How do you know whether or not you were successful at something?
Well, first, you need to know what the goal is. You must know for what you are striving. If you do not know what the desired destination is, there is no way that you can know that you have arrived. If you do not know what the goal is, you cannot know if you have ever achieved it.
Second, there must be something in place, some type of evaluation process, that is used to determine whether or not the goal has been achieved or if you are closer to achieving that goal. Without an evaluation process in place, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to know how far you have come and how much farther you have to go in achieving that goal.
In this process, it is a good thing to have long-term and short-term goals. The long-term goal is the desired end whereas the short-term goals that, through achieving one at a time, brings the end goal closer to being attained.
Jesus used this type of process when in Acts 1:8, he told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the uttermost ends of the earth.” The end goal was to take the message of the good news of Jesus to the whole earth, but that’s not where he started. He instituted short-term goals that would lead to attaining the end goal.
And it is much easier when the goal can be described by something objective, such as a number or a percentage or a grade. Whether or not a goal described by something objective is reached is very easy to determine. If the goal is to have 100 of something, it is very easy to know whether or not the goal has been realized.
But it’s when the goal can only be described by something not objective that struggle enters as to whether or not the goal has been achieved.
And, honestly, this is where I think congregations can struggle in the area of growing disciples.
You see, growing disciples can only be done when real change occurs in actual daily life, change through which we become more like Jesus in how we act, how we think, and how we react. And how to measure that life change and then evaluate how well the goal of growing disciples is being achieved is difficult.
It may be “blasphemous” to some when I say this, but I will say it anyway. It is often the case that what is commonly done in Christian education is not discipleship. I say this because, while the discussion in Sunday school classes is often good, that discussion often does not result in actual change in real life through becoming more like Jesus, which is how I define discipleship. People often do not see a change in how they act, in how they think, in how they react due to the discussion in that class setting.
For a number of months, I made it a practice to ask people this question: “How have you grown in love over the past year?” Very few could actually answer that question. Most had no idea. I could have put different things in that question: joy, peace, gentleness, generosity, etc. I wonder if the results would have been any different.
See, here’s the problem – there is an attitude that by having classes of some type, which would be called “Christian education,” in which there is discussion is sufficient to grow disciples. It’s not. Commonly, there are no opportunities intentionally designed for disciples to experience what has been learned in the Christian education class in real life situations. And it’s when, being given the opportunity in real life situations to experience and use what has been discussed, that actual life change and growth occurs and, therefore, discipleship.
There is a fundamental shift that must occur. If it does not, then not only will we not be able to evaluate how well we are doing in achieving the goal of growing disciples, there can be a legitimate question as to whether we are actually doing it at all.