Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Value of Evaluation

Here's a sticky issue for anyone in ministry: How do you measure success? The tempation is to elevate mission work to a super-spiritual plane and declare that it defies all possible human measurement systems. There is some truth to that. Tallying the number of baptisms in a church doesn't begin to communicate the joy of salvation, the power of redemption, or the force of transformation. But does that mean that we should not bother to evaluate our work?

On the organizational level, numbers from the field help to communicate the nature and value of our work to board members and financial donors. Within the field, numbers provide a framework for accountability. But we missionaries are often resistant to report numbers, because we know that a number says little about the miracle of a changed life. 

David and I are required to fill out a quarterly report on our ministry-related activities in an effort to quantify our efforts. Like many missionaries, we have struggled with this expectation, even if we understand its purpose. I confess that I have been among the pooh-poohers, the whiners, and the nay-sayers, groaning in agony each time I was instructed to fill out a report. I nodded along last week, as a colleague shared an amazing story about recently meeting a woman at a church in the States who had come to Christ 30 years prior because of a music cassette that he had produced in Germany, ending his tale with the words, "And they think we can measure God's work?"

A room full of missionaries laughed and cheered.

Just a few months ago I'd have been right there with them, questioning the vaidity of my mission's metric system. But in June I attended a conference on "Measuring Ministry Effectiveness," and that conference changed my tune. I not only learned significant ways and means for evaluating the nebulous work of ministry, I was convicted about my cynical attitude. Because, you see, metrics aren't meant to measure God's work. God's work is always perfect and beyond measure. No, metrics don't measure God's work, metrics measure MY work.

At the conference I attended I began to see how measurements shape and even drive the work of ministry. I heard the maxim "If we don't measure what matters, then what we measure becomes what matters" and I realized that it was true!

Oh, but the idea of being evaluated or measured rubs against the grain. It makes us feel like we're being critiqued or judged, and we just don't like it. But what if measurement is holy, right, and good? What if we are called to give an account of our work?

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), three stewards are given funds to invest for their manager. When the manager returns, he asks for an account (What? He wanted to measure their work?!?). Two of the stewards made a return on their investments, and they were commended. One did not earn any interest, and he was handed a pink slip. This isn't a parable out of Forbes Magazine, this is a Jesus Original. Jesus tells the story to remind us of the importance of measuring and being accountable for the results of our actions.

The truth is, if I am not evaluating my efforts, I am not maximizing my efforts. I could be wasting time and money by doing all sorts of fruitless activity in the name of Jesus, and not even know it. Of course, ministry work is dependent upon the work of God--apart from him we can do nothing. But I believe we are still called to give an account for what we do. We don't own the fruit of our labors, just as the stewards in the parable didn't own the interest that they earned on their master's money. No, the fruit and all it's glory goes to the King of kings. And yet, we must give the account. I want to be found faithful.

I have not only repented of my resistance to metrics, I think I am becoming a proponent of the value of measuring ministy impact.

So I wonder, for those of you who are currently serving in a ministry capacity, are you measuring your results? What tools and techniques do you use to measure? And would you create and utilize evaluative measures even if no one required you to report your results? Or do you feel resistance to the idea of measurement where ministry is concerned?

Monday, August 11, 2014

GEM Annual Conference

We just got home from Willingen, Germany, where we attended our GEM annual Conference. It was a time of learning, refreshment, and best of all, great fellowship with our colleagues working throughout Europe. We heard stories about the work of God, we were encouraged in our journey, and we were challenged to take greater risks for the Kingdom.

Our dear friend and ministry partner, Raphaël Anzenberger, was invited by GEM to teach a few of the general sessions and one breakout session. Here we are pictured with Raphaël and his wife Karen (next to me in the photo) and Henry Deneen, the President of GEM, and his wife Celia (next to David in the photo).


Meanwhile, our boys were at a hotel down the road, enjoying a youth conference for GEM Kids. See if you can find Chandler (hint: he's sporting a mustache) and Graham (hint: he's hugging his beloved). 

 

We hit the ground running upon our arrival home, as I am getting ready to head to the States for Orientation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary (the program is on-line, but there are some on-site requirments spaced throughout the year), Chandler gears up start his final year of Lycée (High School in France), and Graham prepares to transition back to the States to start college. David will be accompanying Graham to help with his transition. 

Please pray for us in the coming months as we will be often separated by geography though united in spirit! Pray for God to continue to stregthen us for the work ahead. We are excited about the many ministry opportunities that are open before us, delighted to have the privilege to work by HIS strength and for HIS glory here in France.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tying Shoes

Thirteen years ago I was in a state of panic!

It was the summer before Graham would start his academic career, and his school had sent out a list entitled "Kindergarted Readiness" that outlined the essential developmental benchmarks for students entering kindergarten. Graham could do almost everything on the list--he could count to 100 (or more!), he could recognize all the letters in the alphabet, he could write his own name, he could remember and execute three-part instructions.

