Thursday, October 27, 2016

Evaluating a Ministry, Part 7 (Conclusion)

This post is the final of a seven-part series which has looked at the evaluation of Jesus’ ministry through the eyes of the participants in Mark 8. The basis for this series came from a student questioning me on how to properly evaluate a ministry. Ultimately, evaluation comes down to expectations, performance, and perspective. The problem is that most people only evaluate based on their perspective of performance. Unfortunately, a major reason is a lack of expectations (or of making them known). As I consider this issue, I must admit my own neglect of expectations in certain areas and have set in place a process to correct that neglect.

In Mark 8, the participants are the Pharisees, disciples, the crowd, Jesus, and God (as Father). All evaluated Jesus, but none but God and Jesus had any idea what the expectations were. The others allowed their preconceptions to provide their false perspectives onto Jesus’ ministry and purpose. Their understanding was incomplete, at best. But Jesus knew the Father’s expectations, and as was expressed last week, was obviously meeting them for God to tell the three disciples on the mountaintop with Jesus, “This is My beloved Son;  listen to Him” (Mark 9.7).

In short, the effective evaluation of a ministry must include:

1) Expectations. Both the party responsible for the work and those evaluating should know these before the evaluation begins and should agree on them accordingly. Letting the person performing the ministry have input in establishing the expectations is very beneficial as well. Without clearly defined expectations the other two elements are merely based upon opinions and therefore can never truly be evaluated.

2) Performance. The person must perform. But the time involved in evaluation should be considered in this area as well. Guidelines and timelines should definitely be established. But ministry cannot be evaluated as easily as math. One plus one always equals two, but being effective and affecting the lives of others is not so easily calculated. Thus, even with clearly defined expectations, performance may vary depending on a number of factors which should not be considered in the evaluation process.

3) Perspective. Regardless of the expectations, perspective does still matter. But perspective can be, and should be, guided by prayer. Are own perspective (perceptions) may cause us to interpret some matter incorrectly. This is not to imply a need to judge by the letter of the law, nor by the intent of the law. My point is that an effective evaluation must be done by applying the right Spirit to the right law (expectation), and thus prayer must be involved.

More could be said, and maybe I will address this further later. But to close, I want to provide a bit more clarity on this entire series by briefly considering a statement all believers desire to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

This simple statement captures the essence of expectations, performance, and perspective.

Expectations: The words “well” and “good” (if not “faithful”) clearly reveal that the expectations were met, and therefore were at least inferred, if not known.

Performance: “Done” means that the task is complete.

Perspective: “Servant” (and I would add “faithful” here) means that the motive was not just to labor for a master, but to honor the master’s intent. Thus, the perspective of both the servant and the master are in relative harmony here.

One final note about this statement. The words are not “Fast done, good and faithful servant.” Fast equates to efficiency; well equates to effectiveness. Ministry will never be efficient, though certain tasks may be completed efficiently, and certain jobs may require efficiency. But ministry as a whole, should be measured in effectiveness, not how quickly things are done.

In closing, all Christians are called to minister (maybe vocationally, maybe not). As Paul said, church leaders are to equip the saints to “do the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4.13). So, if that is the case, how is it progressing? I would suggest that the answer will depend on whom you ask (as this series has shown). Some will suggest you are doing well (maybe Great!), others will say you are lacking in many ways. Still others, may say you are a failure. The truth is to those different people – based upon their perspective, some truth may be found in any of those statements. Therefore, you must seek to know which feedback is constructive and which is not.

Even if the ministry is already established, but especially if you are entering a new opportunity, seek to clarify expectations. Perhaps, you may be able to help craft them. If so, be honest, and challenge yourself, because ultimately it is God whom you are serving. And that is the greatest purpose of these posts. Whatever those around you may say – good or bad – remember that, ultimately, it is God that is the true evaluator of a ministry. And it is He from whom we long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Evaluating a Ministry, Part 6

In the previous posts, I first introduced the basis for this series, and then proceeded to establish an evaluation based on the various perspectives as estimated from Mark 8. But the fullness of the evaluation does not come from others who think they know what should happen (Pharisees), those who are participating in the ministry (disciples), those who are recipients of ministry (the crowd), or even the minister himself/herself. (In this case, the minister is Jesus so humanly the previous statement might be true, but divinely it would not be and because we cannot distort the human from the divine in the case of Jesus, we must allow Him to be the exception to my statement!)

