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7 Characteristics of Disciplemaking Leaders: #6 – Regular Evaluation

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This post is a continuation of the series Reaching the Missing Generation: Characteristics of Healthy Disciplemaking Ministries outlined here.


“Our values determine our evaluations.”
-Warren W. Wiersbe

As was discussed alongside characteristic #1, the typical church in North America does not gauge effectiveness by the number of disciples being made or even the spiritual depth of present membership. While few admit it, most measure success by the number of people showing up to Sunday morning assemblies or the number involved in church programs.

Please don’t misunderstand: crowds can be good and drawing them to church assemblies can be too, but when simply getting them to show up equals success the bar has been set sinfully low.

We serve a King who regularly ran crowds off. Jesus was less concerned with the number of people listening to Him and more concerned with the number obeying Him – we should be too!

Have you ever done a study of the phrase “in vain” in your Bible?

It shows up between 30 and 40 times depending on translation, and reveals several things that constitute a waste of time and energy.

For instance, in Matthew 15:9 and Mark 7:7, Jesus quoted Isaiah in telling the Pharisees their worship was “in vain” if God didn’t have their hearts – in other words, their heartless worship was a big, futile waste of time that accomplished nothing.

In Acts 4:25, Peter quoted David to remind hearers that plotting against God was done “in vain”. You may plot against God all you want, but no matter – you’re not going to win. Your plotting is a waste of time and energy – it’s done in vain.

In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul reminded the church in Corinth that doing “the work of the Lord” is never a waste of time or “in vain”.

In Galatians 2:2, Paul says the reason he had previously traveled to Jerusalem to check his teaching against that of other apostles was to make sure the time he’d spent preaching up to that point hadn’t been “in vain” – that is, a waste. In the same letter, he flatly told the Galatians that if they chose to accept the false gospel of the Judaizers instead of embracing the true gospel he’d been preaching, then their experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit had been “in vain” – a waste (Galatians 3:4)! Are you seeing a pattern here?

Now for the kicker.

In 1 Corinthians 15:2, Paul informed the Corinthian church that their faith was a waste – “in vain” – if they failed to faithful to the end. Then in both Philippians 2:14-16 and 1 Thessalonians 3:5, Paul says that if those he’d led to Christ did not hold to the faith through to the end, then all of his efforts in working with them had been “in vain”.

Don’t miss this:

Paul believed that his efforts were “in vain” – a waste – if they didn’t result in the making of disciples of Jesus who remained faithful for life!

Is this how success is commonly measured today?

Because what was true for Paul then is true for us now:

If our efforts in the church do not result in people following Jesus for life, then those efforts have been a waste of time.

That was what Paul said – what do you think about that? Apparently “wax fruit” is nothing to be proud of.

If you want to lead an effective disciplemaking ministry, you must evaluate progress consistently and constantly according to biblical criteria. Doing this is the sixth characteristic my research has shown to be common among disciplemaking leaders.

Leadership Characteristic #6 – Biblically-Based, Ongoing Evaluation

The leaders of effective disciplemaking ministries I’ve studied are constantly asking how things are going and how the people in their ministries are doing. There are clear expectations for growth and progress, and the overall ministry is perpetually under a microscope by those leading within it.

Evaluation of the community and how the work is going is an ongoing practice – not something reserved for special occasions. What I’ve learned is that anyone who desires to establish and lead an effective ministry must evaluate often and thoroughly to ensure group health.

Two things are critically important for effective evaluation: 1) consistent standards & expectations, 2) regular checkups & redirection.

It should go without needing to be said, but the Bible is the source for standards and expectations regarding healthy ministries. It’s very important to have expectations understood by everyone involved because that ensures you’re all working toward the same goal and energy isn’t scattered. When standards are unclear, nobody knows what they should be working to achieve. You can’t tell if you’re making progress when nobody knows what progress looks like. Having set expectations and goals clears up that confusion.

It’s also important to regularly check progress as to how you’re doing in achieving those goals. The point of this is to address weaknesses and make fixes as necessary. If something is getting in the way of progress be it a bad habit, attitude, sin – whatever – steps can be taken to remedy that. The point of evaluation is to identify problems so they can be fixed.

For disciplemaking leaders, the Great Commission is the goal.

Under characteristic #1 I briefly discussed how the Great Commission can be used to evaluate ministerial effectiveness in terms of making disciples. I’ll revisit that a bit more thoroughly here as I believe it’s the best scripture to provide a consistent standard for ministerial evaluation that everyone understands. Also, when our goal is to carry out the Great Commission and make disciples who are faithful for life, we ensure that our work on earth is not “in vain”

The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:18-20.

Matthew 28:18-20
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The only command in this passage is the imperative to “make disciples” (review what that means under characteristic #1). How is that done to be done? Jesus answers that question for us in the passage – by going, baptizing, and teaching them to obey everything.

Here’s how the concepts of going, baptizing, and teaching to obey everything can further break down into evaluation questions.

