Are we expecting enough?

Someone once asked me about church growth.

Well, they asked about why the church wasn’t growing. Of course, what they meant was, why weren’t there more people around? 

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation. So, I gave an answer that I’ve given before. I’m convinced we cap our expectations. We don’t expect a lot from people.

If we can get you to show up Sunday mornings, we don’t want to press our luck. Sure, someone might ask you to sign up for some event. But even if you’re not there, we won’t make a big deal about it.

Now, I’m not suggesting we press every person who walks through our doors into some kind of service. That’s foolish. Actually, there are churches that have done that. And people run away!

The expectation I have in mind is not that you must sign over every bit of your free time for whatever new ministry idea that pops into the pastor’s mind. A lot of that can be busywork.

Plus, people are not ministry pawns.

They are children of God who bear the image of God. Their participation in the church should help them in unearthing, more and more, that image. That’s not to say they don’t have work to do in the church. They do. We all do. That’s why we all have spiritual gifts.

When we give someone the opportunity to discover their spiritual gifts, they’ll want to work. When we show people how to use their spiritual gifts, they won’t settle for busywork!

So, let’s set high expectations for one another. I don’t mean tell people what to do, but remind one another that Jesus calls us all to bear fruit. Setting higher expectations leads to greater discipleship. Have you read the New Testament? It’s full of high-discipleship expectations.

The person I was speaking to responded, “No, there’s got to be something else.”

Please don’t take this to mean that I’m suggesting I hold the keys of church growth in my hands. That I have the perfect answers to all things ministry. I don’t. But I do know the priority of the church needs to be following Jesus.

You can’t have low expectations for what you prioritize.

But, oh, we do try!

In Acts 7, Stephen defends himself against accusations that he spoke blasphemous words against Moses and God. His response is a history lesson. He reminds his listeners of God’s story. Part of his defense includes Moses.

In particular, Stephen recalls Moses on the mountain with God. Remember that? The people got anxious. Before they had said, “Everything the Lord has said we will do” (Exodus 24:3).

But Moses was gone for a few chapters.

As Stephen recalls it, the people were now unwilling to obey Moses. Instead, “they pushed him aside.” They didn’t like his answer anymore. It didn’t fit how they were feeling. So, they turned to Aaron who did what they asked of him.

Much of church growth talk today has to do with leadership. Fine. That’s not totally out of line. But listen to what the people told Aaron to do: “Make gods for us who will lead the way for us.”

God won’t lead us by lowering his expectations of who we’re called to be. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). How’s that for high expectations?

Stay blessed…john

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