The Final Evaluator

The one “character” who is implied throughout the story is God (the Father). The Father is explicitly mentioned in v. 38, which ties the teaching of Son of Man (in v. 31) directly to God. This is also made abundantly clear in Jesus’ rebuke of Peter in verse 33. However, for the majority of the story, the implication is that God is either present, or being requested for proof of Jesus’ actions. God is certainly implied as the Recipient of Jesus’ thanks (v. 6), and from Matthew (16.17), we know He is the source of Peter’s confession about Jesus. However, God is the hidden meaning in the Pharisees’ request for a sign from “heaven” (Mark 8.11). A practicing Jew was careful not to utter the name of YHWH, and thus heaven became a suitable alternative for speaking of God.

So, God is, indeed, present in the passage under review. Interestingly, notice that the minister is thankful to God, the disciples are instructed by God, the religious leaders mistakenly try to use God to their advantage, and the crowd may be oblivious to God’s role in this. (Certainly, the crowd followed Jesus for three days (v. 2), but for what purpose? If these were Gentiles, as I believe, then they had no messianic expectations unlike the earlier crowd in Chapter 6. Thus, after they were fed, they may have simply left as Jesus requested.) If this scenario is true, it is not unlike many scenarios in churches today. But the question at hand, is truly what does God think?

The answer comes in Chapter 9. Let me review the sequence of events before disclosing God’s evaluation. In Mark 8, Jesus feeds the 4000, is confronted by the Pharisees, rebukes the disciples, heals a blind man, asks the disciples who others and they think He is, corrects their expectations about His coming, and casts a new understanding of what being His disciple truly means.

Following this series of events, Jesus takes three disciples with Him up the mountain where they see Jesus in all of His glory. This transfiguration of Jesus certainly would never be forgotten by these three (Peter, James, and John), but it is the words that God speaks that provide our evaluation.

Perspective: These men have just seen Jesus in His glory, but they must now focus on learning before they see Him beaten and battered. “I have shown them a glimpse of what is to come but they must focus on the present for now.”

Evaluation – Well done! “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him” (Mark 9.7). If we were to elaborate these exact words, God is essentially saying: “He is doing what He has been sent to do. He is teaching the truth that needs to be known. He is ushering in My Kingdom. Pay attention!”

In Mark 1.11, “a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’” God was speaking to Jesus as He was now entering a time of testing and then beginning His public ministry. In Mark 9, God speaks to those near to Jesus confirming that all that has been done is according to plan and they should listen to Jesus so they are ready when it is their time to go forth as well.

The Point

Everyone who has heard of Jesus has an opinion of Him. That is true now, and it was certainly true when He lived. Some only cared for what He could do (the miracle mongers), some only cared why He did what He did (the Pharisees), some were invited to join (the disciples), and some were perplexed by it all (e.g. Nicodemus). But all had an opinion. However, the only opinion that mattered to Jesus was that of His Father. In fact, Jesus said that He only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5.19). Thus, Jesus was not acting on His own behalf, but was completely following God’s lead.

In doing so, Jesus ministered in such a way as to not only know who was truly evaluating Him, but how the evaluation was to be conducted. In essence, Jesus knew the expectations and thus could choose to fulfill them or not. But Jesus knew how to fulfill the expectations because He was watching for guidance from the One doing the evaluations! Therefore, the outcome was not only being getting God’s approval, but His endorsement as well.


What is true for Jesus is true for us as well! Only God was truly capable of evaluating Jesus ministry. No one else understood – especially, before the resurrection. (The disciples did not understand the term resurrection, let alone its implications!) But God had a plan and Jesus was working to fulfill His appointed mission regardless of the praise and adoration of some, the sneers and jeers of others, or the apathy of the rest. His focus was on doing God’s work and only paying attention to God’s critique.

Of course, we do not have the same insights that Jesus had, but a part of that is that many of us ascribe to the saying (intentionally or not) of being too busy doing ministry that we don’t have time to minister. Sometimes this is due to the expectations of others, but often it is fulfilling our own expectations of ourselves. But when this is true, it is never the expectation of God. Surely, we all have times of busyness. I doubt that anyone had more (differing) expectations on Him than Jesus. Yet, Jesus knew when His time had not yet come (e.g. John 2.4; 7.6). The truth is that God has given everyone the same amount of time in a day. And that amount of time is perfect to accomplish all that He wants us to accomplish for Him on that day. As we learn to know God better, we will discover that we might indeed find ourselves busier than ever. However, what we find ourselves doing will have consequences that reach much further and last much longer than the concerns of most people – including those that may evaluate us.