But he could not tie his shoes.

And shoe-tying was on the list. I just knew that I had somehow failed as a parent because my five-year old could not tie his shoes. I was fairly sure that it was not due to a lack of manual dexterity, he could make Lego models that were meant for 10-12 year olds. I was fairly sure that is was not due to a lack of intelligence, because at 5, Graham not only recognized the letters of the alphabet, he could read simple chapter books. And darn if it was wasn't due to lack of instruction! I had been trying to teach him to tie his own shoes for six months. The boy just wasn't interested.

Graham and Kayla, the delightful young woman that he is courting.
He was happy for me to tie his shoes. He let the eager-to-mother-anyone little girls in his preschool class tie his shoes. Actually, I think even his younger brother would tie his shoes.

But there on the official "Kindergarten Readiness" list was the dreaded and lacking criteria: Tie Shoes.

And so I worried, and redoubled my efforts. I probably bribed, and threatened, and belittled, and chided. But when the first day of school arrived, Graham still could not tie his shoes. So I did what any over-achieving mother on the verge of facing failure would do. I gave up and bought slip-ons, secretly fearing that my son would one day graduate from high school still not knowing how to tie his shoes.

Graham and Kayla sipping cider in Warsaw
Fast forward thirteen years.

Yesterday, as Graham completed the very last of his on-line High School courses,  I was in town trying to buy him some shoes. He only wears one style: Converse Laceless Slip-ons. To tell you the truth, I can't remember him ever owning a pair of shoes that he had to tie. And in that moment I realized two things:

  1. It is possible that my son is graduating from High School not knowing how to tie his shoes.
  2. I don't care!
You see, something that I feared when he was five may have actually come true, only for me to realize that it was a stupid fear in the first place. So many wise mentors told me not to sweat the small stuff, but the problem was, as a young mom, I had a hard time figuring out what the "small stuff" was.

So I panicked about things like whether the chosen shirt went with the chosen pants, or how many brussels sprouts each child consumed, or whether we had purchased exactly the right folders on the school supply list. I fretted when he went on a field trip to the roller rink because my son had never been on skates before. I wondered how to know if he no longer needed swiming lessons. I felt devasted when he was reprimanded for wearing BLACK-soled shoes on gym days! What kind of a delinquent mother was I? And I just KNEW that a lunch box left at school over the weekend would be mold-covered and contaminated beyond repair by Monday.

But now, as I look back over the school years, now I get it. Tying shoes--and ALL that other stuff--is small stuff. So are standardized test scores, hair length, clothing labels, clean rooms, bed times, adolescent facial hair, and food preferences.

Being sweet.
On the other hand, my scruffy long-haired boy who hates shoelaces has the big stuff just right.

He starts each day in God's Word--not because we require it, but because he chooses it. He is compassionate and kind and eager to serve anyone who has need. He can play a guitar so beautifully it brings tears to my eyes. He's the kind of guy who gets 100% on his English final, and never announces it. He honors his parents, he challenges weak thinking, and he works diligently, no matter the task.

So to all you mothers out there stressing over school supply lists, developmental benchmarks, and swimming lessons, I declare to you this happy news: They don't matter. Be free. Enjoy your summer.

And just to be on the safe side, don't buy black-soled shoes.

Note the laceless Converse.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Splinters

I have been working on a life-long confession, the final exercise in Brian Rice's book, What's Gone Wrong?

The Exercises Volume Four: What's Gone Wrong

After 42 lessons on sin, most of which included reflection and self-examination, I'm beginning to get a grasp on my own sin tendencies, my basic brokenness, and my propensity for coddling the flesh. I say "beginning to get a grasp" because I'm not sure its possible to fully understand the grotesque reality of my own depravity. I'm not sure I can comprehend the horror that I am. But I'm working hard to acknowledge whatever the Lord chooses to reveal. To stare the ugly monster in the eyes. To grieve over the damage it's doing and done.

So many times during these lessons, I wanted to gloss over the work. To skim the surface and avoid the depths, as if ignoring my sin could make it magically disappear. Because I believe that ALL my sins, past, present, and future, have been nailed to the cross, I can convince myself that I don't have to bother naming them. But in leaving them ambiguous and unidentified, I run the risk of staying enslaved to them. Like an un-diagnosed disease, they keep infecting me even if they no longer have the power to kill me. And when I'm infected with sin, I'm not the only one who suffers for it.

Photo Credit: Jordan Egli Photography
And sin is slippery. The Bible tell me that the heart is deceitful, which means it's very easy for me to lie to myself about how messed up I am. It's easy for me to make much of the wounds I receive from others while remaining oblivious to the wounds I've afflicted.

