A paradox pertaining to the modern Christian church is that many want to evaluate the various ministries and activities of the church, but few want to be the recipients of evaluation, whether the evaluation is fair or not. However, this is not limited to the church. Even in secular society, for one to be undergoing “evaluation” evokes feelings of trepidation and even fear. Recognizing this, some evangelists even play to this fear, warning people of the great “evaluation” or judgment to come. But is evaluation a good thing? If it is, is it always good to evaluate? What part does evaluation play in evangelism?
While we may fear evaluation, we use it often, every day. We get up in the morning and look into the bathroom mirror to evaluate our appearance. We look at the clock to evaluate our available time for breakfast. We are daily bombarded with huge amounts of information. Some of this arrives through the media, from school classes, from work leaders and associates, and even from our own thoughts. We must evaluate all of this information to understand if it is relevant or simply noise in our environment. If we fail to make proper decisions because of faulty evaluations, we might believe a fictional media display to be true. We might fail a class we are taking because we could not properly understand the material presented. We might place our career in jeopardy by relegating important information our boss wishes us to understand to a lower priority than it deserves. We might even find our thoughts misleading us due to inadequate breadth of experience to correctly formulate an opinion. In short, without evaluation we might find ourselves deceived regarding our relationship to the world around us.
This is not as difficult to achieve as one might expect. In the field of photography, cameras will often use different colored lenses called “filters” to achieve unique effects. The filter might be yellow, red, or blue. If someone starting out in photography were given their first camera with only a red lens and no explanation regarding its purpose, they might never question the images they were producing. However, requesting evaluation of their work from a more experienced photographer would soon reveal the possibilities available through the use of other filters or even no filters at all. When we don’t seek evaluation from those more experienced than us in any field, we limit our ability to move beyond the limits set by our current “filters.”
Evaluation of our evangelistic efforts can result in our becoming more adept at handling diverse witnessing situations. This is no different than how life works in general. We take a course of action, and then we evaluate that course based on the results. Some evaluations produce results that are self-evident. For instance, if we have a flat tire on our car in the morning when we go to leave for work, and we discover a spilled box of nails in the driveway, we can probably safely decide that the two are related and then clean up the nails so it does not happen again. However, if we find our tire has a continuous, unexplained slow leak, we are probably better off seeking outside evaluation of the problem, so we take our car to the tire store for an inspection by the tire technician. While we are there, we may even ask the technician what recommendations he or she might have to improve our vehicle’s performance or appearance. Their helpfulness with one problem can inspire us to seek evaluation regarding these other issues. We will look at that a little more, later.
Some evangelism activities may also produce self-evident ways to improve what we are doing. For instance, if we are having a hard time finding people who have expressed interest in knowing more about the Bible, we might decide that it is time to buy a road map or a GPS device to help us find their address. However, other issues may need evaluation by those more experienced than us. If we are doing Bible studies or a formal series of evangelistic seminars, and we lose our audience after presenting a certain topic, we may want help in understanding how to approach that topic in a more digestible manner. We might even discover less obvious issues like people being uncomfortable with our accent, our clothing or even the seating. We might find that our presentation is too lengthy, and we are exhausting the attention span of our audience. Asking for evaluation can open up insights we might never have considered without it. None of us has all the answers, but someone else might have some answers we can grow with.
Because evaluation is often a matter of experience, we should, in turn, be prepared to provide helpful evaluation to others who are less experienced than we are. This can be challenging because it is important that we understand the difference between enabling a ministry with positive evaluation and disabling it with criticism. One key difference is that helpful evaluation is often requested, whereas, hurtful criticism is often simply volunteered by the criticizer. Another difference can be seen in the response by the recipients. If we provide input that is helpful, others will beat a path to our door as they request evaluation to enable the growth of their ministry. But if we instead provide only criticism of their efforts and point to their failures, we will find that fewer and fewer will seek our input until eventually, no one will come to us. For these very reasons, it is not only important to seek evaluation of our ministries, but to also seek evaluation of how we evaluate others. This can help us to avoid a critical spirit. If we slide into criticism, we can be tempted into self-pride in such a way that it can become impossible to even see or feel our need for evaluation. This is good reason for us to seek evaluation even if we feel we do not need it.
Perhaps another indicator of how we are evaluating others would be for us to ask ourselves if what we are considering to be simply an “evaluation” of someone’s ministry is hurtful or condemnatory as opposed to uplifting and enabling. For instance a statement such as “Evangelists never prepare people properly,” would be criticism as opposed to evaluation as it is condemnatory and, depending on the thickness of the evangelist’s skin, hurtful as well. On the other hand, a statement like, “Perhaps, people would be better grounded if we could give them another week of seminars,” would be uplifting and enabling the ministry as it is not condemnatory and is offering a possible solution to enable the ministry and help it grow.
One important aspect of evaluations we should remember is that they are not obligatory for the one receiving them. The recipients are free to either accept or reject the ideas shared with them. This is very much the same as those who are free to accept or reject eternal life in Jesus. That sort of freedom also has inherent consequences. If the evaluation advice is truly enabling and would empower the ministry to a higher level then accepting the advice and applying it would produce greater fruit for the kingdom. If it is rejected then the ministry will suffer from failure to utilize the experience of others. In any event, the evaluator must resist the temptation to slip from evaluation into criticism if their advice is not followed. To become critical would only make it harder for the one evaluated to return for further evaluation in the future and may close the door to ever correcting what might have been healed if only the spirit of criticism had not been allowed to enter in.
Most of us can probably relate to this if we have had personal experience with the chilling effect of criticism that has caused us to question whether or not we should even be doing ministry. Some who are struggling with great obstacles to their ministry may become discouraged beyond what they are able to bear by a criticism that becomes the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” Our words, if not carefully chosen, may deprive God’s work of a willing soldier who might have become a general in the Lord’s army one day, if we had not given them a burden of discouragement to bear. If we could get a vision for our ability to enable ministries, to lift privates to higher places where they can become generals, we would never choose to lessen their stature through criticism. If we can avoid such criticism, we will find it benefiting our own walk with the Lord. As we help them to move forward and grow, we are modeling a behavior that will encourage them to do the same for us. By lifting one another up in this way, the entire work will become stronger.
God did not create us to become “accusers of the brethren.” Revelation 12:10 tells us who has that work to do. It is Satan, and he is very adept at it. Discouragement is one of his favorite tools. If we find his tools lying about, we should be careful not to pick them up. His tools will not be a help to God’s work and will do nothing to enable our ministries. Instead they will divide and cripple every effort we put forth to advance the kingdom of God. Recognizing the benefits of positive evaluation within God’s family, let’s provide the kind of evaluation of the church and other individuals and ministries within the church that we would find uplifting and empowering for our own spiritual walk. This is the way Jesus taught us when He said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12, NIV.
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