C.R. Snyder psychologist of the University of Kansas, made an interesting study of the academic achievements of freshmen students. Results of his study concluded that hope was a better predictor of first-semester grades than were their scores on the SAT. He remarked, “When you compare students of equivalent intellectual aptitude on their academic achievements, what sets them apart is hope.”*
I wonder what lessons the church and Christian leaders can learn from this?
Scripture is full of narratives of hope. The record in Genesis 3 of Adam and Eve’s Fall into sin is really a record of hope. They did not “surely die.” God intervened with the greatest promise of hope: the very first promise of a Woman’s-Seed-Savior.
Jesus’ inaugural sermon was a message of hope. In Nazareth, immediately after His testing in the wilderness, He indicated how the Spirit of the Lord had anointed Him to preach good news, proclaim freedom, release the oppressed and proclaim the year of God’s favor. This is nothing else than a message of pure forgiveness, pure comfort, pure hope. By His actions, teachings, words, miracles, and life, Jesus made it His primary task to proclaim hope to the “poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” “the pure in heart,” et al. So important was this task that He died that we might have the hope that comes out of the grace of His resurrection.
In what ways does this apply to today’s church? In what ways does it apply to God’s church at which you serve?
First, and foremost, it means that you are called to be a minister of hope. It must not be a shallow sort of “positive thinking” theology. Rather, it must be rooted in the dynamics of confession and recognition of sin and a reception of the full undeserved forgiveness of God. Healthy, God-pleasing congregations, are those which best communicate—and live—the Christian hope.
Second, one must realize that not all congregations want hope or are receptive to it. Some, like the congregation at Nazareth, will stop at nothing to literally kill the message and messenger of hope. When this occurs, after multiple good faith efforts, one might have to face the possibility of doing as Jesus did–walk away from the crowd and move on to some other place.
Third, don’t let those who attack hope destroy your hope. Sometimes you will be the only one left with hope. Patience is the best thing during these times. As in the case of Elijah, God always has someone there to help give hope.
A final suggestion I’d make is to take a “Hope Inventory” in your ministry and in your congregation. Ask yourself the question, “In what ways does our ministry currently give hope?” “What activities, though not negative, don’t accentuate ‘hope’?” and “What things can we do in our ministry to make our church a community of hope?”
I believe destructive conflict thrives in the arena of hopelessness. Take out the sword of the Word and start cutting through it with hope—in sermons, music, teaching, discipleship, meetings, etc.
Perhaps if we can reclaim this scriptural model for our churches, we will cut off the food which feeds the hopelessness. Let’s do it! After all, hope IS our calling!
Thomas F. Fischer
* Source: Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1995, p. 86. For further information on the Snyder’s research, see the New York Times, December 24, 1991.