministry is blessed, and the paycheck is worth it, so he’s chalking it up to it is what it is. To keep himself healthy, he’s going to determine a few it’s-getting-worse markers so that he’s got a plan in place to keep himself out of a slippery job slope.

I’m a fan of working out any possible kinks before I take a church position. It avoids heartache and hurtful words later on. What seems unfair to you might not seem unfair to someone else. Let them have that job. It might just be an indication that God is saying, “This isn’t the ministry position I have in mind for you.”

Stephanie Caro

Stephanie Caro has been involved in ministry for more than thirty years. She’s the author of Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches and 99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker. She’s senior consultant for Ministry Architects and lives in Houston with her hubby and puppy.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.