Describe Your Fruitfulness

April 16th, 2012

One of the sources of the anxiety that many are feeling in reaction to the Call to Action recommendations is the lack of clarity as to what comprises effective pastoral performance.

It is unclear how exactly the indicators that assess effectiveness will be applied, and even what those indicators will exactly be. From the Call to Action website:

1. Performance of Clergy

  • Adopt updated performance qualities and vital indicators for clergy.
  • Bishops lead in requiring that assessments are used consistently in every annual conference on an annual basis.
  • Focus training and continuing education efforts to enhance performance of new and experienced clergy in relevant competencies based on assessments.
  • Appointments should be made based on proven performance and potential for achieving the desired outcome.

I love the ideas of updating the definition of pastoral effectiveness and training pastors in “relevant competencies,” but am wary of the second point in this list, specifically the requirement of “…assessments that are used consistently in every annual conference.” I find it inconsistent with the idea of training pastors on “relevant competencies” to apply denomination-wide standards for pastoral effectiveness. What is a “relevant competency” in one place may not be in another.

In fact, I am wary even of assessments that are used consistently across an Annual Conference, or even an assessment that is the same for one congregation as the one just across town. Each community is unique, and each congregation responds in unique ways to impact the communities in which we serve.

This highlights the importance of conceptualizing the practices of a congregation as a framework upon which the local church can create ministry unique to the context. As Bishop Schnase writes in his worship chapter of Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, “Passionate Worship is contextual, an expression of the unique culture of a congregation. Communities have their own distinct patterns, voice, and language for loving God authentically.” This idea can be applied to each practice of ministry.

To be sure, there is a framework, and it includes worship, study, fellowship, hospitality, service, and generosity (or whichever words you have attached to those practices in your context), but upon that framework, each congregation is relatively free.

And so it becomes critical to describe your fruitfulness. Individual congregations must make it a priority to share stories of ministry success regularly, and with as many audiences as possible.

Share and celebrate within the congregation, to the district office, through the conference communication channels, and most importantly, in the community itself. Any given pastor should be constantly ready with a dozen or so stories to tell about something amazing that has happened in and through the congregation.

Congregational vitality is about so much more than counting; if it were just about the numbers, Bishop Schnase’s book would have been a pamphlet. Describing fruitfulness is harder than measuring it. It requires purposeful and regular communication, and we must confess that we often get so involved with doing the good stuff that we don’t remember to describe it to others.

Too often, we settle for counting the easiest things to count (worship attendance, offering, small group participants, etc.) and call that “fruitfulness.” A pastor thinks that all he or she needs to do is count stuff and ka-pow—you are “effective” (or not).

It’s easy to count; it’s harder to describe. But it is absolutely vital to do so. Describing your fruitfulness generates excitement and energy that bubbles up and becomes even more fruitful ministry, which you then describe and use the energy generated to launch another … and so on.

I do not lament the lack of a clear, uniform definition of pastoral effectiveness from the “Call to Action;” I’m actually glad there isn’t one. Yes, there’s a framework, a starting point—and we’ll take it from there. And then describe our fruitfulness for anyone who will listen!

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