What They Didn’t Tell Me about Transitioning a Church from Low to High Expectations
In whatever church or organization I have served I have always tried to raise the bar. While it usually seems to have been painfully slow for me for those affected by the change it seems that I am moving at the speed of light. For many churches and organizations that have been around for decades and struggled with periods of growth and decline, the process of creating a high expectation culture is difficult. There are three insights I’d share with my friends in ministry as they also attempt to raise the bar and create a new norm for leadership and discipleship in a local church or organization:
1. New (or usually renewed) levels of accountability will be resisted.
2. Its easier to start with high expectations than it is to raise them.
3. Raising the bar always causes rebellion.
I hate accountability, most of us do. Whether it is facing our annual performance review at work, meeting with our small group and revealing that we aren’t spending as much time in prayer and study as we should, or just opening our quarterly giving statement, we resist measures of our faithfulness and accountability for our actions. Somehow it stings even more to realize that Christ has given us freely the gift of eternal life and we are not willing to show our love for him by living out our missional commitments to be faithful with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. When a congregation has gone a significant length of time without a consistent level of accountability, and the bar get lowered, any attempt to raise the bar creates friction. Whether it is raising the bar of tithing, faithful worship attendance, personal spiritual formation, evangelistic engagement, or sacrificial service, these challenges are seen as an insult to their spiritual sensibilities. These “new” levels of accountability are, sometimes fiercely, resisted.
The second insight relates to how it is easier to start with high expectations than it is to raise them. I have actually had potential members shy away from joining the church when I explain that we are really recruiting missionaries, not just seeking “members.” That the covenant relationship we establish with a congregation is one of giving and sacrificing, not one of benefits and receiving. Our vows call us to be faithful in all of our lives, and that to be part of this covenant body requires us to live a life of faithful accountability.
Once low expectations have become the norm, raising the bar of expectations almost always causes rebellion. While those who have been sacrificially faithful all along may applaud raising the bar, push back usually comes from those who have been minimally faithful. The comfort level goes down when the bar goes up. Suddenly it is no longer acceptable to just show up, sacrifice is required and our culture teaches us to rebel against any kind of discomfort or sacrifice.
Nobody ever told me that transitioning an existing congregation from being a low expectation to high expectation organization would be so difficult. I had assumed, in error, that people who claim to want to follow Christ were just waiting to be challenged and to have the bar of faithfulness raised so that they could serve even more effectively and faithfully. What I have discovered is that they want the bar raised for others, as long as they are not personally inconvenienced or caused any discomfort. Once corporate challenge results in personal discomfort push back occurs. Pray for those who lead these transitions to remain prayerfully faithful. I remain:
Consumed by the Call,