Beware of unspoken expectations.

There are lots of gems for pioneer leaders and church planters in Dave Male’s book, Church Unplugged. Dave Male is the former leader and planter of the The Net church in Huddersfield but he manages to write the book without ever describing the exact nature of their meetings and groups. Instead he goes through ten ‘essentials’ to church which can be applied to any situation, many of which are mentioned elsewhere. Other authors have spoken about the importance of vision, values, listening, community, evangelism and discipleship but this is the first book I’ve come across which deals with the topic of expectations.

Before my wife and I were married and I was plucking up the courage to ask her out, we had a conversation (at her instigation, I should add). We had just spent a lovely evening with excellent Chinese food followed by desert at Oxford’s own ice cream shop – G&Ds – and we were walking back to the car when I decided that this was the moment to ask if she’s enjoyed the evening and if she’d like us to become a couple. I was expecting a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response, and hoping for the ‘yes’. Instead, she responded with a question – “What are your expectations?” At the time the question threw me a little but with hindsight it was an excellent question to ask. She wanted to make sure we were both on the same page and both wanted to head for the same thing before starting the relationship.

Everyone has expectations. Male says that they are like icebergs, and unless they are addressed the bulk of them will remain hidden under the surface waiting to hijack the church. In a new church, many people’s expectations of growth will be sky high – it is often the vision that draws people to be a part of the new venture and it is right to have the expectation to grow. But often the pace of actual growth doesn’t meet up to the initial aims and people can get discouraged because their expectations are not met. Others will join the new church with set ideas about what sort of worship is best, based on what their old church was like (or what it should have been like). There are also expectations in the area of community with everyone wanting the perfect God-centred groups (as described in six verses at the end of Acts 2). Again, once the reality sets in that any community this side of the new creation is made up of broken and sinful people, the hopes can be dashed. (It is worth noting how much of the New Testament is about keeping communities working together properly!)

Unrealised expectations can easily derail a church. Dave Male’s advice is to get them out in the open early on, expect that some things you do will fail as the church tries to form the right ministries for the area and discerns the way forward from God. I am always struck by how little failure is tolerated when trying new things in the church sphere. In truth, we learn more from our failures than our successes. In the business world, the company usually puts the mistake behind them, learns and moves on.

To leaders, he also reminds us that we are not going to be liked by everyone all the time – this is an often unrealised expectation that can also pull the church away from the vision.

This was a valuable chapter in a useful book. I shall definitely be talking about expectations when I start meeting with the core team.

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