Elders and Communication (4): Evaluating a Program
West Columbia, Texas
Effective leaders evaluate every phrase of their work from time to time to see if changes and improvements need to be made. Traditionalism - we do this or that because we have always done it - leads to stagnation. When changes are made just for the sake of change, there is no real leadership involved. Such cosmetic action is superficial and immature. The process of review and evaluation will reveal the need to keep some things as they are, to make minor adjustments in some areas, and to discard programs that have proven ineffective.
In the process of evaluation, elders are wise in seeking various forms of responses and various kinds of suggestions from many sources which are at their disposal - deacons, evangelists, class teachers, and other members. As a part of its program of evangelism and edification, the church here began purchasing the Guardian of Truth for each household in the church in 1985. A little over a year later, the elders decided to examine the use being made of this teaching tool in order to judge whether it was making a significant contribution to our overall work or not. The potential for good was there, but was it being realized?
As a part of this process, the decision was made to seek direct response and evaluation on the part of all those who were receiving the magazine. The elders asked that a letter be prepared clearly presenting the goals and values of this program so that people would understand what they were being asked and why. Were these goals being met? Were these values being obtained by the readers?
The response was positive beyond our hopes! Two aged people said they were no longer able to read anything at all. One man said that he doubted he got much out of it because he was so busy with other things. Everyone else said yes they read some of the articles, benefitted from it, and desired for this material to continue coming into their home. This program was helping us far more than we realized.
Some interesting comments were added in the space provided for that purpose. Several stated that they read every article in each issue. "It has helped us tremendously to grow as Christians. Thank you." One lady said she read the paper while riding her stationary bicycle. "Some articles have stimulated conversations and discussions besides just benefitting me." Another person inquired as to how she could send the paper to her relatives in liberal churches in other towns ' Several said they stop whatever they are doing when the paper comes in the mail and sit down immediately to read it. The input of the readers was invaluable in the elders' decision to continue using the Guardian of Truth in the church here.
Other programs and phases of the work have been evaluated. The adult class program was revamped so as to provide three subjects on Sunday and three on Wednesday, and new classes are offered each quarter. The children's classes at one time had been left to individual teachers and lacked any overall progression or continuity. Now they study the "Truth In Life" series on Wednesdays and "Walking With God" on Sundays. So that our teachers will stay fresh, no one is saddled with a class for eternity but changes are made on a regular basis. The elders have communicated with the preachers we support in other places from time to time to evaluate our work in this area. In order to encourage personal contact between our members and the men we support, we periodically pass out a list of these men's names and addresses. We are developing teachers in our midst, and preachers as well. At times, we have a young man work with us for the summer. Andy Alexander, one of our own prepared himself and began full-time evangelistic labors in his mid-30s.
This is not a perfect church and we are not satisfied. We want to press on and grow in every phase of our work and service unto God! The point of these articles is simply this. Open lines of communication are vital if elders are to lead the church in an effective way. We have tried to reinforce that lesson with illustrations taken from the local work being done here. Our elders are Charley Alexander, James Moore, and Jimmy Dale Harris (added as of July 1987). Our deacons are Ferg Frederick, Hollis Harris, Earl Hathorn, Raymond Maxwell, Joe Sutherland, and Charles Kelley. Men and women of all ages are using their talents and abilities in many ways. The church here had helped and encouraged me to grow in my work as an evangelist. My whole family has grown spiritually. We are thankful to be a part of a church with such good leadership.
The letter used by the elders in evaluating the church's use of the Guardian of Truth is reproduced below.
Evaluating the Church's Use of a Gospel Journal
A word is in order on behalf of the elder's effort to evaluate our use of the Guardian of Truth. A good eldership not only initiates plans for evangelism, edification, and benevolence, but also evaluates those plans. They periodically evaluate the men being supported in evangelism and every other phase of the church's work. The church here has been purchasing the Guardian of Truth for our members for over a year now and having it mailed into our homes. The elders ask each of us to consider our use of this gospel paper and to help them in evaluating this program of work.
