Read through a few adventures of Jesus and his disciples and soon you will notice a recurring theme — Jesus prodding his followers to do more: walk by faith, fear not, only believe. Jesus had high expectations for the disciples.
Earn the Right to Set High Expectations
Jesus commanded respect because he modeled the type of behavior and ministry practice he expected from his followers. After healing Peter’s mother-in-law and many sick and demon possessed brought to him later that night, scripture informs us that “In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus dismissed the crowds and went up on a mountain to pray. The twelve, so impressed by Jesus’ prayer life asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). People will only heed the call to high expectations if they see their leaders demonstrate an active faith.
Does Your Church Have a Prayer?
A survey of a mainline denomination revealed some telling statistics. One question asked how important is prayer? While 100% of the churches surveyed said prayer was “extremely important” or “very important,” only 16% of those same churches reported having a process in place to teach people how to pray. Only 8% of those churches employed prayer as an essential part of decision making. And fewer than 10% of the churches reported that they teach children how to pray; it is assumed that children learn to pray at home. What spiritual legacy does your church expect to pass on to its members?
Learn What Teachers Already Know
Educational theory reveals that a teacher’s expectation of students is a huge motivational factor that contributes to scholastic achievement, for good or ill. Put the acronym TESA in your search engine, and you will find tons of information that draws direct correlations between teacher expectation and student achievement. Clearly, both Jesus and educational theorists understand that creating a culture of high expectation provides positive incentive to achieve. With these facts in mind, what does your local church expect?
What Do You Expect From Your Ministry?
In his book Your Church Can Thrive, Harold Percy asks this critical question: “What do we want to see happen as a result of [people] coming within the sphere of influence of our ministry?” In short, what do you expect — from the ministry of the church, from the pastor, and from the members? What process do you have in place to bring about people’s spiritual transformation and development as disciples of Jesus Christ?
Percy suggests that churches compile a top-ten list of topics for discipleship. In his list, he includes such topics as: the good news (What does that mean in clear, practical terms that we can apply to our personal lives?), the purpose of church, how to read the Bible, learning how to pray, and other similar topics. What can people expect to learn and experience in your local church?
I frequently speak about spiritual or ethical wills to underscore Jesus’ imperative in the Great Commission to make disciples and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded — in short, leave a spiritual legacy. While a regular will focuses on how material assets will be distributed to heirs, a spiritual will speaks about spiritual assets that a person wants to pass on to heirs.
Think of the spiritual legacy that Jesus left his disciples: prayer, faith instruction, care for the marginalized, a clear understanding of the kingdom or reign of God. I urge pastors (particularly those in an episcopal system in which they are appointed a year at a time) to write a spiritual will at the beginning of the appointment year. What spiritual legacy will you leave your congregation in a year’s time?
Everything Happens “So That…”
In the book, Bearing Fruit, authors Lovett Weems Jr. and Tom Berlin suggest that every activity or ministry in the local church use a simple sentence format to determine the primary purpose of an activity or ministry. Here’s the sentence: “I will do ________, so that ________ will happen.” The purpose of the “so that” statement is to keep everyone focused on the end, not just the means. If the goal is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, the pastor and congregation would do well to use “so-that” statements. “We design worship, so that________. We offer these activities, so that ______. We focus our time and finances on this, so that ________.” What is the ultimate purpose of the activities and ministries you offer?
Jesus has high expectations for his followers. What expectations does your church have for your members?