The truth is that while most people in ministry may not know exactly what God’s expectations are, they realize that their efforts do not match the expectations God likely has for them or their ministry. But rather than wonder, Jesus took the time to know God and to know what He wanted – each and every day. What if today’s ministers did the same? Again, we may not have the exact insights that Jesus had, but God has promised to draw near to those who draw near to Him (James 4.8). That verse is just after the statement the need to resist the devil, who is aiming to take us off course. If we seek to gain God’s approval, we must maintain our focus on the only evaluation – and the only Evaluator – that matters.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Evaluating a Ministry, Part 5

This series is to help provide a glimpse into understanding the various aspects of evaluating a ministry. The most powerful aspect is perspective, but it can also be the most misleading. In the previous three posts I have reviewed the evaluation and perspective of the Pharisees, the Twelve, and the crowd. This week, we look at the next participant who has the perspective of the minister himself – Jesus.

Many people consider Jesus to be a man who wandered about the countryside teaching as He went. While that statement has some truth to it, the wandering was anything but random. Jesus was purposeful in everything He did (or didn’t do). Consider the passage of our focus for this series – Mark 8. Jesus is in the Decapolis region (see Mark 7.31, and then “those days” in 8.1), and a “great crowd” has gathered around Him (8.1). How did they know about Jesus? Why would these Gentiles be willing to follow this Jew? The answer (at least, in part) is that Jesus had been to the Decapolis region before. His stay was brief (maybe just a few hours), but His time there was not soon forgotten.

In Mark 5, a story is recorded that might otherwise seem out of place, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to heal a demon-possessed man. After the healing the people begged Jesus to leave and the man begged Jesus to be able to go with Him. However, Jesus told the man to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5.19). Verse 20 says that everyone marveled at the report. So imagine the anticipation of waiting for this Man to return. And when Jesus did return, they followed Him, and, it seems, even forgot about the necessity of food while with Him (8.2).

As we saw last week, the crowd was favorable toward Jesus, but while Jesus compassion made the crowd the beneficiary of a miracle, the focus here is on what and who He is teaching. The what is the will of God. The who is, primarily, the disciples.

The Teaching

The will of God is to include all people in the redemptive plan. The Jews as the chosen people of God certainly believed God had a place for them in the Kingdom. The Gentiles might not have believed it, but after receiving this food in a similar manner as the Jews had in Mark 6, they might begin to believe (not to mention the two stories which immediately precede the feeding with the healing of two Gentiles – a daughter and a deaf man with a speech impediment). But the Pharisees and disciples were appalled at Jesus for this work of God. And thus, this miracle was for them as much as anything.

As to the Pharisees, the teaching merely consisted of Jesus saying that only the sign of Jonah would be given (click here for more on this). The disciples, on the other hand, would get into the boat with Jesus where they would first be rebuked (Mark 8.17-18), then questioned (v. 29), and finally instructed on what a disciple of Jesus must consider (vv. 34-38).

In the third post of this series, I mentioned the calling of the Twelve. In Mark 3.14, the text says Jesus appoints the twelve disciples. Understanding this word is important. The word “appoints” is the Greek word poieo which generally means “to make.” Jesus didn’t just “point” to these men and magically make them something they weren’t. Rather, He worked with them, formed them molded them until they became the men they were called to be. He made them as a sculptor forges a masterpiece or a writer constructs a poem. (Poieo is the origin for the English word poem.)

This “making” including teaching them, having them observe Him, and correcting any erroneous understandings. As we see in Mark 8, much remains in the making of these disciples. They are not thrilled that Jesus is feeding “these” people (v. 4), they argue over inconsequential matters (v. 16, “discussing” could be considered “arguing”), and misinterpret the meaning of Jesus life when they correctly refer to Him as the Messiah (v. 29, 31-33).

Thus, one-half way through the book of Mark, the disciples seem to be a rather unworthy bunch. Furthermore, they do not appear to be getting any closer to truly grasping their mission, or more importantly the mission of Jesus. Still, Jesus is now ready to leave the countryside and take this crew to Jerusalem where the challenges will intensify. So what might Jesus think of His ministry at this point? Of course any answer is speculative, but given Jesus was very purposeful and without sin, I do not believe that He would be as negative as we might think. He had to know that the paradigms He was shifting would not be easy to change.

Perspective: These disciples need to understand what it means to be devoted to God as I am. “How can I improve their understanding in the time that I have left? Are they ready for the hostilities that will come when we reach Jerusalem?”