But lest you imagine that this study has been depressing, I guarantee that has not been the case. Painful, yes. Like having splinters of various shapes and sizes removed from all over my body. And some of those splinters were pretty infected. But would you ever say,"That nurse pulled out a doozy of a splinter, and now I am so depressed!"? NO! Never! I may be in pain, and have a lot of tender spots, but I'm thankful to be free from the splinters.

And when the gentle healer comes (how I love him!), he pours out his kindness into the open wound of my conviction. His kindness leads me to repentance, and through repentance I discover the transforming work of his Spirit.

The sad thing is this: The day I do my "whole life confession" I'll probably sin again. And again. I have not learned to fully avoid the sin-splinters. But I have learned several things, like the circumstances where I am most likely to get splinters, and what it feels like to have splinters, and how to get free from splinters before they get infected and contagious.

Mostly, I've learned how easily I can be tempted to coddle the splinter, or justify the splinter, or rationalize the splinter, rather than let Jesus remove it. Jesus paid it all--but not so that I can keep on living the way I always lived while cherishing the hope of heaven. He paid it all so that right now--today--I can find freedom and healing from sin.

In the meantime, I live in process. I ask Jesus to help me see my sin as he sees it. I fully confess, fall, and fully confess again. I get self-righteous as I see unattended specks in other peoples' eyes, only to be reminded of the plank in my own. And in the un-comfortableness of such realizations, I forget that it is a gift to be aware of both specks and planks and an even greater gift to be liberated from them.

Sometimes I look back nostalgically on the days when I did not bother with careful reflection, in-depth self-examination, and genuine confessions. And then I remember that just because I don't see the cancer, it doesn't mean it isn't destroying me. I remember the Great Physician. And I say, "Okay Doc, give it to me straight." I brace myself for the worst, and when conviction comes gently, I submit myself willingly to his care. He always makes me well.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits

1. Remember the BAC exams that Chandler had to take in June? Well, much to no one's surprise, he did great. He passed the French written exam and he virtually aced the French oral exam. Now he's spending his summer doing remedial work in Spanish. Because Spanish is definitely his worst subject. And next year he will have to take Spanish exams (written and oral), along with a  Biology exam, a Chemistry/Physics exam, an Math exam, History exams (written and oral), English exam (written and oral), and yes, even a Physical Fitness exam.
2. Graham is furiously finishing up his High School classes, but since his High School is online, there will be neither pomp nor circumstance. I'm trying to talk him into sporting a homemade square cardboard hat, but he's not having any of it. Still, we're super proud of his A average but even more proud of the person that he is. He is totally ready for university life in the States.
3. Speaking of University life, I just found out that I received a nice scholarship to George Fox Evangelical Seminary, which makes me a tiny bit hopeful that I might be enrolling in online classes soon. Man, I want to go! But even with a scholarship, it will still be expensive. We just can't tell if God is saying, "Step out in faith! I've got you covered!" or "Hold back, this isn't yet my timing!"
4. Since our boys don't seem to have enough on their plates (not!) David offered to teach them homelitics this summer. Actually, both boys are willing, maybe even eager, to start learning to preach. I wonder where they got that.
5. A shout out to all those who have lent me Kindle books! Thanks! My literary cup runneth over!
6. Speaking of books, I just finished Leighton Ford's Transforming Leadership. Best book on leadership that I have read in ages. I've never highlighted as much of a book in my entire life.
7. Gemma's groomer went out of business and I can't figure out what to do with my messy mutt. She needs a serious haircut, and the only other groomer in town won't return my phone calls.
8. Chandler and I have been playing a lot of our new board game, Pandemic. It's a cooperative game, so we either both win or we both lose. We mostly win.
9. In other board game news, Graham has completely dethroned me as the Settler's of Catan Champion. He's won the past two games, but only barely. Of course, I won like a thousand before he won the last two, so maybe I'm not entirely dethroned.
10. In case you were wondering, I've been sleeping like a baby lately. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

What is wrong with the world?

When the London Times ran an essay contest asking, "What is wrong with the world?" the great theologian G.K. Chesterton  replied with the shortest essay he ever wrote. It consisted of two words: "I am."

It's true of all of us. All we, like sheep, have gone astray.

And so with Chesterton, I sadly acknowledge the fact that I have made my own contributions to all that has gone wrong in the world, a world that is showing its brokenness in horrific ways this month.

  • Thousands of abandoned babies have been left on the door step of the United States. How do we respond?
  • While a movie called "Persecuted" is released in the United States (where religious freedoms are probably more plentiful than in any other country on earth), Christians in Northern Iraq have been given an ultimatum: Convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or die. How do we respond?
  • A passenger jet was shot out of the air by Ukrainian separatists--an act of terrorism that impacts the entire global community. How do we respond?
  • Hamas is screaming bloody murder as Gaza is plummeted by Israeli missiles--yet they refuse to sign a peace treaty. They say they want peace, but they will not accept a peace that gives Israel the right to exist. How do we respond?