“Going” or “As you are going”

  • How is our outreach to new people going?
  • How are we doing at taking advantage of opportunities to connect with people?
  • How are we doing at following up with new contacts?
  • What events do we have planned to make new connections?
  • How did our last event go in terms of leading to new relationships?
  • How are we doing at being real friends to new people (beyond just being friendly)?

The concept of “going” is all about making new connections and build new relationships that go beyond surface-level engagement. The hope is these new relationships will eventually lead to Bible studies that result in the baptisms of committed believers.

“Baptizing”

  • How many of our new friends are we studying the Bible with?
  • How are existing studies going?
  • What hurdles do we need to help people overcome or questions do we need to answer?
  • Who do we need to equip to begin performing studies themselves?
  • What kind of training or resources do we need to provide to assist with evangelistic studies?
  • (Before baptizing) Is this person ready to give up everything to follow Jesus? Do they understand fully what they’re doing?

When we get to the point of baptizing someone it’s assumed the gospel has been shared, they’ve been challenged to repent, and they’ve made the decision to fully give their lives to God. Leading evangelistic studies effectively is a crucial part of the disciplemaking process.

In our ministry we provide training in this area for every person who joins our church. Evangelistic studies are always performed two to one, meaning the person leading the study has someone with them taking notes who is being trained to someday lead studies themselves. Leaders should be intentional in not only studying the Bible with new people, but also training others to do the same. You can access the outlines we use for our evangelistic studies here along with video tutorials teaching you how to use them here.

Baptism should be presented as what it is – the first step in a person’s dying to self, surrendering to Christ and starting their journey toward becoming like Jesus (Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21). Now it’s time for the real work to begin – that forms the final piece to Christ’s Great Commission.

“Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded”

  • How are we doing at loving God and loving one another?
  • How are we doing at holding to the teachings of Jesus?
  • How are we doing at manifesting the fruit of the Spirit and making disciples?
  • Who is growing and who isn’t?
  • For those not growing, what could be wrong and what can we do to help?

In the last part of the Great Commission Jesus speaks in broad terms – “teach them to obey everything.” Jesus said this intentionally as He means for this to be a lifelong pursuit for every disciple.

To live with Jesus as your Lord honoring Him in thought and action is the Christian life. While we’ll never achieve perfection this side of heaven, it’s important all of us strive for growth not using our inability to perform perfectly as an excuse to justify spiritual laziness.

The truth is this is how Jesus is going to judge us in the end – “How did you live your life?” (John 5:29; 2 Corinthians 5:10;  Revelation 20:12). We’d do well to begin asking apt questions now instead of later, and teaching our people to do the same.

All in all, using the Great Commission as your metric for evaluation provides a consistency of expectation in evaluation needed for progress to be measured and ensures that we’re doing work that matters.

When you judge effectiveness through the lens of the Great Commission, expectations remain biblically based and there’s a “flow” where progress with people equals making disciples.

Filtering expectations through the Great Commission doesn’t allow you to be content asking “How many are showing up on Sundays?” and leaving it there. Disciplemaking is the goal and expectations are clear, but having clear expectations by themselves are not enough.

To ensure health, you not only need consistent, biblical expectations everyone understands – you also need to evaluate regularly and address weaknesses as they are found.

The truth is evaluation is useless if it doesn’t 1) occur regularly or 2) result in healthy change.

A lot of churches do annual reviews once a year as their primary means of checking ministry progress. While that’s better than nothing at all, if an annual checkup is all you set time aside for you’re grossly underestimating the importance of constancy in checking progress and also missing opportunities to spur your community on toward optimum health.

Some evaluate more often but their checkups don’t often result in any major changes. Remember, the point of evaluation is to identify and address weaknesses in your ministry. If little is done to fix things that are wrong you’re missing the point of progress reports and wasting everyone’s time.

Weekly or bi-weekly leadership meetings are recommended.

At my church nearly every ministry leader has a standing appointment for a weekly or bi-weekly meeting with other leaders in their ministry. In these meetings we discuss how things are going, identify weakness, and deal with problems or situations where assistance or advice is needed.

Most all of us understand the expectations we have in measuring effectiveness, and those who don’t or are newer learn quickly.

Problems are identified and addressed. Programs, methods or structures found to be unhelpful or ineffective are tweaked or done away with completely.

To be clear, none of the ministries that practice consistent evaluation are perfect.

The phrase “perfect church” is an oxymoron – there’s no such thing – but there is a such thing as a healthy church  in spite of imperfection.

The truth is weakness of some kind will always be present. As soon as you solve one problem another will pop up that needs to be addressed, but that’s how a healthy church functions.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years of studying effective disciplemaking ministries, it’s that healthy ministries don’t happen by accident. Intentional, skillful work takes place behind the scenes in order to make one that way.

A major part of that work involves regularly evaluation according to biblical standards coupled with consistent problem solving – this is the path to health.

Intentional time and effort is required for effective evaluation, but faithfulness in this area ensures your energies aren’t spent in vain.

 

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