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.

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