Apr. 30, 2009
In the last week or so, I have had several conversations with church leaders in which I began to wonder what they expect of their members. So I asked them. Some were surprised by the question, as if it was not something they had thought much about.
“Well, we expect our people to come to worship,” one person said. “How often?” I asked. “Every week,” some answered; others said “most weeks.” (I didn’t share it at the time, but several of my large church pastor friends say that many of their best leaders during certain periods of the year only attend worship about twice a month because of soccer games, trips to the beach, leaf peeking or snow skiing, or work related travel. “Regular attendance” does seem like a minimum sort of expectation, but even that may be a challenging commitment to persons with lots of weekend options in our secular society.)
“We expect people to give to Christ’s work through the church,” was another answer. “How much?” I asked. “We talk about proportional giving, working up to a tithe,” one pastor answered. “Do you require your leaders to be contributing significantly?” I inquired. Several persons shook their heads, “No.” I related how after serving a while at one church I discovered that two of the members of the finance committee made no financial contributions at all to the church. One congregation I know decided that they expected their leaders either to be tithing or moving toward tithing within three years and even asked them to sign a card each year indicating that they were. To be eligible for the finance committee persons needed to be tithing. Generous giving, they believe, is a matter of spiritual maturity (not financial abundance) and they want their leaders to be the most spiritual mature persons in the congregation.
“So you require your members to attend and give.” I said, “As a member of the Rotary Club for a while they expected more of me than that. Do you expect anything more of the members of the Body of Christ?”
“We expect our members to be part of a small group,” said one person, adding that they place great emphasis on small groups as the arena in which much of their pastoral care and discipling takes place.
“We want our members to be involved in a ministry and a mission,” said one lay leader. “How do ya’ll understand the difference?” I asked. The leader went on to explain that they talk about “ministry” as service in the congregation: teaching, ushering, singing on a praise team, working in the nursery or with the youth, or being on one of the administrative committees. A “mission” was service beyond the church family, essentially, he said, what we have been talking about as “Salty Service.”
One pastor said, “We expect our members to invite persons to church, to share their faith as the Spirit opens up opportunities and to be intentional about cultivating relationships with unchurched persons.” “So your congregation expects its members to participate in the disciple-making mission of the church,” I responded. “Sure, and we help people know how to do this and celebrate it when they do. This is a core value in our congregation.”
Another pastor told me that they expect their members to grow to be more like Jesus. “Jesus said that we are to teach people to obey his teachings. We take this seriously. For example, we talk about handling conflict in a God honoring fashion. The gospel makes it clear that people who follow Jesus don’t gossip, they relate to one another with respect, they are slow to judge and quick to forgive. That’s the way God’s people treat people. So, we practice Matthew 18 when people don’t act like Jesus taught us to act. We do it gently and compassionately, of course, but we do it because that’s who we are.” “So the Body of Christ is to be a different king of community than people normally experience,” I said. “Absolutely,” he responded, “After all, didn’t Jesus say that people will know we are his followers by the love we have one for another?”
As I write this, I remember another conversation I had with a new church pastor some months back who said that he expected his congregation to assume responsibility for their own spiritual growth. He said that many leaders seem to assume that the spiritual growth of people in their congregation is their responsibility. “But, I can’t make anyone grow spiritually. I can provide them with resources. I can teach them what spiritual growth requires of them. I can help them discover and challenge them to keep making the next step in their faith journey. But I can’t do it for them. It’s their responsibility — and I tell them that it is.” He went on to say that no one grows spiritually for long just by coming to worship. “Unless people are spending time daily seeking God’s presence in prayer and His voice in Scripture, and regularly serving God in some fashion, their spiritual growth will stall out.”
So, what does your congregation’s leaders expect of your members? If they lived up to these expectations, would Jesus be honored and his mission advanced?
In our next CT Blog we will talk about raising the bar and communicating expectations. I invite you to share with our readers your thoughts.
Dr. Jeff Stiggins
Office of Congregational Transformation.