I get these sometimes. I suspect most leadership-types do. You struggle feeling very effective at what you do. You wonder what kind of real difference you make. You suspect you lack something significant for making a greater impact.
I’ve learned over the years in pastoral ministry that evaluating effectiveness often boils down to gaining perspective over how I tend to feel. When a bout with this malaise hits me, I ask myself four questions to help get a more objective assessment of my performance.
One, who ultimately is in control?
This question immediately steps me back to look at the big picture. God is sovereign over every aspect of my life including my relative effectiveness/fruitfulness. He determines the breadth of my ministry. Remembering a text like 1 Cor. 3:7 proves very comforting. “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” So does a verse like John 3:27. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” I love that scene in the film Rudy where the young man desperate to get accepted to Notre Dame so he can play football for the university seeks counsel from the campus priest. Although wanting to help Rudy wherever he can, the pastor admits at a given point he can do only so much. He quips something to this effect: “After seminary and all my years of ministry I know two things–there is a God and I am not He.” Pretty good theology, Hollywood notwithstanding.
Two, what legitimately can I change?
Sometimes a lack of effectiveness can point to an aspect of one’s performance which really does need improvement. Recently my leadership team conducted a review of my role as a pastor at our church. It encouraged me to receive affirmati0n on several fronts, but the inputs definitely revealed some key areas where I can focus for enhancing my effectiveness. Since receiving that report, I’ve been asking the Lord to bring to the surface the two or three things He has for me as takeaways from the review so I can determine a strategy for addressing them and set some goals for change. When I can’t get perspective myself on this effectiveness thing, asking a wise, honest, and loving cheerleader for his assessment makes a lot of sense. When you do, don’t neglect to arm yourself with a Psalm 141:5 attitude. “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.”
Three, where actually am I contributing?
Glass half-empty souls can struggle with this. We tend to focus on the downside of things. While doing frank evaluation of where one can improve, it’s important to balance things with gratitude for evidence of one’s contribution. Paul counsels the need for sanctified equilibrium when it comes to assessing our impact in the body of Christ in Rom. 12:3. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” One can fall off the horse in the opposite direction as well. We can tend to think of ourselves more lowly than we ought to think. Effectiveness rarely amounts to an all-or-nothing proposition; it’s usually a mixed bag. Don’t lose sight of the pluses when wrestling with the minuses.
Four, how realistically am I content?
This one hurts. It touches close to home. Too close. Often my feeling the ineffective blues stem from idols of the heart that simply desire more achievement than God deems wise to grant me. At the end of the day, when I’ve worked hard and done the best I can do by the grace of God, I must come back to assess my contentment quotient. Philippians 4:10-13 shows the way.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Whether an abundance or need in any situation, Paul spoke of learning one of the world’s most elusive secrets–how to be content. This matters more than my effectiveness. Jesus, give me strength and keep my/our blues at bay.