When assessing various methods of ministry, one of the early questions people have is this: “Is it effective?” However, have you ever stopped to ask yourself what it means to be “effective” from a biblical perspective?
People often talk about being faithful and fruitful. Yet, even this distinction might muddy the waters when it comes to getting a clear, biblical understanding of “effectiveness.”
Are We Faithful?
“Effectiveness,” at the very least includes achieving the effect we’ve desired. When it comes to evangelism and contextualization, one of the desired effects is simply this:
giving biblically faithful and culturally meaningful witness.
Consider the ministries of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. From the beginning of their ministry, God said that no one would listen to them (cf. Isa 6:8–13; Jer 1:19; 7:27; Ezek 3:7). God wanted these prophets to provide a faithful witness to what He planned to achieve.
In fact, they were very effective in achieving the end to which they were called.
Not even Jesus was very “effective,” if we think about effectiveness in the way many people use the term. For example, in John 6, Jesus is gathering large crowds (and being “effective”, as some might say). Notice what he then does–– he shares some rather hard words (cf. 6:53–59) and elicits the response of John 6:66,
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”
By the end of his life, even his closest disciples fled. Yet, despite all this, Jesus accomplished all that the Father sent him to do (John 17:4).
Jesus was effective in achieving the end to which he was called.
Are We Fruitful?
Sadly, this biblical imagery has been stripped of its primary meaning. The modern missionary movement has adopted this language to describe merely quantitative measures, like the number of church, new believers, etc.
“Fruitfulness” concerns both the quantity and quality of our ministry.
What about quality?
How does Scripture primarily describe Spiritual fruit? In Gal 5:22–23, Paul writes,
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”Many mission organizations track statistics regarding the number of churches and professions of faith. How many have a way of recording and celebrating fruitfulness as Paul describes it?
We might think of “quality” fruitfulness in terms of five goals.
1. Clarity (head)
Are we giving a clear witness that is both biblically faithful and culturally meaningful?
2. Conviction (heart)
We want those we serve to have changed hearts. Yet, this is NOT something we can control.
It is a miraculous work of the Spirit. For this reason, we should be careful about how much we push “decisions” as the primary metric for ministry success. How can we be held accountable for something outside our control?
3. Character (head)
We want believers to live godly lives.
4. Calling (mission)
We want believers to serve God in ministry to the world. God’s people are called to join His mission.
5. Community (church)
Ministry to and through individuals is not the primary goal. We cannot claim effectiveness if we are not aiming to build up the Church. Christian faith is inherently communal.
What about quantity?
Typically, missionaries (and churches) track the number of “decisions” made by the people with whom they shared the gospel. Practically, this translates into counting how many people “prayed to receive Christ.”
I’ll address this further in a coming blog post. For now, I will simply say this is a misleading metric. There are better ways of measuring ministry effectiveness. For example, . . .
Listening? –– Are people paying attention?
If we share the gospel in a culturally meaningful way, our message will not come across “abstract” or unrelated to daily life. We cannot change people’s hearts; however, we can convey the truth in a manner that makes sense. In this way, we expect more people to pay more attention to us than they otherwise typically do.
Longevity? –– How does attrition affect churches?
When the gospel truly changes people’s hearts, it fosters a new manner of life. There is greater perseverance in genuine faith that in superficial, religious belief or in the response that comes because of social pressure. Therefore, when the gospel takes root, we will see far less church attrition that in “movements” that produce 100 churches in a year but only have a scant few remain after 5 years?
Photo Credit (Target): Steven Goodwin via FreeImages