• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Counting Sheep

Whenever one talks about assessment, it evokes a response.  Not many of us enjoy being assessed or evaluated.  There is a certain fear of “not measuring up” that can rise up in our hearts when we are asked to take a closer look at our activities and work.  Yet, a good assessment process can provide us with much needed input for further development and growth.

Any assessment, though, “requires a shared definition of mission”.  We as a community have this shared definition in our global vision to see “innovative teams multiplying disciples and communities of believers, bringing the Gospel within reach of lost people everywhere we go.” We recognize that any assessment of our work and ministry in light of our vision must take into consideration elements of ‘quality’ and ‘quantity’.   We do not want to see more disciples just so we can add “more sheep to our numbers.”   We long to see disciples who multiply themselves in others.  We are looking for quality, for depth, and for growth.  Nevertheless, we are looking for and praying for a ‘number’ of disciples.

A good assessment process would seek input in at least three ways.  One, it would ask for feedback from the larger community.  Input from other workers and partners (both expat and national) would give a fuller picture of how the work has progressed.  Second, it would take a ‘long view’ of the work.  It would look at how the work is helping establish reproducible and sustainable growth in people’s lives, and in the life of the community of believers.  Finally, it would listen for stories; stories of what God has been doing in us and through us as workers.  These stories would frame the work in the larger context of the mission and vision to which God has called us.

‘Counting sheep’ is a lot more than numbers.

4 Responses

  1. I feel that one problem with evaluations or assessments is that we conduct them after the passage of time (usually a year or more).

    There are inherent problems to that.

    For example, things which would have been better addressed sooner rather than later are left too long. Mistakes become harder to correct; behavioural patterns become more entrenched.

    Secondly, the assessment becomes more like an end-of-semester exam and brings with it both the fear and the sense of not making the grade.

    Somehow we need to strive for continuous peer assessment through mutual accountability. If we do this, then the mistakes can be corrected and any damage there might be can be minimized.

    And instead of judging a person’s particular character issue on the basis of accumulated data at the end of a year (often without any contect or adequate supporting story), mutually accountable colleagues can help each other constructively to grow to be more like Jesus. That is a discipleship skill, of course, so we should either have it or be working on developing it!

    I have been hurt and I have seen others hurt because we don’t nurture one another and hold each other accountable continuously; but leave it to some kind of structured evaluation.

    That raises the question of what we hope to accomplish in our annual evaluations? But I won’t go there!

    • Excellent follow up on encouraging a more ‘regular’ mutual assessment. I would argue that we need both, that is, more regular mutual assessment as well as periodic longer time frame assessments. Yes, that would be something like an ‘annual assessment’. However, without the more regular assessments than the longer time frame assessment is significantly less productive, less helpful and less likely to lead to transformation.

  2. Counting sheep is better than stealing sheep. However, counting sheep also conjures up the illusion of something that puts us to sleep. So, what can be said that will keep the reader awake for a discussion?

    When assessing, what we ask and what is heard to be asked are two separate issues. Both merit some discussion. Therefore, if you will stay awake with me I will put my two cents in. What is the standard by which we evaluate? What is our response to being assessed?

    Are we really ready to assess what we do by the global vision? It doesn’t look like the task list by which we may prefer to be evaluated. The vision statement is personal and yet corporate. The subject of the vision statement, “teams,” holds the most glaring criteria by which we must be assessed. Teams are corporate. They are bigger than our individual effort. There are so many ways that we can fail to function as a team. Ouch! I may be holding up the wrong standard right from the start as I go about my business each day.

    “Innovative” primarily refers to the things that we attempt to do not what actually may be accomplished. Are we a team that puts aside the question of “what can we do?” for the bigger question of “what needs to be done?” Rarely do I need God to accomplish what I know I can already do. If we are not acutely aware that we must depend on God as well as our team for the things that we are attempting we most likely are not being innovative. If you have felt like giving up in the past year because the work was too hard but yet found the encouragement to go on, give yourself a gold star on this one before going on.