Evaluation: In Progress. “They realize I am the Christ, but do not yet understand the significance. They realize they are following Me, but have false expectations of where that will lead. I will begin to reveal the fullness of My mission to them now.” (Mark 8.31)

(I use “In Progress” instead of “Incomplete” because I believe that Jesus would have seen progress. Incomplete has more of a sense of finality to it, and Jesus certainly did not give up – although we have the rest of the story to provide that information for us. Nonetheless, I believe Mark 8.29-30 and 9.1 provide evidence enough to make the claim from this portion of Scripture alone.)

Mark records very little of Jesus’ teachings; he is far more focused on what Jesus did. (Mark 4 is largely focused on Jesus teaching and the last verses of Mark 8 are explicit teachings as well.) But, again, what Jesus did was intentional and his actions constituted a form of teaching. But, as He sets His face toward Jerusalem, Jesus begins to clarify Himself in the verses which conclude Mark 8. It because imperative that that the disciples learn – and learn quickly.  It was time for the disciples to do more than make progress – it was time for them to embrace their calling. Words such as “Lose your life to gain it” or “Save your life you will lose it” were said to the crowd at large (v. 34) but these words fit perfectly with the mission that Jesus had just described for Himself in verse 31, and were meant to challenge His closest followers, especially, to prepare them for the challenges they would face as well.

The Point

A good minister will be one who has a plan AND is working the plan. Detours, speed bumps, potholes, and other delays might affect the timing and even the desired outcomes, but such matters will not deter the goal.

A good minister will also properly evaluate him or herself in regards to the plan. I believe this is a critical reason that Jesus asked His followers, “Who do others say I am?” and even more importantly, “Who do you say I am?” The intent behind the questions was not because Jesus was having an identity crisis, but rather to make sure the disciples would not have one later. Although their understanding was less than complete, the answer signified that they were growing in their understanding (i.e. the plan was working). Per Matthew’s account of this story, their answer reveals that God was working in their lives (Matthew 16.17, the Father revealed this truth). God’s perspective will be the focus of the post next week.

While we cannot be Jesus, we can be intentional about having a plan and working the plan. We can also evaluate ourselves according to the plan as well. We may not have the insights into the lives of others that Jesus had, but we do have His example on how to mold (that is, make) disciples. It takes time and persistence, and most importantly, it takes the work of God.

The Conclusion

It seems odd to evaluate the ministry of Jesus. It seems especially odd to do so at this point in the story. But to truly evaluate His ministry at this point, we have to do so based upon what we know ONLY to this point of the story. Perhaps my evaluation is skewed because I do know what happens, but given that the Great Confession in Mark 8.29, the disciples are beginning to understand a little, which shows progress is being made in Jesus “making” them.

And that is really one of the principle aspects of this series. It is possible to evaluate an event, but it is much more difficult to evaluate a ministry. A ministry unfolds over time and has both ups and downs, and perhaps the perceived negatives will outweigh the positives for an extended period of time. Yet, it is impossible to measure the intangibles (of course, this is true of the outcome of an event as well). And it is even more challenging to effectively measure anything with only part of the information. For instance, I have not mentioned the “success” of the disciples ministry when sent out to the villages early in Mark 6. Furthermore, we only have a handful of stories from the life of Jesus. How many other stories, teachings, miracles, etc. could help us to better understand who He was and how He “made” the disciples? (This is addressed in John 21.25.) But what isn’t in the Bible is not as important as what is! God gave us exactly what He needed to communicate so that we could understand His plan, and His ways as much as we needed in order to know, trust, serve, and love Him. How we respond is a part of the overall evaluation and, again, God’s perspective is the focus for next week’s post.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Evaluating a Ministry, Part 4

This series is designed to help us determine some characteristics of how ministries are often evaluated and how they might better be. I am centering this study on Mark 8, evaluating Jesus ministry by the perspective of those involved. To date, I have reviewed the Pharisees (who were interested observers with a loaded agenda) and the disciples (who were included participants but had little understanding). This week, we look at the crowd.

The Crowd

The crowd plays an important role in Mark. The word first appears in Mark 2.4, but the evidence of a crowd is obvious in Mark 1 in verse 22 (compare verse 28 as this crowd was now spreading the fame of Jesus), verse 32 (the whole town came after sunset), and in verse 37 (everyone who wasn’t healed the night before returned. In Mark 3, “crowd” becomes a negative term as they might “crush him” (v. 9). They were so insistent on Him helping them they “pressed around him to touch him” (v. 10). Jesus taught the crowd in Mark 4, but held the explanation for those closest to Him (v. 11) and in chapter five, the crowd begged Jesus to leave (v. 17). Again the crowd presses around Jesus so tightly after He arrived back on the other side, the word “thronged” is used (v. 24). These instances and others set up the great feeding in Mark 6 (for the Israelites) and ultimately prepare us for the evaluation from the crowd in Mark 8 (Gentiles).

