I was a pastor for 20 years, and we often had a behind-closed-doors debate about how much we were asking of our congregation. Now that I travel across the country and visit churches every week, I see that we have a chronic problem of burdening our people with excessive expectations. The average Joe church member can't possibly do everything you say they should do. Don't believe me? See if this list defines some of your expectations of the Christians who attend your church...
- Attend church service weekly.
- Volunteer during another service
- Attend Bible study or Sunday school or midweek service (whatever brand your church offers).
- Serve in a ministry that helps the poor and needy.
- If you are a leader (and we know who you are), then we'll have a few more meetings to attend, contacts to make, events to organize and teams to rally.
- Attend periodic special events hosted by the church.
- Be a great husband or wife and invest time in your marriage.
- Oh, and make sure you are involved in mens' or womens' ministry.
- Get in a small group and meet regularly.
- If you are a man, you must be in a mens' small group for accountability. Otherwise we know you look at porn.
- If you are married, you probably should also be in a couples group if you care about your spouse.
- Read your Bible every day. Anything less than 30 minutes is probably not enough.
- Be a good citizen. Vote and get involved in your community.
- Give ten percent of every penny that you make. And give to the special offerings. And give to the kids going on the missions trip. And give to the building fund.
- Go on a missions trip. Been on a local trip? Overseas is your next step.
- Invest in relationships in your neighborhood and at your workplace.
- Invite people to church. Every week. The purpose of that, of course, is so you can get them to church so they can do #1 through #16 above.
This list wears me out just reading it...and I spent 20 years as a pastor! Just think what it does to normal people in your church. They keep trying and trying, doing and attending, but then life catches up and they feel like they can't ever keep up with our expectations. They feel deflated.
Because on top of everything we expect, everyone else in their life also has expectations of them. They have sports events to attend and in-laws to keep happy and PTA events to organize. They have complicated family relationships to navigate, second jobs to find so they can put braces on the kids and keep food on the table. And many of them are involved in really good endeavors building into their communities or helping the under-resourced. Now that I’m attending a church, and no longer on staff at a church, this is even more clear to me. It doesn’t matter how much I love Jesus, my family and work responsibilities only allow me a couple hours a week for church-related involvement.
Sometimes I think we need to get a clue. We need a wake-up call. Some people are saying (or thinking), "Hey Church...we're just not that into you. You are teaching us some great things and we are growing in our love of Jesus. But we can't possibly do everything you are asking...give us a break!"
In a culture that is ever more complex and insanely busy, if we really want to help we will find ways to help them integrate a walk with Jesus in the context of their lives. We will ease up on our expectation of attendance and activity--and instead focus on spiritual outcomes. WARNING: This is VERY difficult to do because it is so hard to measure--and church leaders LOVE to measure stuff (me included!).
Have you seen a church that has figured out how to reduce the unrealistic expectations and still make disciples?