    The words in the vision statement, “multiplying and bringing,” remind me of the chicken and the egg. Which comes first? Unless the gospel permeates our lives, it will not go with us. If it does not go with are we really bringing it anywhere? Nor can we multiply in others that which we do not possess ourselves. That means we need community and discipleship for our own lives. Do you exist in a community or on a task force? Are you assessing your openness to growth and maturity development as much as you are assessing what you are accomplishing?

    Okay there does need to be something about the direct results when we assess. Are we continually seeing Jesus use our lives to transform lost sheep? Grief turned to a friendly smile. Despair turned to a ray of hope. Shame from the mess people make of their lives conquered because Jesus took it to the cross and lifted their souls up into heaven. Are you seeing Jesus work his power in people’s lives so that they look more like him everyday? Every good disciple has only one teacher though he may have many teaching assistants. Are there gatherings of people where Jesus dwells? Peoples who put Jesus at the center of what they are doing, or more rightly stated people He draws to the attention of what He is doing. I can’t help but think that all of these results are an assessment of God as much as they are an assessment of our participation with Him.

    Maybe if we truly view assessments as something human and divine then we would be less afraid of the pain it may cause and become more focused on the only One that can help us do it.

    No choice, decision or thought can be separated from the emotional and experiential memories that they evoke. For further reading on that topic, one might begin by reading “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain”, Antonio Damasio, 2005. The core of this issue is how in the past we have experienced self-reflection that triggers a shame or guilt response? All too often, assessments are made that ignore the effects of the shame and guilt they evoke. The result is the kind of pain that John Wilson eludes to in his comments. Further assessments tend to trigger greater pain and avoidance responses because of the memory of past painful experiences. Additionally painful assessment experiences tend to strengthen the expectation of future negative experiences of being assessed.

    Since illusions to the Chronicles of Narnia are popular let me refer to Eustace in the Book Voyage of the Dawn Treader*. Where we find Eustace allegorically turned into a dragon, which allows him to see how dragon-ly his real life has become. After he becomes aware that he is a dragon, he continually experiences the pain of his shortcomings. Reasonably, he is afraid when Aslan draws him into a conversation together. Only because Aslan stays with him and assists him in the cleansing process is the memory of the time together ultimately a positive one. Finishing well is not just about some future event, but about every transaction we have with one another.

    Even though we need to enter into a cleansing or de-skinning, it should be something that is followed through to a positive outcome. As in Eustace’s case, it is not possible for us on our own to peel away all our ugly skin. It ultimately happens in the presence of God, but as His followers, we are called to reflect this same healing process that should be the outcome of every assessment. When this happens, the same thing that causes us to fear should bring us the courage we need to do it anyway. LORD In our assessing, may you grant us, each one, the grace to bring words of life that build each other up for your glory and your kingdom.

    * “Finally one night, Eustace heard Aslan calling to him and saying “Follow Me.” Eustace told Edmund later that he was afraid, though as a dragon he could’ve eaten any lion; he wasn’t afraid of being eaten, he was just afraid. Following Aslan he was taken to a pool where he wanted to bathe his leg. Aslan told him that he must first undress. Scratching and clawing himself, Eustace desperately tried to shed his scales like a snake skin. After three times through this ordeal, he began to fear that he would never be rid of the scales. Aslan’s voice told him “You will have to let me undress you,” and he tore the skin from Eustace, picked him up and dropped him into the pool. As Eustace washed he realized that his arm was no longer in pain because he had turned back into a boy. He returned to the camp and told Edmund what had happened to him. It was Edmund who told him that the lion must have been Aslan. Everyone saw after this that Eustace was a much better natured boy.” Excerpt from http://narnia.wikia.com/

    • There is a wealth of wisdom in these comments, David. What struck me most was the divine human encounter in assessment, and recognizing that the ‘journey’ or proces of assessment is another element by which God furthers grows us in our dependence of Him.

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