"Pastor, Do We Have to Evaluate?" Old First E-pistle 03.23.12

"Pastor, Do We Have to Evaluate?" Old First E-pistle 03.23.12

I’m asking a favor: take 20 minutes and complete the Revitalization Task Force’s evaluation of our “Covenant Ministry” — online preferably, or ask the office or at worship for a paper copy.

One of the newer people asked after worship last week (and Steve Wilhite’s explanation of the survey as the first of three steps at the end of our Covenant Ministry), “Have we been doing something special?” I guess there’s assessment even in an innocent question!

The survey’s questions are fairly simple and straightforward. Behind them, the Revitalization Task Force is trying to:

~ document what has changed:
~ identify what Old First can learn from the last 2 and 1/2 years: and
~ point the congregation towards God’s calling after this formal agreement to try reaching more people has ended.

…Presumably, all our efforts have made some difference, good or bad!

Churches often are not good at assessment. It makes folk uncomfortable, as if our faithfulness is being tested or judged. “Can’t we just try to follow God… without so many questions?” When I proposed an evaluation of ministry to the first congregation I served, one faithful member reacted, exasperated, but true to her fear: “That’s what Adam and Eve thought they were doing, and look where it landed them… and the rest of us forever after.”

But, beloved, if God has a purpose for the church… if we’ve been gathered and sent to accomplish ‘something,’ doesn’t it make sense to take stock — to set aside all our busyness (and distraction or even deliberate avoidance!) in order to determine how we are doing?

A church evaluation isn’t about whether or not we are faithful. That is one of those ultimate questions we can leave for God! Instead, it’s simpler and more straightforward: have the actions we have chosen as the expression of our faithfulness been effective in the mission context in which God has placed us?

Of course, one of the difficulties of church assessment is that we often don’t have complete agreement on — or even an articulated understanding of — God’s purpose for our church:

Are we to minister to our members’ needs? Or…
Is outreach & service beyond our community what church is really about?

Is church the community we create? Or…
Are we interested in the effects church has on individuals?

Are we primarily here to enable worship & prompt thanksgiving? Or…
Is all we do at church meant to serve as a means towards justice and peace?

Is church also about bodies and politics too? Or…
Is “real church” only focused on the spiritual?

Are we a foretaste or outpost of God’s Kingdom on earth? Or…
Do we serve as worldly spokesperson, even advertisement for the Gospel?

Maybe this evaluation can help better articulate, at least, provisionally our sense of purpose at this point in time? For this assessment, the RTF is measuring us against the goal of the Covenant Ministry, namely to share God’s love further, with more and different people.

The survey is the first part of the RTF’s assessment effort (that also includes talking to leaders and looking at “hard numbers”). We can’t afford to miss valuable information or important conclusions:

~ an awareness of how we’ve evolved,
~ learning from our mistakes,
~ better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, and
~ a renewed and renewing sense of God’s call on us.

If last’s week’s E-pistle, addressed to individuals, was “Know and Love Thyself;” the survey continues the theme, but is addressed to our community.

What will this evaluation tell us? I’m looking forward to hearing. I wasn’t here before we got started, so how can I know or compare? I have seen changes in the last 2 and 1/2+ years. But I will save those for my survey… and share with you over my signature after we’ve completed this evaluation and as we move into this period of discernment.

But good assessment is going to take all of us, our insights, our prayerful reflection, our constructive criticism. The goal is no less than figuring out God’s will for our community. And what’s not an easy question for an individual, certainly doesn’t become more obvious when you have to answer it in community!

If you haven’t completed the survey, could you do so now? Read through it. Put it down. Let the questions sink in and simmer. Be prayerful about it. And then go back to the survey, and answer with your best offerings.

To show you how important I think this is, let me offer a challenge. Or “a prize.” If we get 100 surveys back… let’s see what can I promise? …A Sunday without a sermon? …Only the hymns you love to sing? …No more church meetings?

Ok, those I can’t guarantee. But if we get 100 responses… I’ll get my driver’s license. It’s a small thing, but a personal sacrifice to show how important I think assessment is. Not just for the Revitalization Task Force as it ends it work. But for Old First as it looks ahead.

Instead of my usual closing, “see you in church,” let’s try: “I hope you’ll see me behind the wheel.


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