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.

Why Pray?

For the last two weeks, I have been teaching one of our young adult classes at Servant.  We worked on tough questions that they submitted by email prior to the class.  One of the questions I didn’t get to answer, I promised to answer here on the blog.  The question is this:

How does someone pray when they know/trust that God either already knows the situation and is on the job or that God knows better what the outcome should be than the one praying?  For instance, how does a person ask God to heal someone when that may or may not be God’s plan?  I really struggle with this.  I can be grateful all day long.  I can ask for guidance for myself.  But to ask for others seems like I am telling God something that I assume he doesn’t already know.

When someting is troubling, what do I ask for? Peace that passes understanding, I realize is the ultimate goal. But when that is all that is said in a prayer, after a while, the result is a bit of a disconnect.  I liken it to an old couple who has been together for years. They still love each other, they still have their little jokes, but when they go out to eat, they don’t talk much.

Got anything for me?

This is obviously a tough question from someone who has really given this some serious thought, and there is a lot of theology underneath this question. The two main questions here, as I see them, are these:

  1. Why are we supposed to pray when God is already omniscient (all-knowing)?  After all, we aren’t telling God something he doesn’t already know, and he knows far better than we do what to do in any given situation.
  2. If all I ask God for is generic things like “peace” or “comfort,” how can prayer be truly relational?

To begin with, I think we (this includes me, by the way) sometimes have a mixed up view of prayer.  We are tempted to think of God as the “Big Vending Machine in the Sky.”  We put in our quarters (prayer), and out pops the Snickers bar (whatever we ask for).  This is how we sometimes hear verses like John 15:7 interpreted, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  And yet, Jesus also tells us, “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” in Matthew 6:8.

So, what are we supposed to do?  Philip Yancey, in his incredible book, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? writes,

The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier, nor to gain magical powers, but to know God.  I need God more than anything I might get from God.

I think this is one of the keys to answering the questions above.  Prayer, ultimately is about intimacy and relationship with God, and that relationship is no less dynamic or predictable than any other relationship we find ourselves in.  God knows all the problems and needs in the world, and yet for reasons beyond our understanding, God still wants to be in a deep relationship with us.  He wants to hear our thoughts, feelings, and desires for our lives and the world around us.  We only need to look at Jesus’ prayers and the Psalms to see a great record of these kinds of prayers.

And somehow, in the middle of all of this, God responds to our prayers.  We’re not in control of God, but we are given the privilege of working together with him.  So, in a sense, the answer to question two is this:  prayer that is generic isn’t the kind of relationship God wants to have.  He wants to know our deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires both for our own lives and the lives of those around us.  He wants us to ask for people to be healed, and even though we can’t comprehend how, our prayers are included and make a difference in the way God works and moves in the world.  Again, prayer isn’t predictable (that would put us in control of God), but it is powerful.

In the end, the analogy of an old husband and wife is probably very much what God desires.  A relationship that is intimate and deeper than words is only the result of a lifetime of conversation.  So, keep praying, don’t be afraid to be specific, share everything with God, and get to know him more than you ever have before.  That’s the kind of “abiding” that Jesus says is integral to prayer.

In the end, entire books have been written about these questions, and we are still asking them.  I hope this begins to touch on wrestling with this question and gives you food for thought.

Methodist Discipleship

My friend Kevin Watson has a great series starting over at his blog, Deeply Committed.  He’s looking at one of the tools John Wesley used to spark revival and renewal in the Church, the Methodist Class Meeting.

You won’t want to miss his insights, which he puts in accessible yet informative language – typical Watsonian style (I wanted to be the first to use that one before the academics beat me to it!). Go check it out:

Mainline or Methodist (Part 4)

In Chapter 4 of Dr. Scott Kisker’s work, Mainline or Methodist? Recovering our Evangelistic Mission, Kisker begins to discuss the “method” behind Methodism.  This chapter opens with a critique of what passes for evangelism and discipleship within the UMC today.  Kisker doesn’t hold back when he says most of what passes for evangelism in our denomination today,

[is] at best, a bankrupt vision of God’s purposes for creation and a truncated understanding of salvation.  At worst, we find practices that are little more than thinly veiled attempts to manipulate others through politics or marketing techniques.

