The question asked to me this week was something like, “How do you know if what you are doing is effective?” In other words, you think you’re doing what you’re supposed to do in terms of teaching and ministry in the lives of individuals and groups, but how do you know if it is working or not?
When I first heard it I gave an answer that was pretty typical (honestly I can’t remember what it was). I would imagine it was something along the line of “planting seeds” and leaving it up to God to take care of the rest. And while that answer is both “Biblically based” and at least gives the image of humility, it seems shallow…almost half-hearted. Like saying “if it’s your will” at the end of a prayer for healing — that way if it doesn’t work out at least we can blame it on God.
This question, however, is a question that has haunted me for the longest time. I can remember almost 10 years ago sitting down with an older pastor (who had begrudgingly taken on the task of “mentoring” me) and asking the effectiveness question. He gave me an answer along the lines of “plant the seed” as well, but then went on to say basically, “If you build it they will come.” In other words “if you do it right” you’ll see the answer to your effectiveness question. Which really means if I will do my ministry in the “right” way, I will receive the attention (popularity) and accolades ($$$) that come with success along with a large number of “changed lives” (which in my tribe meant baptisms and larger gatherings). For some reason that cheesy song “Thank you for giving to the Lord,” is playing in the background of my mind right now.
Something about that answer has always bugged me. I mean I understand how success and effectiveness are measured in today’s world, but I guess I wanted something different — other-worldly. By those standards, which have been the standards that I have used for myself most of my life, Jesus was a colossal failure. So there has to be something else…something besides being effective or doing the right things in the right way.
The answer that I keep coming back to seems too simple — live the Story. There’s a prayer that comes from Thomas Merton that I keep on my computer at school. It’s probably my favorite prayer because it speaks to what I think it means to “live the Story.”
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
These days I’m learning to live out that prayer. The fact that I think I’m doing the “right” (or effective) thing doesn’t mean that I am. But my job is to live my life in conjunction with God’s Story — every breath, every heartbeat, every conversation. My purpose is to keep myself aligned with his Kingdom movement and to do my best to advance that movement every day of my life.
This no longer means changing people’s minds and hearts to agree with what I think they should believe (or to save their butts from the fiery pits of damnation). It doesn’t mean saying the “right” words to “convert” someone. It doesn’t mean putting on the best show so that I’ll be the most popular speaker/teacher/writer/whatever. It means something new to me now. It means taking each step of my day in the Spirit — not in an overtly religious whack-job kind of way, but in a loving, healing, Kingdom seeking king of way. When, and if, I can do that and my story crosses paths with your story, we’ll both be transformed into something new. A power is released at that point that draws us both deeper into The Story and not only transforms us as individuals but brings more of God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Some people wouldn’t call that “effective.” But my hope is that there’s a dusty carpenter from Nazareth who had a relatively small circle of friends, never made a lot of money, and spent most of his time at the dinner table with the outcasts of society who will look at my “ineffective days” on this earth and pat me on the back saying, “You did just fine!”