North Point’s first “Practice for Effective Ministry” is to Clarify the Win. As sports fans, they think of sports metaphors. In this case their primary imagery comes from baseball. In baseball it’s easy to tell if you’re winning: Do you have more runs than the other team? While recognizing that the church is a more complex enterprise than a sport, they remain convinced that being able to discern a win is essential to making progress (to winning, we might say).
If we don’t like the idea of “winning” at church, how can restate the principle? How about this: When we set out to do something, how do we know that we have accomplished the thing we set out to do? Put this way, two questions will constantly come to mind: What are we trying to do? How are we going to do it?
Perhaps we are disinclined to want to apply this much analysis to what we do in church. After all, church is all about faith and love. On the other hand, when Scripture talks about loving God, it includes loving God with “all our mind.” Could it be that part of loving God with our minds includes thinking about what we’re doing & how we do it?
In the typical traditional church, one decides what to do by looking at what one has always done. If we follow that scheme, then a “win” is simply doing what we’ve done in the past. From what I see, especially in the area of Christian education, that method doesn’t work and its not working is having disastrous consequences for the church.
I am intentional in speaking of Christian education, not worship. In worship our aim is to honor God. I suppose that one could have a “win” in worship, but God is the only one in a position to identify the “win.” Of course if instead of worship we mean a “worship service,” in which our object is not the honoring of God but the education of the people, that’s a different matter. Since my preaching is communication directed at people, it is conceivable that one could define a “win”in preaching, though in my experience some of my “non-wins” have been used by God to bless people.
In Christian education, however, our goal is to influence people. We can often identify whether any given attempt at influence has worked. Again, this is difficult since people are complex and the notion of influence itself is complex. [I’m sure the NPCC people would hate me. They like to make everything simple and everywhere I look I see complexity.] People don’t always let on that they’re being influenced, sometimes because they’re hiding it, sometimes because they don’t yet have the self-understanding or vocabulary to discern it.
Do you get the idea why so many preachers and churches settle for measuring numbers? It’s so much simpler that way! Just count the noses – people are either there or they aren’t.
In spite of the complexity, we need to “clarify the win” for two reasons. The first reason is morale. Ministry is hard work. The biggest reward for ministry is seeing lives changed. If what we’re doing is not, as far as we can tell, leading to changed lives, then we might think we need to change course. For example, if my youth ministry is centered on teaching kids to juggle in hopes they might learn more about Jesus, I might be able to figure out whether I’m “winning” or not. If no kids are involved in juggling for Christ, I’m not winning. If the Jugglers for Christ are not coming to faith and growing in it, I’m not winning. If “coming to Christ” and “growing in Him” are too complex and mysterious to discern, and in the majority of cases cannot be humanly discerned at all, then I’ll likely be depressed all the time.
A second reason to “clarify the win” is that the “wins” we’re clarifying are truly good for the people involved and for the church as a whole. If I continually pour my heart into an after-school ministry with an objective of helping children come to Jesus, and all they do is run wild and try to kill each other, I am missing out on the fulfillment of an important objective. Surely I will need to find some other activity to use my resources (time, money, personnel) on to achieve my purposes. Perhaps we can see this as the rough equivalent of what Jesus described as “shaking the dust off our feet.” We each have a finite amount of resources. We cannot do everything. As good stewards it seems wise to identify (1) what we ought to do, and, (2) how we ought to do it, to (3) achieve our mission.
Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations.” If all around us churches are shrinking – in both membership and attendance – while the surrounding population is growing, then surely our making of disciples is less than optimal. “We’re going for quality, not quantity,” some might say. Demeaning quantity sounds pretty spiritual – and we all want quality. But is a faith that fails to reproduce itself best described as “quality” or “sterility?” The discipleship Jesus instigated was more than an internal change; it impelled people outward in to a dangerous world. Those early disciples seemed rather interested in quantity also. Check out the numbers in Book of Acts sometime. “3000 were added to the church,” “People were added daily.” These weren’t numbers for numbers sake – they were counting actual people becoming followers of Jesus. As far as I can tell, the growth of the church in those days wasn’t just something the disciples thought up on their own. It was Spirit-inspired from beginning to end
I see here the practice “clarifying the win” – whether we call it that or the more verbose and less picturesque (though perhaps less offensive to our sensibilities), “figuring out whether we have actually done the thing we set out to do” – is a rational process, though not entirely rational. We’ll begin in prayer, end in prayer, and bathe the whole enterprise in prayer. We’ll recognize that in our actions to influence people toward Christ we’ll be partnering with God. His agency is primary, ours secondary. In some places being secondary might not count for much, but because God loves us enough to invite us to join in what He’s doing, our action can make an eternal difference in someone’s life.