The High Cost of Low Expectations

By Taryn Phiri November 10, 2016

Here’s my favorite picture of commitment:

A high school senior
meeting for Bible Study
before school at 6:00am

Yes, one of my high school girls gets up early every week to meet with me. I pick her up on Friday mornings at 6:00, and we head towards a coffee shop to spend time studying Scripture together.

Mind you, we didn’t start out this way. This time last year we got together occasionally to hang out or join in various youth group activities, but I knew her schedule was crazy with school and extracurricular activities, and I was afraid of asking too much.

Then one day the Lord gave me a simple but crazy idea for a morning Bible study. When I asked my student to start meeting with me, I was pretty sure she’d say “no”, but to my surprise (and delight!), she got this funny look on her face and said, “ok”. It wasn’t long before we were meeting every week, and her commitment level hasn’t wavered since.

It scares me that my low expectations almost cost me this precious time of ministry. Like I said, I knew she was busy, and I didn’t think it was possible to spend time with her outside of youth group. Simply put, my low expectations were a hindrance to my ministry, and I want to challenge us to look for areas where low expectations could be hindering students’ growth. Like me, maybe you’ve fallen into one or more of these traps:

Dangerous Assumptions
Sometimes we assume that our students are uninterested in growing as disciples and followers of Christ. We take a look at their lifestyle choices or we assess their negative attitudes, and we write them off. While it’s certainly not true of every student, I’ve found that many students are more engaged than we give them credit for. If nothing else, it’s worth giving them the opportunity to join a small group, meet with a mentor, or consider becoming a student leader. Higher expectations encourage us to pursue students on the fringes of our ministries.

Content with Good Enough
Like a parent who is satisfied when their child cleans their room and gets good grades, we’re often times content to see a student show up to youth group most days and make a couple of comments during small group. By settling for “good enough” we can unintentionally limit opportunities for our students to experience more of God; we can send the false message that “good enough” is all there is. For my own student, asking to meet together demonstrated to her that there was more of God to know and understand and that it was worth her time and investment. Higher expectations lead us to give students new ways and opportunities to experience the fullness of God.

False Accountability
All of us want to see students apply Biblical truths to their lives, but most of us tend to say things like, “You should pray more” or “Try to read your Bible this week if you have time.” Vague statements or qualifying statements, like these, don’t provide accountability, and without accountability, students are unlikely to experience lasting growth. When we’re vague, students are more likely to walk away with a general idea than a specific action plan, and when we use qualifying “if” statements, we give students a built in and ready excuse to not follow through. By holding students accountable to specific growth steps, we challenge them to take ownership of their personal growth.

Low expectations won’t take us where we want to go. They will only lead us to make dangerous assumptions, stay content with “good enough”, and perpetuate a culture of false accountability. Instead, let’s pursue seemingly disinterested students. Let’s refuse to let our students settle for less of God, and let’s establish an environment that fosters true challenge and accountability. Raising the bar leads to growth; don’t be afraid to expect more.

About the Author

Taryn Phiri

Taryn Phiri grew up in various states across the East Coast and the Midwest, but now she and her husband, Jerry, are happy to call Glendale Heights, IL their home. After studying International Development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, Taryn served at LeaderTreks for many years as a trip leader and training coordinator….  Read More