Our challenge is to reclaim the strong theological grounding of the early practices of the Methodist movement.  Rather than trying anything to see if it works, or allowing our theology and practice to be grounded only in our personal preference or politics, we should follow Wesley’s practice of grounding our understanding of both evangelism and discipleship in the way, “God’s grace is active, working to save God’s beloved creatures.”

Kisker’s read of these practices follow Wesley’s admonition to preach Christ in all of his offices: prophet, priest, and king.   The corresponding practices, are field preaching, class membership, and band membership.  These also correspond to convincing (what we often call prevenient), justifying, and sanctifying grace.  His summary at the end of the chapter is helpful,

With those asleep in sin, Methodism’s missional task is to minister in Christ’s prophetic office – publicly, in the open air, at the market cross – to convince people of their need for God.  With those already convinced of their need for God, Methodism’s missional task is to introduce them to the one who can meet that need – to their great high priest.  With those who know God’s forgiving love, Methodism’s missional task is to work to save them from the power of sin – bring every part of their lives into the love of Christ the king.

These theological and missional tasks were expressed in practices that many United Methodist congregations (and affiliated organizations) have given up: open air preaching, class meetings, and band meetings.  Here is a basic description of those practices.

Open-air preaching: Wesley found places where real people gathered as part of their daily lives and introduced them to the message of God’s salvation.  He preached outside the walls of the Church, many times as often as twice a day.  He hoped to see people awakened to the, “hollowness of their search for happiness” in anything outside of God.  Kisker challenges us to find the modern-day equivalent of the market square.  In my D.Min. paper, I explore whether or not this is the virtual world of social media (Facebook, twitter, etc.), but we’ll leave that for another day.  After being awakened by God’s grace through open-air preaching, people were gathered in the class meeting.

Class meeting:  here, people were given opportunities for further response.  People were invited to talk in smaller groups about their spiritual state and were expected to live as followers of Jesus. These groups were limited to twelve members where people experienced authentic Christian fellowship, often for the first time.  Kisker cites Tom Albin’s research which showed, “the majority of experiences of the new birth happened after membership in the class meeting, at times in the meeting.”  In a sense, people most often belonged before they believed.  Kisker writes,

Perhaps it is not possible to recover the class meeting as it was for our present day.  But if our ministry is to be effective in the present age, we must recover what they provided: small, disciplined, hospitable, caring fellowships for non-Christians and Christians alike.

In our day, I wonder if traditional Sunday school groups can fulfill this role.  Kisker doesn’t seem to think so, but I think it’s possible.

Band meetings: finally, after being awakened by field preaching, incorporated into caring groups of discipline and community, early Methodists were joined in the band meeting.  Band meetings were sepearted by gender and were more confessional in nature.

To be a part of a band meant being willing to shuck pretense, to be humble before a brother or sister in Christ.  It meant acting as a priest one to another, acting in love toward another whose sin you know.  It meant allowing someone, who knows your sin, to act in love toward you.  It meant humility.  It meant Christlikeness.  It meant holiness.

People who participated in this methodical process often experienced “full salvation,” as they were empowered to experience healing, forgiveness, and participation in the work and ministry of Christ.  At the church I serve, this can best happen through our COS group ministry.  In fact, I’ve experienced this very thing with a small group of three other men that I meet with weekly.  Through their encouragement, support, and accountability, I see how I’m growing in grace and loving God and neighbor more than I have in a very long time.

Together these practices, rooted in a strong Wesleyan theology, prevent us from being just a charity organization or a political rally that uses the Church and scripture to validate our own biases and preferences.  They are a means God will use to form us as more passionate and dedicated followers of Jesus.  In part 5, I’ll look at Kisker’s thoughts on where this conversation might lead in the United Methodist Church today.

Great Questions, Commentary Guides, & Ministry Thoughts

Every now and then I like to share really helpful posts and thoughts that I come across, and today is one of those days.  Scot McKnight is one of my favorite biblical scholars.  He is very sharp without being inaccessible, and he is a clear communicator.  In my line of work, these are the kind of teachers I seek out constantly.

He has an excellent series on his blog right now asking thought provoking questions about the Kingdom of God.  Check it out here:

He also writes with pastors in mind, as in his series recommending his favorite New Testament commentaries:

Finally, I’ve been really interested in reading the shifts that have taken place in some of the more obviously successful new church endeavors.  Craig Groeschel from Life Church, right here in Oklahoma, has been making some interesting comments lately on his blog that have given me much food for thought.