Broken. All of it. All of us.

Dallas Willard writes, "there is no human answer to human problems." A sobering but undeniable truth. There are no human answers to human problems because humanity IS the problem.

Which might sound fatalistic, except it isn't. When I come up against these tragedies, I stop looking to human solutions and turn to my Father and say, "Help!" Such surrender does not lead to helplessness, but hopefulness. If God is above all, then he has a plan for this, too. And if I am his servant, it's likely that his plan of redemption will employ my willing service.

But what can I do?

Last night, we as a family prayed for these dire situations. We set aside our personal needs and desires, and we spent time interceding for our world. Each of us lifted up these various tragedies, crying out to the one who loves the world so much that he died to save it. And our work is not yet over. No, we will continue to intercede for all those who are suffering around the world. Prayer is not some pathetic last resort, it is the most powerful force available to us, though we are often remiss to employ it.

Next, we will do whatever God puts before us to do. When I enter into a cause through prayer, I often find that God brings me opportunities to minister in practical ways as well. These things may be small and seem insignificant, but they are our assignments and we want to complete them. We need to be attentive to our surroundings, our neighbors, and the needs that are right before us.

Finally, we must be open to doing what may not be right before us. God may call some of us into those dangerous places, at our own expense. This is our chance to be the church to the world. To bring kindness and grace into dark and ugly places. To let the redemption that pumps through our veins spill out and bless our broken world.

What we must not do is turn up the Christian radio station to drown out the depressing news channel, turning our backs on the grief and pain--especially when it seems so far and removed from our comfortable lives. We have been called into the world--a screaming, violent, tortured world--as messengers of peace. We must not shrink back. We dare not ignore.

Lean into Jesus, and follow wherever He leads.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Silence

I recently heard someone compare life to a dirty fish tank that is constantly being stirred. The speaker went on to say that the only thing that stops the stirring is silence. In silence, the dirt and debris of our life settles so that we can see more clearly.

As I grow in the practice of the discipline of silence, I am beginning to experience the truth of that assertion.

Silence is a holy habit that I am actively integrating into my daily life. And honestly, I've been reluctant to blog about it because, well, silence isn't exactly exciting. Actually it sounds downright dull, like a discipline that monks invented simply because no one had anything interesting to say.

Now I've long been a lover of quietness, but I like it quiet so that I can engage in activities like reading or writing. And while I am silent when I read and write, such verbal activities hardly qualify as periods of silence, for my mind is still stimulated by internal dialogue and therefore the waters are still being stirred.

The prophet Isaiah wrote these words to the people of Israel:
For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel has said, "In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength." But you were not willing. 
Rest and quietness are essential to salvation and strength. But often, I am not willing. I am not willing to put down the iPad, to close the book, the turn off the T.V., to set aside the laptop. I am not willing to leave the dishes, to overlook the dust, to ignore the notifications, to limit the number of news articles I read. The king of the universe offers me the grace of his presence, and I do not still myself to experience it.

The world presses in, and every day seems fuller and busier than the last one. The to-do list knows no end, and the tasks before me are both urgent and important.

The water is swirling, swirling.

I get swept up in the movement, thinking that if I just move faster or work smarter I can make it stop. Only all my efforts only make the water muddier. There is no way to work it into calm, to whisk it into stillness. I can't make the water stop, but if I STOP MYSELF, if I take time to be silent and still, I will find that the waters slow. And if I stay still long enough, the water will cease to stir, and the debris will finally settle.

Then, and only then, do I find clarity. Life begins to make sense. I can hear the voice of Truth. I can see the way forward--or find the patience to keep waiting. I discover the reality of my faith, the source of my strength, the reason for my hope, and the root of my joy. In silence, I know his love. I hear him rejoice over me with singing. I long to please him. And finally, I receive my marching orders for the day.

And so my new routine is this: Each morning, I wake up, I put on my running clothes, I pour a cup of tea, and sit for 10 to 20 minutes in silence. Sometimes I read a verse or a passage at the beginning, sometimes I save it for after my time of silence. As thoughts whiz through my mind, I lift them silently before the Father, but I resist dwelling on them. I see them as debris that is settling. Eventually, my thoughts stop screaming at me.

Then I experience what the Psalmist referred to when he wrote, "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother. My soul is like a weaned child within me."

I rest there in that quiet place, content. I am not squirming in anxious prayer, I am satisfied and still.

I've quickly grown attached to the habit of silence. It started as a discipline, but I find that I'm eager for it every morning. I rise earlier and earlier just so that I can have more time--for I'm learning that I don't just want to find the still waters, I want to soak in them.

Have you ever practiced the discipline of silence? Why or why not? Tell me about your experience. 
 
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