There is no financial problem with our use of the Guardian of Truth. For the amount we pay, especially with the group discount, we could not put out a good bulletin, as I know from having edited a bulletin for five years. Neither could we provide in a bulletin as much good material by mature writers from around the country as we get in the Guardian of Truth. So the cost for what we are getting is minimal at $1.00 per month per household. That is a bargain for the sound, spiritual teaching which goes into each home. But nothing is a bargain if it is not used. If it costs only $1.00 a year for the whole church to get it, and we were not using it or benefitting from it, we don't want to waste even a dollar. The elders need to know whether or not we use it and benefit from it.
They are not asking if you read every article and line of every issue. I don't always get to do that. At home, we take several newspapers and secular magazines - we don't read every line of every issue of any of them. We use them as we can. If we never read or benefit from one, eventually we stop taking it. The elders are not trying to make you feel guilty if you do not get to read every line of every issue. We are all simply being asked to evaluate the usefulness of the journal in our own home. We are being asked to circle Yes or No in answer to this question: Do you read some articles in the Guardian of Truth as you have time, benefit from it, and desire that it continue to come into your home?
The point is this. If you never read or benefit from it, if you prefer not to receive it, do not hesitate to circle No. Your candid judgment is needed. If you scan and read articles of interest to you, if it helps and encourages and benefits you spiritually, if you would miss it and want it to keep coming, circle Yes. Feel free to write down any additional comment you wish to make.
This is an effort to have good communication and accurate information, so that this phase of our work can be properly evaluated. No idea of voting or majority rule is involved. The elders may decide to continue this program or to drop it. Also, the paper can be easily stopped where it is not wanted. It is not forced on anyone. After their evaluation, the elders will let us know their decision.
Purpose and Value of the Present Program
Sometimes we initiate plans and programs but fail to explain their purpose or value. Why do churches sometimes use gospel papers? Why have we been using the Guardian of Truth? It is an expediency to provide admonition, edification, and gospel teaching in general just like class literature, tracts, newspaper articles, correspondence courses, and other printed materials. All such expediences are authorized by every passage which authorizes the church to preach and teach the word of the truth of the gospel (1 Tim. 3:15; Col 1:5). Whether a specific aid is expedient or not at a given time is a matter of judgment (1 Cor. 6:12).
The simplest way I can express the value of gospel journals after reading them for 25 years is this: It is like having several gospel preachers coming into my home from time to time to stimulate my study, to increase my zeal, to provoke my thought, to widen my horizon about trends and efforts (good and bad) in other places, and to deepen my love for the Lord and all things spiritual. When men like Bill Cavender, Irven Lee, Harold Fite, Larry Hafley, Hoyt Houchen, Steve Wolfgang, and Mike Willis come into your home to sow the seed of the kingdom, it will do you good if you have an honest heart. If you cannot get all the seed they have to sow every time they come, whatever amount you do get will do you good! That is why brother Alexander recently reminded us to take note of the articles in this magazine, adding that they are some of the finest he had ever read.
A journal can be used in connection with personal study, to generate discussion with a family member or friend about a particular subject, to aid family devotions, to improve Bible class preparation, to pass Bible lessons on to other people (saints and sinners), to save for reference material for future use, or to prepare talks, invitations, remarks at the Lord's supper, and sermons.
Let me make a personal observation on such expediencies properly used, drawn from 25 years of gospel preaching. I can go to heaven without Bible classes, class literature, or gospel journals. I can even use such aids on an individual basis whether the church includes them in its program or not. But, such aids are used by fewer people when left to the individual alone to provide his own. We may get busy or lack initiative and overlook the opportunity on our own. But when the challenge to reach a little higher is laid before us by those who watch for our souls, we often rise to that challenge and make the effort which brings a blessing to our lives.
I have learned that a church which includes classes in its program gains an added layer of strength and depth. I have preached where class literature was rarely provided by the church and where it was regularly provided. When a church includes literature often in its classes, another layer of growth can be seen after a time. I have preached where the church sent a religious journal into each home and where it did not. When a church included a gospel paper in its program, I have seen in time without fail an additional layer of strength, depth and growth. Some of you confirm in your development what I am saying, because you have grown as a direct influence of the Guardian of Truth since the church has been using this aid in its teaching program. Several have expressed this from time to time.
The more we are surrounded with spiritual tools, activities, and influences, the more we grow and bear fruit in the Lord!
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 22, pp. 678-679