Examining Ourselves

If a pastor wanted to take a good look at himself and assess his ministry and do so thoroughly and effectively, he might need some outside help. It’s hard to be objective about ourselves and see our own areas of need and weakness. We adjust so easily to our problem areas and handicaps that, in time, they’re just a part of us and we work around them so easily it feels like they aren’t even there.

There is a hole in the linoleum in our kitchen floor we never notice, but which would give a visitor pause. The day we returned from Hurricane Katrina evacuation in late September, 2005, we were moving our ruined refrigerator out of the house and the tiny little dolly — too little for such a mammoth load — ground its wheels into the floor. We borrowed a stronger one from a neighbor and completed the job, and with so many other things to do to make the house livable again, just never got around to repairing or replacing the linoleum.

In the same way, flaws in ourselves which we overlook and even accept as part of our makeup, an outsider might find horrendous and insist be dealt with.

We did something last week that was a first for my ministry, either in a church or association. At our request, the North American Mission Board brought in a team of six interviewers who spent two full days and evenings in one hour sessions with some sixty of our pastors. The arriving pastor would complete a written confidential questionnaire dealing with how he sees the association, the state convention, and the national denomination. Then, he and an interviewer would spend the next hour in a closed-door session.

After the session ended, the interviewer required another 10 or 15 minutes to jot down his personal conclusions. Then he came out into our auditorium, met the next pastor and repeated the process. My job — a really hard one — was to stand around and drink coffee and eat snacks and greet the pastors when they arrived. I am uniquely qualified for this assignment.

In a few weeks, NAMB’s Hugh Townsend, the leader of last week’s team, will return to New Orleans and assemble with our association’s leaders for a “prescription meeting” during which he will present the findings of his team. Not having done this before, I have little idea what to expect, but we are confident the next Director of Missions will find this to be a tremendous asset. It should give him a head-start in beginning his work with our churches.

Hugh Townsend tells me NAMB will be doing this same assessment for nearly two dozen associations across America in the first half of this year. I had no idea such a resource was available, but am delighted we were able to get in on it at this critical time. (There’s no cost to the association other than the snacks and refreshments. Of course, the associational office sets up all the appointments with the pastors and arranges meeting rooms.)

Pastors might be interested in the questions which the interviewers directed toward our ministers during those 60-minute conferences.(In fact, taking a few minutes right now to respond to these will be a valuable exercise for any church leader.)

1. Pastor, what do you believe is God’s ministry plan (or vision) for your church and your community?

2. What is the next step your church needs to take to fulfill its vision or mission?

3. What are the most important issues you face in your community and ministry?

4. Please share ways your church has successfully ministered to needs in your community.

5. Please share some of the things you tried but did not work as well as you wanted, and why you feel they were not as effective as they could have been.

6. Do you have meaningful interaction with other pastors? Are you part of a prayer group?

7. Please give an example of a cooperative project your church did with other churches.

8. What do you think the church could do to have the greatest impact on your city?

9. Would you be willing to work with partners to make a Kingdom-impact on your city?

10. On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the highest), how important do you believe church planting is to reaching your city for Christ? Circle answer: 1 2 3 4 5

11. Using the same scale, how ready is your church to partner in planting a church? 1 2 3 4 5

And that’s it. You can see how the next associational leaders will find this information helpful. Some of our pastors are new, so no doubt they were limited in their ability to answer all these. But the pastor who has served a church for as long as four or five years should have no trouble.

My own opinion is that just the experience of sitting across a desk and being asked to explain your vision for your community to an outsider could be a valuable thing for any pastor.

A word of explanation: no one is making an assessment on individual pastors. We’re not grading them. This is not about their being accountable to me or the denomination. It’s more about finding out where they are, how they see their ministry, and what their own goals and vision are. No leader can help the pastors and churches go forward until he first learns where they are now.

That is equally true of a pastor and his congregation. Until he learns where the people are now in their walk with the Lord, he’ll not be effective in leading them forward.

Thirty years ago, as I was finishing up the first five years (I stayed nearly 13) as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, I wondered how the congregation saw my ministry. I suggested to the chairman of deacons that I would be open to their doing some kind of survey of the membership to see what the congregation was thinking.

The deacons responded far more thoroughly than I expected.

The chairman pulled together a team of deacons who compiled a several-page questionnaire. Then, they went down the entire church roll — this was a congregation of 2,000 members — and selected every seventh name, and paid a personal visit. In the homes, they asked their questions and wrote down the answers. When they finished, the completed questionnaires made a stack several feet tall.

I was antsy the night the team pulled down the screen in the meeting room and projected the results of their work. For the next hour, the deacons and I sat there while the team went over every question they asked and the answers they received. It felt a little like judgment day. All my life was passing before me.

All in all, everything was favorable. (I thought it would be, otherwise I’d not have been so foolhardy as to suggest it in the first place!)

Later, I suggested to the other ministers on our staff that they ask the deacons to do the same for them on their fifth anniversaries. The various responses I received all fall under the heading of: “Are you out of your mind?” None of them ever did.

And I never repeated it, although it might have been a good idea.

Dr. George W. Truett, long-time pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church, used to say the pastor gets into the homes of his people all week long diagnosing their situations, then enters the pulpit on Sunday to give his prescription. He did not use the word “assessment,” but easily could have. Every pastor is doing that all the time, assessing where his people are in their understanding of God’s word and in their maturity. The choices he makes for sermon subjects and materials are influenced by what he has learned about them.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

“Examine yourselves….” (II Corinthians 13:5)

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