Summer is that time of year where some ministry begins to slow down (unless you are in youth ministry, then you laugh at the notion of “slow summers”) as we as the Church take our collective breath and prepare to gear up for the coming Fall season. This is also the time of year when evaluations of all different varieties seem to occur.
During these “down” months, ministers are having their job performances critiqued by their current congregations, ministers who are in the search process are evaluating the viability of ministry in a potential new call, and churches are (or at least they should be) evaluating their own ministries for either presentation to candidates or to refine what it is they are doing with the pastor(s) that with whom they have already partnered.
Every church, pastor, and region seems to have their own criteria for evaluating the “effectiveness” of ministries that are being undertaken by local churches. As I continue to evaluate the state of the ministry to our youth in my current congregation I have my own criteria I use as well. But lately as I reflect upon such things I have found myself wondering what criteria Jesus would use to evaluate our ministry. After all, it is for His sake that we engage this work. What questions would he ask of the Church and her pastors?
1. Are we meeting people on their turf?
He met fishermen on the beach, a tax collector in a tax booth, and an outcast woman at the town well. Jesus did his very best work outside of the “church.” Are we expecting folks to wander into our space or are we actively meeting them out in the community?
2. Are we pointing out the Divine in the midst of Everyday Life?
“Consider the lilies of the field….” Jesus spent a great deal of time pointing out connections between the “sacred” and the “secular.” Jesus had a funny way of making the common become rather uncommon. Are we creating opportunities for folks to bridge connections between what happens at work, school, and the soccer field and what God is up to in the world?
3. Are we choosing hope over despair?
The people to whom Jesus ministered were broken up, beaten down, and altogether burnt out on their government and their religion. He never let the “experts” who said what he was doing was silly or worthless get to him. He chose to continue to believe in the goodness of God and the potential of the people. In the same way, many in our communities are pretty broken up and beaten down and are pretty suspicious of the Church. Do we succumb to that suspicion or do we keep believing that God is up to something awesome.
4. Are we loving each other (and ourselves)?
Jesus was serious about that whole Great Commandment thing. Are we truly loving those in our midst? And in the same way, are we truly loving ourselves? Just as we are dedicated to the care of each other, we are tasked with being mindful of the care of our own mind, body, and spirit. How have we shown love to others? How have we shown love to ourselves?
5. Are we teaching, or are we dictating?
Any good teacher will tell you that there is a huge distinction between teaching and dictating. Teaching provides safe opportunities for growth, exploration, and trial and error. Dictating invokes fear, suspicion, and snuffs out the light of possibility. The Great Commission tells us to “teach.” How are we teaching those in our midst?
6. Are we practicing radical hospitality?
“So that my house might be full…” Jesus hung out with everybody. He communed with the rich and learned and with the poor and downcast. He turned no one away from the Table of Grace. He embodied the concept of radical hospitality. We bear in mind that this does not mean that Jesus condoned every action or condition of the people with whom he associated, but he did welcome all into his midst. Are we creating an environment of welcome in our ministries?
7. Do we value people over possessions?
Jesus was not a huge fan of stuff. He regularly told people to get rid of their stuff. Jesus seemed to believe that “stuff” was a barrier to ministry as people would often value their stuff over their fellow children of God. Sometimes the Church gets caught up in that same trap. If we were to surrender all of our churchy possessions, would we still be able to do ministry?
8. Do we regularly take “time out?”
Jesus had this really awesome habit where he would regularly run away up a hillside and take quiet time with God. Occasionally he would do this at inconvenient times. It should be noted that Jesus never once apologizes for taking this alone time with God. He knew that to do ministry his spirit needed to be re-filled from time to time. Jesus made this a priority, do we?
9. Do we identify leaders and cultivate them?
We can’t be certain what it was, but Jesus saw something in Simon and in Saul. Here were two guys that weren’t stereotypical leaders. But Jesus saw something in them, identified their gifts, and tasked them for ministry. How are we looking for ministry leaders that already exist among us? How are we developing and equipping these potential leaders for ministry?
10. Have we managed to keep, “the main thing the main thing?”
Life is busy and distractions are many. Churches have a tendency to get bogged down in the minute details and sometimes lose track of the main thing. Are we keeping our priorities in line? Are we using the question, “how will this help make God known more fully” to guide every business and ministry decision? If we are not, why?
Of course this list is not exhaustive, but as we consider how we might continue to put our ministries more in line with the ministry of Christ, I wonder if these questions might be a good place to start. What would you add to this list?
Rev. Aaron Todd serves as the Minister for Education at First Christian Church-Midwest City, OK . Among other things, he focuses on youth, children, young adult, and family ministry. He is married to Debra, who is also a Disciples pastor, and together they have a 3 year old son named Zach and a precious baby boy named Josh. In addition to their human children, they have a 5 year old dog named Amos (named after the prophet). Check out his blog, revaarontodd.com