Do Your Leaders Know The Expectations?

I am often asked about expectations for Bible study leaders in churches. While I am addressing expectations of volunteer leaders in churches, the principles apply to any organization or role where you are seeking to maximize effectiveness. The Apostle Paul wrote out expectations for deacons and pastors in 1 Timothy 3.  He proposed that there were minimum standards of conduct and character that should be expected of key church leaders.  The office of the small group leader or the Sunday School teacher were not part of the church landscape at that point in history.  However, the principle of standards for key church leaders was established and still applies today.

Which of the following scenarios is most likely to provide the best quality of leadership and the best results?  In the first instance, a nominating committee or staff member enlists a teacher to lead a group and provides them with the date, place, and information about the group with little or no additional orientation or training.  In the second instance, a leader directly enlists someone to serve under his or her leadership providing a basic list of expectations including a commitment to participate in an orientation session and regular training throughout the year.  Assuming that both prospective teachers accept the invitation, who do you suppose will be most effective?  You may think that it is harder to enlist a leader if you establish expectations.  In the short term it can be difficult, but in the long term the culture adjusts and the results are greater. Having expectations of Bible study leaders is “no big deal” in churches that have been doing so over a period of time.

How do you introduce and implement expectations if Bible study leaders have been enlisted without written standards in the past?  Begin by enlisting a team to develop written ministry descriptions for Bible study leaders.  Be sure to include training expectations in the descriptions, but do not construct a list containing too many points.  Identify minimal expectations with a list of five or six points at the most.  These can be expanded in later years as expectations are raised.  Once completed, present these to the leaders as general guidelines.  The leaders do not need to sign these at this point.  Give these guidelines to future leaders upon enlistment from this point forward.  Transition the heading for the general guidelines to leadership commitments the following year.  The leaders make a verbal commitment to serve by these standards as they are enlisted.  In later years you may choose to transition from leadership commitment to leadership covenants where leaders sign a commitment to serve by the written standards.  At this point the leaders are absolutely committed to participate in the equipping plan as proposed in the covenant.

The level of comfort varies from church to church in relation to how far to go in implementation of commitments and covenants.  Having no written guidelines or descriptions is a recipe for low expectations and low results.  Implement the general guidelines at a minimum.  .

Implementing expectations is a challenge.  Thom Rainer made the following observation in his study of effective churches.  He notes: “In our interviews with the leaders of the higher-assimilation churches, we asked if their moving of Bible study groups to become high-expectation organizations had caused any problems.  Their answers were an unequivocal ‘yes.’  Some teachers and leaders refused to agree to stricter requirements and dropped out of ministry and service.  Others resisted, implying that high-expectations hinted of legalism.  Never did we hear that the expectation issue was addressed with ease.  But in virtually every case, the pastor or staff member told us that the pain was worth the gains realized.”

Two more notes that I want to place on the table at this point.  The first is to those of you who are Bible study teachers.  Please do not resist the implementation of standards when suggested by your leaders.  It is not an insult to you but an effort to insure better quality of leadership in the future.  It is certainly acceptable to work with your leaders to determine reasonable standards, but to suggest that there should be none at all is a detriment to the church and ministry that you love.  The other note is to pastors and leaders.  Seek God’s wisdom in the pace of implementation.  You will have a catastrophe if you try to move from no expectations to signed covenants in thirty days.  Take it one step at a time.  Move forward, but do not move too fast.  This is another way to maximize your leadership.

This blog was adapted from p. 99-101 of my book, Sunday School That Really Works.