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

    • Very few affirmations. In fact, in Iowa Conference, only retired clergy offered positive support for the criteria I lifted up. Active clergy were either offended and angered by the insinuation that they should be assessed based on equipping and empowering others, or they were frustrated and overwhelmed. Many voiced dismay because what I suggested didn’t play to their strengths. Many were annoyed that none of these things were emphasized in seminary or by their Board of Ordained Ministry. My own agency felt that I was simply out of touch with reality and the day-to-day demands of the local church. Even today, colleagues argue with me that “discipleship” is an unrealistic expectation for laity, therefore it is unjust to evaluate clergy for performance against those things people don’t want to do. Bishop Sheldon Duecker and Thomas Frank were both very supportive of the list.

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. In fact, (I have also relocated) I am now teaching at a new seminary in the Midwest (with another denomination) that was founded less than 5 years ago that has a manifesto that reads very much like your list. ATS appreciates us and enrollment is currently approaching 450 (and of course we are not UM approved)! Dan, be encouraged, there is a tribe rising from the grassroots that wants to engage in a different style of church leadership. Thanks so much for your faithful witness.

    • I am curious about your “new” denomination. Does it insist on traditional church doctrine, or does it embrace a more liberal understanding?

      • They are more theologically conservative but VERY expansive in their worship practices, bordering on emergent in some places.

  2. Well said. I would love to have a pastor that did all that! I wonder if part of their reluctance is the feeling that if they trained the laity to do all that, then they would not be needed? Did any of the clergy agree with your list?

  3. Yours is the longer version of the 2 1/2 pages written by a young pastor who said

    “Stop inviting people to church! Stop it! Right now! Don’t invite people to your church. We know the results of that. It rarely works anyway. Even when people actually show up, most don’t stick around for long. They sense the discontent. They recognize the troubles. They head for the door. Invite them, instead, to follow Jesus. No it’s not the same thing. Following Jesus means I’m not the most important person in the world…not even in this room…even when I’m alone.”

    The article is “Stop Inviting People to Church!” by Harley Scalf and is posted on the Wesleyan Accent portion of It is the diagnosis and fix in 2 1/2 pages. Problem is, you need to first invite the people sitting in the pew to follow Jesus. Methodism was born when Wesley preached the gospel and then responded to the people’s inquiries “What does this mean for my life?”

    And you are absolutely right about spiritually grounded pastors–they may not come across as much, but they are a game changer. The last pastor at the local church where I am a member was the most spiritually grounded person I have yet to encounter face to face; I knew the minute I met him that I was chasing down the wrong path. Most of the other “good church folk” did not get it–they wanted panash! Truth is, so did I at first….

  4. A good piece, Dan. I have always struggled with the term “Pastor” but wasn’t sure why, your comment in the last paragraph made it a lot clearer.

  5. Dan, Thank you for another challenging article. I have long held that the pastor’s role is to be a kind of catalyst for the congregation(s) we serve. High expectations will reach high goals far more effectively than will lesser expectations. In point of fact, lower goals will never reach higher goals (full fruitfulness). My mantra throughout my vocation has been, “I am here to be in ministry WITH you, not FOR you.” And yes, I have run into the same kind of comments you shared in the article, both from my supervisors and members of the congregations.

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