Welcome to the new year! I’m going to forego the usual pastoral reflections about making resolutions, keeping resolutions, breaking resolutions, abandoning resolutions, and so forth. Everyone knows that even the hardiest of New Year’s resolutions typically melt away by the end of February. Instead, here at the start of 2018, I’m much more interested in New Year’s expectations—specifically, the expectations we have for one another as fellow members of Providence Baptist Church.
Not too long ago, I came across a pledge of commitment that this church adopted back in 1973. “As members of Providence Baptist Church,” it begins, “we pledge ourselves to”—and I’m paraphrasing here—faith in Christ, regular worship, personal Christian growth, faithful stewardship, joyful witness, and humble servanthood. These are the expectations that, 45 years ago, we set for ourselves as members of this church.
I’m glad we did this. Just about every other organization I can think of is pretty clear about what its membership expectations are. For some, it’s just an expectation that members will pay their dues on time. For others, it’s a whole laundry list of expectations, such as attendance requirements, service hours, and even, in some cases, a dress code. When we join these organizations, we agree to meet these expectations—and to hold our fellow members accountable for doing likewise.
For whatever reason, churches do a particularly poor job of articulating expectations for their members. I can imagine what some of these reasons might be. None of them are very good. In fact, I’m persuaded that, sooner or later, a lack of clear expectations leads to a lack of commitment, a lack of initiative, and a lack of life-giving purpose. All of us want to belong to something that matters—and to spend this one life we’ve been given doing something that matters. The body of Christ is the means by which God has chosen to continue the work of Jesus until He returns. It doesn’t get any more significant than that. There is no higher purpose than the mission that the risen Christ has given to His church: Go, make disciples, baptize new believers, teach the way of Jesus, and live in obedience to His commands (Matthew 28:19-20).
And yet, the message that churches send when they fail to articulate clear expectations for their members is: It doesn’t really matter. What we’re doing here, together, isn’t really significant enough for us to expect any sort of commitment, or to require anything of true value or sacrifice, from one another. When expectations are low, we tend to live down to them. That’s human nature. That’s not, however, what Jesus expects from us. He’s not afraid to set the bar high: “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater things” (John 14:12). Greater things. Jesus expects greater things from us. Seems like we ought not to be afraid to expect the same from one another.
With this in mind, then, I make a point of sharing my expectations for church membership whenever I talk to new and prospective members of Providence. Turns out—I now know—that what I’ve been telling people is an abbreviated version of our 1973 Pledge of Commitment. I’m not surprised: This isn’t rocket science. So, what do I expect from each member of Providence Baptist Church? The same things that you should expect of me—and we should expect from one another. Be here. I expect all members of Providence who are healthy and in town to be here on Sunday morning for worship and Christian education. Give. I expect all members of Providence to support the mission and ministry of the church. Serve. I expect all members of Providence to use their spiritual gifts to serve God through this church, both here on Randolph Road and in the Charlotte community. Live honorably. I expect all members of Providence to live in a way that honors Jesus Christ. None of these expectations are remarkable. They are, really, rather pedestrian, the kind of expectations that shouldn’t raise an eyebrow for anyone who has spent time reading the New Testament book of Acts, in which the earliest Christians established a pattern of faithful discipleship for the rest of us to follow.
As we begin this new year, then, let’s not only be clear about what we expect from one another; let’s expect greater things in 2018. Let’s expect more than what we’ve grown accustomed to as members of this church. It is, I believe, the least we can do.
May the peace of Christ be