Expectations should be at the forefront in the mind of a group leader, education minister or pastor. Sometimes we need reminding that every person who sets foot in our group—and every person who did not come to group meeting that week—has expectations, too.
After two years as an interim education minister, my wife and I are visiting worship services and Sunday School classes as we search for a new church home. I have noticed two emotions surface as we step into a new class. One emotion is hope. Will I find love and acceptance here? Will I make some new friends in this group? Is this group on mission, and will we really study God’s Word today?
The other emotion is the fear of disappointment. Am I going to be silently rejected instead of accepted? Does this group just meet once a week, but do nothing about fulfilling God’s mission in the neighborhood? Are we going to skim over the Bible study rather than help each other find some practical ways to actually do what the Bible is teaching us? In other words, am I going to go home disappointed—again!
So I’m starting a list of things a person should expect from their Sunday School class or small group.
1. Acceptance. Each person needs to be accepted for who and where they are in life. This is an expectation based on the group’s “feel”, but it can be seen in the group’s prayer request time. Prayer requests that are personal and revealing tell a lot about how accepting the group is of other people.
2. Friendship. I don’t expect to be immediate BFF’s with everyone in the group, but is the potential there for me to make friends. A necessary ingredient for this to happen is “white space.” If the people in the group project how busy they are, then they don’t have time for new friends, which means they don’t have time for me. On the other hand, being asked by people in the group to join them for lunch—big win!!
3. Solid Bible study. Does the group avoid biblical cliches? Is the Bible study presented as a lecture, or is there group discussion? And, are there some practical suggestions given and received about how to apply the Scripture to my life. Better yet—does the group have a Bible reading plan, or do group members obviously study during the week.
4. Ministry. Here is the tell-tale sign of ministry: If I receive a phone call from someone in the group within a week of attending for the first time, the group is probably organized to minister to me when I need them. A second sign: During group time, do I hear them talk about who they ministered to during the week? Hearing the group organize to babysit a group member’s kids while mom is having surgery tells me that the group takes care of each other.
5. Mission. Is this group about themselves, or are they interested in extending the mission of God into their neighborhood? What do I look for? Does the group do projects, or is the group invested missionally in other people? Also, if the group has plans to start a new group, then I know they have an understanding of their mission.
6. Making disciples. I want a group that is going to help me grow in my relationship with Jesus Christ. Does this group challenge each other to take the next step in their journey? But even more basic: could a lost person get saved in this group?
Here are my top six. Feel free to chime in with any thoughts you have.