Doing and Discipling

Slowly, but surely, I am plowing through old files in a feeble attempt to clean and organize my office.  This process is entering its third year, so success is a remote hope.  However, I do come across some interesting artifacts as I dig through each new (old) layer.  Just this week I found work I did for an old GBOD (General Board of Discipleship) project on clergy effectiveness.  I developed seven measures for clergy effectiveness related to our denomination’s mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Let me go ahead and spoil the ending before I reveal my seven standards — my list was soundly rejected by the powers-that-be.  Here is the note from my General Secretary at the time scrawled on the front page: “Start over.  We need to focus on things that are easier to measure.”  On a later page, I offered the rationale that each of these metrics could be defended in the gospels.  The note here read: “Use modern evaluation standards — benchmarks and best practices.”  In other words, don’t evaluate clergy leadership by biblical standards, just secular business standards need suffice…

Okay, so my seven measures of clergy effectiveness:

  1. How many laity are you training and equipping to preach and lead others in worship, and what process do you use to evaluate their progress? (List those being trained/equipped by name)
  2. How many laity are you training and equipping to teach, and what process do you use to evaluate their progress? (List by name)
  3. How many laity are you training and equipping to share their faith story with those outside the congregation, and what process do you use to evaluate their progress?  (List by name)
  4. What is your process for discovering, developing and deploying the spiritual gifts, theological knowledge and thinking, and servant leadership of the laity in the congregation?
  5. What is your process for training and equipping laity to engage in missional service, healing ministries, and outreach within the congregation, in the community, and beyond, and how do you evaluate effectiveness?
  6. Describe your personal plan and process for spiritual development, continuing education, and skill development, and update your progress in each area.
  7. Describe your personal devotional life — worship that you have no responsibility to lead, prayer apart from vocational leadership responsibility, Christian/mission service beyond your appointment, sacramental engagement where you do not preside, etc.

I shared this list with clergy in two conferences, and they were received with anger, incredulity, frustration and contempt.  Here are some of the responses I wrote down:

“These are not the qualifications that our district superintendents hold us accountable to.”

“This is not what I was taught to do in seminary.”

“I don’t have time for all this — I am too busy leading the church.”

“These are unfair standards!  I don’t know of any clergy person who would fare well by these measures.”

“If this measured my ministry I would be out of a job — no one in my church is looking for me to do these things.”

“You’re assuming that laity want to be in ministry.  My experience is that the majority come to church to be served.”

“This is a list of practices that guarantees we will lead a very small church.”

“This is a very skewed definition of “clergy effectiveness” based on a narrow definition of “discipleship.”

“What about attendance, apportionments, giving and growth?”

Definitely, the list and the responses reflect two VERY different value sets and orientations.  There is a significant difference between “doing for” and “equipping, empowering and enabling” others to do for themselves.  There is also a huge difference between “activity” and “performance.”  The United Methodist Church has long confused being busy with being productive.  We cannot seem to differentiate between quantity and quality.  More programs, more people, more small groups, more money are our default settings for “effectiveness.”  Yet, with few exceptions, quantity is very rarely a true cause of effectiveness.  We often confuse this truth by comparing healthy large churches to dysfunctional small churches, but study after study shows that when you compare the impact of healthy-to-healthy, small churches come out on top.  Ten healthy churches of 300 are more effective in every metric but overhead costs than any healthy church of 3,000.  We are a people of the lie: bigger is better.

But, as many opponents (including my former bosses) point out, qualitative analysis and evaluation is hard — and it often makes us look pretty bad.  A full room of passive consumers looks more impressive than a half-dozen deeply dedicated and spiritually grounded disciples, but the impact each produces is very different.  Doing ministry for the passive masses is so much easier than motivating those masses to be in ministry to others.  But the “doing rather than discipling” model is the primary reason we are leaders in a declining denomination.  The spread of the Christian gospel and servant leadership is dependent on replication, development and deployment.  If clergy are NOT engaged actively and effectively in the seven functions listed above, there is little hope that we will ever grow again.  Methodism, and the roots of the Evangelical and United Brethren communities, were laity-driven, laity-dependent, laity-engaged movements.  When the laity were being formed as leaders, servants, teachers (i.e., were engaged in a discipleship process leading to radical stewardship) our church grew in substance, influence and impact.  When we professionalized the clergy and marginalized the laity, we changed course and entered a century-long decline.