A Blueprint for Discipleship

If you are interested in the unique gifts Methodism and the Wesleyan tradition has to offer the world, then you’ll definitely want to pick up Kevin Watson’s A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living.  He does a great job of offering a simple yet challenging description of Wesley’s General Rules and the Methodist “method” for discipleship in a way that can help Methodists understand the beauty of intentional growth in grace.  

The book is well-written, easy to read, and includes discussion questions at the end of each chapter.  This makes it perfect for leading a group of laypeople through a class to help them understand the rich discipleship tools we carry in our “Methodist tool-belt.”

Servant Walk Update

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a video curriculum since I’ve been the Minister of Discipleship at Church of the Servant.  Each week, since I can’t teach more than one class at a time, I film a short video teaching on the scripture that Robert uses in the main service.  On Wednesdays a team of dedicated and devout folks come together to pour over the passage and listen to me teach a bit.  We then work together to see how we think God might be wanting to lead our congregation through our “simple” process of discipleship: believe, belong, and become.  On Thursdays, we post the video, and send out the compiled study guide to all the Sunday School leaders who are using the curriculum.

Out of curiosity, I went back and checked our curriculum print list from October 26th last year – my second week on the job.   We were printing 105 copies for the five classes using Servant Walk at that time.  This week we will be printing 305 copies for 12 different adult classes! 

I’m definitely getting to reap a harvest that I didn’t sow.  Others came up with this idea, and the lay team was already in place when I arrived.  In fact, my first official meeting as a new pastor here was to teach that group on my very first day!  Their hard work and vision is simply coming together in a way that’s making a big difference in our adult discipleship communities.

Working in a mega-church is very different in some ways from being in a small town two-point charge, but much of what you do is the same.  I still teach.  I still study Scripture.  In a huge congregation, one of the most important questions is finding out how to do little BIG.  This curriculum is simply a wonderful way to do the little things in a way that affects a much larger cross-section of the congregation.

Servant Walk Curriculum

Several folks have been asking me about the Servant Walk curriculum, so I thought I’d post one of the handouts we use each Sunday.  This link (OK, I’m working to fix this) should take you to a Google Doc version of the PDF that I send to each of our teacher/facilitators. OK, so Google Docs doesn’t support sharing PDFs yet, so I’m going to try to post pictures of the PDF at the end of this post. We also print out the curriculum for each of the classrooms.

Right now, we’re going through Bill Hybels’ “Just Walk Across the Room” as a congregation, so you will see references to his book here.

FYI – we have already shared this with a congregation in the Northwest Texas conference, and I dream about ways to make it avaliable, if they find it useful, with smaller congregations in other UM Churches.


Facebook Virtual Classroom

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I’m working on a Doctor of Ministry through Drew University.  I’m finished with all of the coursework, and I’m working to finish up the development on my project.  My dissertation title is “Bridging the Gap: Developing an Alternative Entry Point for Christian Formation at Church of the Servant United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, OK.”

To make what hopes to be a long dissertation extremely short, we’ve noticed (as I’m sure most congregations have) that there are many people who never connect with Christian formation beyond the Sunday morning worship service.  It is my hope that we can develop an alternative way to connect with some form of Christian formation for those people who “fail to connect.”

I’m currently teaching a curriculum called “Servant Walk.” Each week, I develop a 4-6 minute teaching video based on that Sunday’s scripture, and then I work with a committed team of lay people to write a curriculum that’s used in classrooms along with the video.  People who otherwise don’t feel comfortable teaching have no problem facilitating the discussion in a class.  This program has grown and we’ve seen as many as 300 people using this each week in Sunday school!

So, we have proposed that this might be a good  curriculum to transfer to an online classroom.  People can watch the video, and then interact in a discussion board format with the questions from that week.  In consultation with my lay advisory team, we have decided that one of the most natural opportunities for people who might be interested in a “virtual classroom” would be Facebook.

So now we have “Servant Walk Online.”  The weekly discussion and active participation begins March 1st, but we already have 16 “fans” after two days being up and running!  We’ll see what happens.