I recently joined 15 First Winter Park short-term missioners on a trip to Kenya. I'd say it might well have been life changing, if it weren't a bit early yet to declare and if it didn't sound so cliché.
Bob Bushong and I had the privilege of facilitating three days of classes with about 45 pastors. It was truly an amazingly experience. Few of the pastors receive any financial compensation for leading their congregations. They do whatever they have to do to keep food on the table for their families and still have as much time as possible for ministry. Their commitment and sacrifice, their passion and faith are more than I could imagine and quite humbling.
Something else was amazing: every pastor that I spoke with said that their congregation was growing. They all just expected it and seemed bewildered to hear that that wasn't the case with most congregations in the United States. To be sure, the context is way different than it is here in America. The church in Africa is estimated to be expanding at between 20,000 and 25,000 people a day! In public surveys in Kenya, when people are asked who they trust most to help their community, the church comes in at the top. How is that for evidence of God's amazing power!? The pastors genuinely seemed to expect their congregations to reach new people and to make a Kingdom difference in their community.
A couple months ago I heard Dr. Scott Todd of Compassion International (http://www.live58.org/home/#/fast-living) speak about the greatest challenge to ending extreme poverty. He believes the end of extreme poverty is in sight and can happen within the lifetime of this generation -- if our shackles of low expectations can be caste off. When he speaks, he often asks his audience whether they expect extreme poverty to be ended. The overwhelming answer among American Christians, after a bit of hemming and hawing, is almost always, "No, not really."
In his recent book, Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty, Dr. Todd writes:
Expectations are not the same as hopes. They are hopes injected with confidence. Expectations also differ from possibilities. Possibilities are imaginable, perhaps even realistic scenarios of the future. Expectations, on the other hand, are probable, seemingly inevitable scenarios for our future. Expectations provide a scaffold for our decision making, and we gamble on them every day because you can't expect what you don't believe possible. . . . There is a difference between working toward ending poverty and believing it is possible. And there is a difference between believing it is possible and expecting it to happen.
Dr. Todd is of course talking about ending extreme poverty (and I will return to this in a future blog post) but just now I'd like to invite us to think about our expectations as church leaders regarding the missional effectiveness our congregations’ ministries. There are congregations of all sizes in every district across our conference that are growing and creatively impacting their communities for Christ. What is happening in Africa can happen here and is happening here -- though it is certainly not our norm. So I asked myself, "What are my expectations for the congregations with which I work?"
Surely we believe that we should be reaching new people for Christ, helping them grow in Christ and encouraging them to join Christ in ministry to others. Surely we want our congregations to be missionally effective. Surely we are working for this to happen. But do we, do I, expect our congregations to fulfill Christ's plans for faithful and fruitful ministry? And what difference might it make if I did?
Those African pastors certainly expect their congregations to grow -- couldn't imagine otherwise. And it wasn't that they have great confidence in their own abilities. They have great confidence in Christ's ability to work through them. It changed how they did ministry. Their high expectations shaped their choices and actions and passion. As Dr. Todd wrote, "High expectations innovate. High expectations persevere. High expectations don't quit until they're satisfied."
Lord, you have blessed me with opportunities and resources which too often I take for granted and even imagine I deserve. I have thought myself well off, but recognize in the humble example of my brothers and sisters in Africa how impoverished of spirit I have been. Forgive me, Lord, and help me to have high expectations for the ways you can help me use the resources placed at my disposal to be a blessing to others in your name. May your Spirit guide me in making the Kingdom contribution you have planned for me to make. Amen.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence