Chapter 1. People Are Underchallenged

People Are Underchallenged

The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it
is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the
American people, but what I intend to ask of them.

—John F. Kennedy

This may sound backward from conventional thinking, but I can assure you it's true: most church leaders do not expect enough of their people.

Are we guilty of overworking some? Probably so. And we should be serious about fixing that. But are many, many more of them going underutilized? Are they suffering spiritually from not being engaged in active areas of service and ministry? The answer is absolutely yes.

If you want a church filled with enthused, motivated, and productive members, don't dumb down your expectations of them. Don't lower the standard. Don't follow in the leadership mold of most church leaders, who allow their people just to sit there and leave and remain underchallenged.

I believe the unspoken heart's cry of every born-again believer who is genuinely walking with God is this: to be more like Him and to be more for Him than they ever thought they could be. And yet churches have largely become places where the average member, like an engine throttled down with governors, is confined to running at comfortable, contained, and managed speeds. No one typically asks or expects any more of them.

Great leaders are those who will not accept complacency or mediocrity from indifferent people—those who are lying dormant, selling themselves short, squandering their ability to be more than they thought they could be. What they need from their leaders is the encouragement and opportunity to make tracks in the lane of ministry God has given them, going and blowing full throttle.

So why don't we lead like this?

One reason, quite honestly, is that leaders don't always have a clear vision for the church and its people—perhaps not even a vision for themselves. We cannot challenge others to embrace a mission we don't personally possess and embody. People under the lordship of Christ will always be our greatest resource for accomplishing God's kingdom priorities and activities. But we will be hesitant to ask and unsure what to expect of them if we don't know where God wants us to go.

A second, even worse reason for asking little of others is the leader's self-centeredness. When we get too entangled with our own ego, we cannot see the value in others. We become afraid to empower them. Maybe we don't think anyone can do it as good as we can—can't do it to suit us. Or maybe (if we're being honest) we just don't want to share the spotlight with anyone. Their involvement, though perhaps culminating in a better result, might dim our recognition and steal some of our glory. No leader wants to admit this, but if it's true, it's limiting your effectiveness.

As God speaks into our lives, as we receive vision from Him, and as we share that vision with our people, they will receive it, will accept the challenge, and will be changed forever. Don't expect any less!

There are people in our congregations who love Christ and want to do great things for Him. Great things! Yet all we ever ask them to do is pass an offering plate or hand out bulletins. I'm not making light of any of these functions. They are important and contribute to our service to God and to others. But people are underchallenged. They have a passion in their hearts to do more, to be more, to be an active part of something purposeful and significant. As leaders, it is our responsibility to inspire and excite them about the possibilities that exist. When we do this, many will step up and accept the challenge faithfully.

At one time our church was conducting three morning services: 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00. As we began thinking about and planning the logistics for that earliest service, we realized that pulling off the music was going to be a challenge. In order for the music team to be ready for an 8:00 service, it would mean being there ready to rehearse by 7:00—not everybody's favorite time to be awake, much less singing in your church clothes on a Sunday morning, especially when you're expected to do it again twice more before afternoon.

But what if we could capture a vision for the early service and create an opportunity for others to take leadership in our music ministry? What if we could show them the key role they could play in our church's life, worship, and witness?

Enter the student choir and orchestra. Eager for the chance to sing and play on a regular basis for the entire church body, they excitedly took on the challenge. We were asking a lot. Sunday at 7:00 a.m. is even earlier for teenagers and young adults. This was going to require a real commitment of time and reliability. But as a result, not only was the music in our early service provided capably and with spiritual energy, our student program grew and improved with the added responsibility given to them.

Church leaders must empower the entrusted if our people are ever to reach their God-given potential, both personally and corporately. We must help them see the benefits that naturally occur when leadership and participation become everyone's responsibility. That's why the wisest leaders recognize the needs and motivations of their fellow servants, and consider this an essential component of one's leadership résumé. Understanding other people's abilities and dreams enables the leader to develop more leaders, producing a richer, more vibrant, and more satisfied and effective ministry team.

The voices of complacency and sameness say, “If you ask more of people, expect to get pushed back.” The truth is, challenging people to greater things will lead to the best days you've ever known.

Everyone desires to be on a winning team. It's our responsibility as leaders to help them see that what they're doing is significant and making a difference—a big difference—both in their lives and in others, as well as for God's glory.

So raise the bar. Set the standard high. Let people realize how important their work is. Stop underchallenging them from fear that they'll revolt and tell you no. Start expecting more, and watch what God will do in their lives.