by Rick Cruse
During a home ministry assignment several years ago, it was my privilege to mow a friend’s “postage stamp-sized” lawn. After finishing, I experienced an incredible sense of joy and accomplishment.
During a home ministry assignment several years ago, it was my privilege to mow a friend’s “postage stamp-sized” lawn. After finishing, I experienced an incredible sense of joy and accomplishment. Surprised by how much I enjoyed it, I realized that the simple process of identifying a need, initiating a response, and successfully completing the entire task was an experience I had not had for a long time. Simply stated, I had been effective, and it felt good.
In missions (as in local church ministry), much of what we do is “spiritual.” Almost by definition, it proves difficult to know when we have done well, when we have done enough, when we have really finished a task. When have enough people come to Christ? When are believers mature enough? When are the leaders adequately trained? And what about our colleagues who labor faithfully in less responsive or nonresponsive areas? How do they measure effectiveness and success?
This dilemma can lead to confusion, frustration, and, sometimes, disillusionment. What are the right measuring sticks for determining effectiveness and fruitfulness in such a calling as missions?
Whether we work with faith goals or with measurable objectives, I believe we need to be especially clear and biblical in how we ultimately assess missionary effectiveness. We, the missionaries, agencies, and boards; the sponsoring, sending, and supporting churches; and the sacrificially giving believers must exercise great caution. I fear the apparent paradigm shift which places supreme value in getting the most return for your missionary dollar, or, as it is more crassly stated, “getting the most ministry bang for your missionary buck.” This can put significant and, at times, inappropriate pressure on the missionary to “produce” in terms more suitable to a corporate venture than to a spiritual undertaking.
At the end of the year, most mission agencies prepare yearend reports: for boards of directors, for the IRS, for their constituents, for their own internal consumption. Many of these reports demonstrate our “success” (or lack thereof) in reaching our stated or unstated ministry goals during the previous 12 months. Figures are gathered and correlated, columns are added, goals or objectives are examined and evaluated. Did we reach the goal? Was the objective worth the effort and the cost? Why didn’t those churches get planted? Why did so many come to Christ in this country or region or city and so few in that other? Are our people strategically placed? Are our people being effective? Are they bearing the fruit for which they went out with such joyful anticipation and at such great cost?
Year’s end can be a time of great insecurity and bewilderment for many missionaries. This is especially true when their field of service or their particular role does not clearly add to the figures and statistics being gathered and disseminated. Gathering and reporting numbers is not wrong. The book of Acts records numbers and suggests quantities, large and small. Luke’s purpose, however, was not to underscore Pauline efficiency or Petrine effectiveness. His point was humbly and thankfully to illustrate the overwhelming power of the gospel in and through the lives of those who “had been with Jesus.” When Paul reported back to the church in Antioch, he was not merely being accountable. He was also drawing those first “senders” onto the front lines as true partners in the work.
Nevertheless, numbers and statistics are double-edged swords, capable of cutting two ways. While they can remove layers of questions, doubts, and criticisms, they can also inflict injury to the hands that wield them or to others. Are cross-cultural workers merely (or nearly) the sum of their yearly figures? Or are they valuable only to the degree to which their (measurable or faith) goals are reached? Is a number the true or the best indicator of their effectiveness and fruitfulness? Let me answer with a firm, resounding, and biblical “No!”
Some 20-odd (sometimes very odd) years ago, I entered my first pastoral ministry in asmall, rural church. Initially, my goal was to establish a youth ministry. Later, it became to provide pastoral care to the whole flock. A dear friend (who today would be called a mentor) wrote some marvelous words of counsel. His words spoke to the deep needs of my heart in 1974, and they still speak today. I had written to him expressing anxiety concerning the fruitfulness of my ministry. With surprisingly little “commentary,” he wrote back and commended to me the reading of 2 Peter 1:5-9:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
After listing eight non-quantifiable qualities, Peter makes an incredibly powerful and liberating declaration. He states down through the ages that the essence of Christian life and ministry is internal and relational. Effectiveness, fruitfulness, success, productivity are to be found in and based upon establishing and nurturing the growth of godly character in the context of righteous relationships.
A current debate in American politics is over the value of character in effective and fruitful leadership. Peter’s words demonstrate the foolishness of this discussion. In God’s “mathematics,” character must never be separated from effectiveness. Godly character plus faithful perseverance always equals fruitfulness and a deeper experience of our Lord Jesus.
It is not my purpose here to exegete this passage nor to define all the terms. I leave that for the reader’s joy and edification. I will underscore, however, that each of the characteristics mentioned grows and matures in the context of relationships: to oneself, to one another, and to God. Peter reminds his readers that they were saved, cleansed from their sins, and brought into the knowledge of God for the express purpose of developing character in the context of vibrant, life-changing relationships. From this abundant and powerful source flows effective ministry.
In our legitimate quest for fruitfulness in evangelism, church planting, leadership development, administration, or in whatever tasks we find ourselves, we must not lose sight of the character issues. Our spouses and children, our missionary teammates, colleagues, and leaders, our national coworkers, even our supporters can legitimately demand to see in us the qualities commended to us by Peter. If our lives and ministries are characterized by these characteristics in ever-increasing measure, we can be assured that we are and will continue to be effective and fruitful. Where these are not present, no amount of “objective ministry achievement” or “accomplishment of faith goals” can make up for their lack.
If you want to engage in a really scary but helpful evaluation, ask your spouse if he or she has detected a greater degree of goodness developing in you over the last year. Ask a teammate if you are exhibiting more perseverance than in the past. Ask your kids if they can see greater self-control in the way you interact with them and others. Ask a national coworker (maybe your office secretary if you have one) for concrete evidences of godliness and brotherly kindness. According to Peter, your fruitfulness and effectiveness are directly tied to the answers you hear.
If such questions and interaction are inadequate, not feasible, or too threatening, you can still get the feedback you need. Schedule a personal retreat. Take a day or a few days alone to ask yourself and to ask God how you are doing in these areas. Write down each of these characteristics. Define and describe these terms. Write down what they look like in the lives of otherbelievers. Then, one by one, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, consider how you are doing, where you are lacking, where growth is needed, where progress has been made. Be specific, be honest, and be thorough. When you have finished, ask God to show you what steps need to be taken to grow in these areas. Finally, commit yourself to doing whatever God says.
After your retreat, share what you learned with someone whose judgment you trust. Ask this person to interact honestly with your observations and evaluation. Consider making yourself accountable to that person or to someone else for the specific steps needed for growth. Only when we take these issues seriously will we begin to experience fruitful ministry and a deepening relationship with God.
No amount of conversions made or churches planted, no number of conferences led or seminars completed, no listing of reports filed or articles written can produce truly effective and fruitful lives in the absence of these qualities. No ministry “totals” can be considered small and insignificant when accompanied by an ever-increasing knowledge of God displayed through our character in the context of genuinely righteous relationships.
Rick Cruse is Europe area director for OC International. He is based in Kandern, Germany.
EMQ, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 50-53. Copyright © 1999 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.