For the remainder of the post, I need to clarify that the “crowd” being considered does not include the Pharisees nor the disciples. Obviously, both groups were present during the instances above and for the miracle in Mark 8.1-10. However, both have been reviewed independently, so the crowd in question will not include these groups. It is important to remember that these two groups were stunned (and appalled) at the miracle Jesus performs here – not for what He does, but for whom He does it.

Most of Jesus’ ministry was in Israel, but he did venture into Gentile territory occasionally. (In Mark 5, He healed the demoniac on the other side of the sea, for instance.) Mark 8 begins by stating “in those days” He had a crowd following Him. The days relate to the end of Mark 7 where He has been in the Decapolis (7.31), so we are dealing with a Gentile crowd. (This is important because many – most? – of Mark’s initial readers were in Rome and, therefore, Gentile, so Mark is showing the God’s ministry concerns them as well.)

The Adoration

We can further ascertain the group is Gentile if we understand the word “these” in Mark 8.4 to be read in a sarcastic tone (as in these people?), which I believe is likely. These people have been following Jesus for three days and had nothing to eat. If they were willing to follow Jesus for that long, like the crowds in Israel, they were enamored with Him. Thus, at this point, their evaluation of Jesus’ ministry would likely have been “Excellent” but may have begun to fade toward “Very Good” because of their physical needs.

Jesus feeds these people from the scraps and certainly wins their adoration. Not only did this Jew (Jesus) come and spend time with these Gentiles, but He provided care for them as well – in the same manner He had for the Jews earlier. No other rabbi would make this gesture; very few, if any, Jews would make this gesture – and that is not even considering the miracle!

Perspective: What can you do for me? “This man is special. He is a Jew who came to our territory and has taught us many wonderful things. Now, he has even provided food for us.”

Evaluation: Outstanding! Unbelievable! “I never thought I would see the day that a Jew would help one of us (a Gentile).”

Of course, it was my fictitious quote here that is the primary factor for the evaluation in these posts. The Pharisees and disciples has a perspective of doubt and skepticism while the Gentiles would have been bewildered in a positive way.

The Point

Unlike the Pharisees or the disciples, from the verses in Mark 8, we cannot perceive that this crowd had any agenda nor a definitive calling. Therefore, their participation in this pericope is not only voluntary, but largely free of expectations. Granted, the demoniac that Jesus healed in Mark 5 was told to stay in the region and tell others “how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 10), so the news of Jesus’ power and mercy would have stirred some interest when He returned to the region. Any interest which had been stirred was now fully realized as this crowd saw Jesus’ mercy (feeding these people) and His power (4000 fed from seven loaves and a few small fish). Each member of the crowd had to make their own determination about Jesus, but what had once only been hearsay, was now experienced in person.

The Conclusion

The crowd does provide a perspective on ministry, but the size of crowd should not be the indicator! In fact, in John 6, Jesus tried to thin the crowd (and succeeded!) because they were not true followers, but were miracle-mongers and the like (see John 6.66). While the crowd does add a perspective (what can you do for me?), the crowd is rarely the best evaluator of anything – including a ministry. Why? Because the crowd is usually gathered for what it can get and will go along with others due to the idea of “group think.”

Consider, for instance, a sporting event. If the home team does something poorly, the crowd will boo (you are not giving me what I want). Even very young children, who do not understand the game in general (let alone nuances of it) will begin to boo. Why? It is what the group is doing. We must remember this is what happened to Jesus at His public trial. Many of the same people who heralded Jesus as Messiah as He entered Jerusalem on Sunday were calling for Him to be killed (and Barabbas released) just a few days later.

So, while the crowd is an important element of ministry, their lack of knowledge of the ministry’s goals and purpose, the processes involved, and other factors such as lack of personnel (or good help, as with the disciples as of Mark 8), usually makes it unsuitable for properly evaluating a ministry. Generally, when the crowd is happy, they will say the ministry is going well. When they are distressed about anything, the verdict will be something less. The problem is that this change may take place in the course of minutes or hours, and as I mentioned two weeks ago, any single event (the test the Pharisees wanted, v. 11) can bring success of failure (happiness or sadness) and is not truly indicative of a ministry’s (or minister’s) value. 

Thus, we must continue to look elsewhere for how to best evaluate a ministry. Next week, we will add one major piece, before tying them together the following week, and concluding the series the week after that.