William Shakespeare once said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Others have expressed similar sentiments through quotes like, “Don’t blame people for disappointing you – blame yourself for expecting too much from them.” These quotes seem a bit on the dark side, don’t they?
I believe that expectations can be good things – very good things when it comes to group life. So may I ask, “What do you expect from your group members?” I believe we can, and should, expect three big things from our people. Let’s assume that they won’t disappoint us, and that we won’t end up with heartbreak. Perhaps we could label these three expectations “great expectations”?
- Expect people to prepare. Some churches have free market groups, and others have groups in which the group leader (and/or the group members) self-determine what the weekly studies will be? I favor a different approach in which the church provides personal study guides for every member and guest. When people have curriculum, they can self-feed between Sundays, which leads to better and more engaging conversations during the Bible study time. It also keeps people moving forward on a predetermined discipleship pathway rather than participating in random studies that often have no connection to previous or future studies.
- Expect the group to reproduce. This may be one of the hardest things that groups are asked to do! We invite group members to meet together, share life, study the Bible, serve together, and then, wait for it – split up! I have found that groups don’t like the idea of dividing, but there are alternatives that still get the job done. Group leaders who are recruited with the expectation of multiplying their group by starting a new one are much more agreeable to this important aspect of group life. “Dividing” a group can be very disruptive, making it hard for both groups to prosper, so don’t force it! It isn’t necessary to split a group down the middle. Instead, recruit an apprentice leader and a few core members of the new group to leave and launch a new one. That leaves the former group mostly intact, and both groups typically do well without a lot of upheaval.
- Expect people to leave. It’s true that people leave groups all the time because their schedules change or they move away, but that’s not the kind of leaving I’m talking about. We should expect our group members to one day leave the group to serve in other areas of the church. Adult groups should be clearing houses, not storehouses, of people. It’s a good thing – and a great expectation – that group members don’t see the group as a permanent place for them. Instead, it’s a stopping off point on their journey to be fully devoted followers of Christ. We know that growing disciples serve, so it becomes a joyful occasion when an individual or couple follow God’s leadership and step away from the group to serve another group of people in the church.
Not all expectations lead to heartbreak and disappointment! Bible study groups have at least three expectations that should lead to joy and celebration as people follow the Lord’s will for their lives.