The Best Measure

What’s the best measure of effective ministry? What do we look for if we want to figure out whether effective ministry is happening or not?

Our first tendency is to look at the numbers. The bigger the numbers, the higher the effectiveness. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If I take over leadership of a church that has 100 in attendance and after a year there are 200 in attendance, I must be an effective leader, right? Or if I were a youth pastor and all my events were full of excited youth, surely it is a sign of effectiveness. These signs of effectiveness sure look attractive to me. But is my attraction to these bare signs of effectiveness right?

Suppose I am on a road trip. I manage to drive 650 miles a day. Have I been effective? Well, the numbers are there. High mileage, long hours, lots of gas burned. If my purpose is simply to stay on the road, then it looks like I’m being effective. But what if my purpose isn’t merely to be on the road but to arrive at a particular location? If I begin in Houston and intend to drive to Fort Worth and in the course of my journey drive 650 miles a day for a week and end up in Toronto, I may be busy, but I am anything but effective.

Back in my days of doing youth ministry I yearned for the big, exciting youth groups I saw other youth leaders creating. Part of it was that I really wanted to reach people for Christ. My desire for personal glory was also a part of it. I am blessed with a low-key personality that doesn’t lend itself to the extravagant excitement of some ministries. Since our numbers never got much higher than the mid 20s, how could I have ever accounted myself “effective?” Well, it depends on how and what you measure.

Early in my work in youth ministry (and carried over into later ministry roles) I decided that the best measure of effectiveness would be to see how my people were walking with Christ five years down the road. If I had hundreds brimming with excitement at one point and yet all had fallen by the wayside in five years, that’s not effectiveness.

Our main activities in my youth ministry years were bible study and prayer. I take joy in the fact that many of those youth are now, fifteen years later, still walking with Christ, several even in ministry of some sort.

When we think looking at numbers is the best way to measure effectiveness, we can come to the logical conclusion that the one we claim to follow was much less effective than we are. Just look at Jesus – at several points he had huge crowds following him. Sometimes they were so enthusiastic about him they were ready to make him king, then and there. But with his prickly, demanding personality, he managed repeatedly to run off the crowds, leaving only twelve shaky guys and a few women. I’m better than Jesus, aren’t I? I’ve never managed to run off so many people. I’ve never been so troublesome as to inspire the people around me to react in murderous hatred.

But what if numbers are only of intermediate value? Go back to my trip from Houston to Fort Worth. If I drive only 15 miles, I’ve missed my goal. But if I drive 280 miles (you can drive 280 miles from someplace in Houston and reach someplace in Fort Worth) but end up far from Fort Worth, I’ve also missed my goal.

Jesus was about what we call “life change.” He was out to seek and to save the lost. Sure he scattered his seed recklessly. Sometimes even the stony ground looked full of life. But it didn’t last there.

As I lead my church I’m looking for life change. Numbers are great, but they are easily deceptive. Having beautiful, useful, and well maintained buildings and grounds are useful. But they’re not the point. Making the budget without strain and paying our apportionments with ease would be nice, but if there’s no life change, we’re missing the point.

I want to see people fall in love with Jesus to such a degree that their relationship with Jesus becomes the center of their lives. I want to see people devoting their lives to Jesus’ kingdom and its purposes. I want to see people taking up Jesus’ mission as their own.

I don’t want people to only take up a Jesus life for a single instance. But if they never do it for a single instance, they’ll never do it for multiple instances. I want to see people take the first step – and then the next step and the next – with Jesus.

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