Marks of Discipleship and Effectiveness

I’ve been really fascinated with a conversation happening between Kevin Watson and John Meunier regarding measuring effectiveness in ministry.  Here are the basic premises for the discussion:

  1. Numerical growth is one way to measure effectiveness and faithfulness.
  2. Faithfulness and effectiveness do not always result in numerical growth.
  3. Drawing a crowd is not the same thing as gathering a congregation.
  4. Sometimes we can substitute winning praise and approval for faithfulness.
  5. Therefore, how do you measure faithful ministry?

Kevin suggests the means of grace (prayer, searching the scriptures, communion, fasting, and Christian conferencing/community) as a key to discerning whether or not a ministry is both faithful and effective.

On one hand, I totally agree with Kevin.  Living the faith is central to my life as a minister.  If I am not searching the scriptures daily, meeting weekly with my small group, praying faithfully, etc. then I am not the person I am called to be.  When I fail to do these things, I notice more frustration and confusion about the core commitments I have as a Christian and a minister.  These practices allow me to know the difference between faithfulness and going through the motions.

However, I think he’s even closer to answering the original question when he mentions trying to be more concrete about what faithful fruit looks like.

Here at Church of the Servant, we have recently started sharing the results of our vision work with the congregation.  Included in that work we have a series of “marks of discipleship” that are intended to help us discern whether we’re helping people down the road of discipleship or not.  We’re not interested in simply “drawing a crowd.”  We want people to actually become disciples.

Here are those marks, which are prefaced with the phrase, “A Servant:”

  • worships weekly
  • prays daily
  • gives faithfully
  • loves God’s word
  • embodies God’s love through service
  • grows through small group relationships
  • shares their faith with others

Of course we’re careful with how we teach and share this.  These are not the way to establish a relationship with God.  That only happens by accepting the grace of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  However, these are several of the places God has promised to show up and meet his people.  These are faithful ways to respond to and grow in God’s grace.

Over time, we will use these marks to determine whether or not we are succeeding at the call God has placed on our lives as a community of faith.  It’s one thing to just have more people.  It’s another thing altogether to have more and more people falling in love with God’s word, connecting in deeper spiritual relationships, and embodying God’s love through service.  While it’s a challenge to measure these things, we can actually count the number of people who are using the resources we provide (bible reading plans, small group involvement, missional participation, etc.) to make educated guesses that they are meeting God in these means of grace.

We’re convinced that can lead to both effective and faithful ministry.

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5 thoughts on “Marks of Discipleship and Effectiveness

  1. Amen, Matt! This strikes me as a profound response to the question of faithful ministry at the level of the local church. I will be excited to watch this bear fruit.

  2. Matt, thanks for giving me a mention. I’ll be interested to hear how your experience develops with this.

    Looking at the list, I notice some of the marks seem more specific than others. I wonder what kind of conversation you had around the exact phrasing of some of them. Were there conversations about being more or less concrete on some of them?

    • To be honest John, we didn’t have as much conversation about the “concreteness” of the individual marks as we did about what got included and what didn’t.

  3. Hi Matt:

    Just found your blog and am interested in some of what you are talking about. I am a Methodist layman with a father who’s a retired Methodist minister and son who is preparing to enter Duke Divinity School in the fall. I am involved in a “vision” team at our Methodist church in North Carolina trying to discern the direction in which God is calling us. A side note, it would be helpful if you could have an email share option, or facebook too, on your posts. Anyway, I like your direction but my only observation is that measures should actually be measurable and observable. Some of yours aren’t. My dad, who writes a column for United Methodist Reporter and just wrote a book on Methodist Fundamentals, recently told me that Will Willimon says that Wesley was very adamant about measuring things as part of our “methodical” process, I guess. He apparently is catching some flak for introducing “dashboard indicators” in his conference, which are common in business. How do you measure “loving God’s word” or “growing spiritually.” I own a learning business and we test each student’s reading and math skills to understand exactly what they know. I’m not saying that everything related to faith can be measured…after all it is faith. But if we adopt standards or “measures” for our churches, how do we measure them? As I look at the data in our church historically, it is clear that we measure new members but don’t really take out confirmands (who are just there because their parents are) or deaths or transfers in the totals for a net. We don’t have many non-confirmation professions of faith, which would seem to be a measure we should deem important. Finally, regarding sharing faith…it is clear this is imperative. However, I am saddened by people I know who talk about sharing faith as how many notches they put on their belt for “saving people” simply by getting them to say a prayer. If you are a Calvinist (or Baptist), then once saved always saved. But our tradition from Wesley believes it’s a journey in which we slide back at times…so how is it we are to measure “sharing faith”? I don’t have the answer, but I do believe we need to have a good way to suggest to Methodist lay people how best to share their faith in ways that work. Most people don’t want to be like the “bullhorn guy” in Rob Bell’s Nooma film. But then it’s a bit of a cop out to say that we just won’t do it at all because they aren’t comfortable raising the issue, which is often what we do. Certainly we can just be a friend or neighbor and share Christ’s love, but I would think Mr. Wesley would recommend a standardized process by which we could empower people to share trusting Christ. Sorry to be so long but if you have any thoughts let me know. Keep up the good work.

    Doug

    • Doug, first I want to say I read your dad’s column and thoroughly enjoy his thoughts about Methodism and discipleship. Second, thank you for your detailed thoughts and questions as well. Where do I start?

      I think the basic answer to, How do you measure “growing spiritually” or “loving God’s word” is through participation. We’ve been influenced by Willow Creek’s Reveal study, so we know simple participation in programs is not a measure of deepening discipleship, but we do think that use of specific tools can be one measure of growing spiritually and beginning to love God’s word. So, we know we can’t measure someone’s heart; only God can do that. But even Wesley would have agreed with that and still measured participation in Class Meetings, Bands, etc. He didn’t “know” they were growing spiritually, but he knew they were participating in the means of grace. So for us, growing spiritually would be indicated by regular participation in small groups and loving God’s word would be indicated, broadly speaking, by people taking advantage of whole church initiatives like daily bible reading plans. For instance, if we had 200 people participate in a “year through the bible” one year and 500 the next, we would say we’ve gone some distance toward accomplishing that particular goal. Measurement is challenging, but there are indicators we can measure.

      So on another of your questions, sharing faith is generally indicated by how many people use the tools we give them to share their faith (invitations to certain seasons, sharing information via Facebook or Twitter, etc). To ask someone to do something they aren’t trained or equipped to do is crazy. We try not to ask people to do something without giving them tools to do it. You’re right though – it’s about introducing people to Christ and involving them in the discipleship process, which takes a lifetime, not just getting them to commit and then abandoning them.

      One thing I’d push back on a bit is your comment that confirmands are only here because their parents are. We are pretty adamant and intentional about helping our students know this is their decision to follow Christ and not their parents. Even though there are social pressures to commit to faith (GOOD!), this is a personal commitment.

      Hope this helps understand a little more where I’m coming from. Keep asking good questions!

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