I have long contended that the “pastoral” metaphor — shepherds tending sheep — has been detrimental and limiting.  No matter how earnestly a shepherd serves the flock, it is impossible for any of the sheep to become shepherds.  However, in our gospels, Jesus provides a very different metaphor — teacher and disciples.  Here, an effective teacher will be measured by one essential standard — how well are students trained and equipped to teach; followers to lead, apprentices to become masters?  Clergy are not the religious experts hired to run the church; clergy are the privileged servants placed in the position of greatest potential to unleash the gifts, knowledge, skills, experience and passion needed for the transformation of the world.

18 replies

  1. Thank you for this! Do you have some recommendations for books that expand on this concept?

  2. Dan, not only did I re-post this essay as the lead article on this week’s UM Insight, I’m taking your 7 principles with me tomorrow to the next training session of the Small Church Initiative in the North Texas Conference. Tomorrow’s session is about empowering the laity, and it’s my belief that what you list would work as qualities of congregational effectiveness, not just clergy effectiveness. Thanks so much! Keep up the good work.

  3. I love this! It resonates within my spirit. I’m a bridge person. On the path to ordination. I have about 1 year left of Seminary. It fits right in with the “Equipping the Laity” course I took under Steve Martyn. To me, it fits discipleship and leader multiplication. I hope to empower and equip not only laity, but clergy as well…. to live into their calling, so we can all work together in the Kingdom work. Thank you for this list!

  4. With a smattering of malice, I add the observation that superintendents and bishops are routinely left out of any sort of metric for effectiveness. With an additional dash of irritation, I add that clergy continue to ride a merry-go-round of metrics at the whim of episcopal leadership. Since there is no agreement from the episcopacy as to what constitutes effectiveness, a clergy person may take the lukewarm solace in knowing that s/he just might be effective…depending on whatever matrix happens to be used…though tomorrow may well be a different story. Not only is there no single standard, but the myriad of standards often change from year to year. The differences in these lists (nothing against yours…yours seems well-thought-out) illustrates the glaring detail that we have no agreement on anything. I will go to bed tonight with the clarity that I might be effective under one matrix but an abysmal failure under another matrix. Lord, in your mercy…..

  5. This is the first set of questions about pastoral effectiveness that I’ve seen that makes sense to me and makes me excited about functioning in a Christian community as its priest/teacher/pastor. And it’s even (sort of) quantitative. I don’t see what your judicatory thought was inappropriate about your measures. They seem entirely biblical, practical, and breathtakingly clear.

  6. Being a lay person who knows a pastor is supposed to empower the laity, I wonder if perhaps pastors in the past have not led congregations to be this way. The origins of the Methodist denomination was distinctly laity led, guided by the clergy. However, when the Methodist denomination wanted to become “respectful” with large churches with a single pastor, that led to the end of the classes and societies and made the churches more pastor-led. People have been raised to believe the pastor does it all – and too many pastors have agreed. But I do believe there are a number of lay people like myself who want to be more involved and to be equipped to help transform this world.

    • As a pastor who believes strongly in strong lay leadership, I say to you, “Take thou authority.” Just remember. If people don’t follow, you can’t be a leader. So lead with compassion – always.

  7. When I was leading a congregation, I ran it based on your principles—-empowering the laity to do the work of the church. The members of the church had the attitude that the pastor was supposed to do all the work of the church and that I was abdicating my role. I was told that I “didn’t do anything.” The chair of the Administrative Council told me that he had an idea to do something but then he said to himself, “I don’t get paid to do that. The pastor gets paid to do that, so I won’t do it.” I never did find out what his idea was but somehow I was supposed to do it. Your ideas are great and I agree with them, but someone needs to explain to the laypeople what a pastor’s responsibilities really are.

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