As leaders we need to make more time to evaluate our programs at the grassroots level in order to better understand the effectiveness of our programs, mission and direction.
It's easy for us to write programs on the 8 x 11 white bond paper, with its table divided into 3-6 columns with headings like "events," "date," "venue," "target," and so forth, without making time to listen and feel the heart and needs of our members. While this works to some degree, what happens when the goals aren't met? Will we learn from the experience and do something differently next time?
We recently did a survey among 843 young people here in the North Philippines Union Conference. This gave us a peek at the state of the surveyed youth in this region. According to the survey, 85 percent of respondents said they believe that their eternal salvation is based on their obedience to the law and 60 percent said they go to church to be saved. Further, only 21 percent of respondents said they have read the New Testament, and 20 percent the Old Testament.
This is alarming.
We can do a lot of programs and activities and yet miss the real issue if we run ahead to our office, grab a pen, write down the next program that comes to our mind, bring it to councils and committees for approval, execute it, and voila! We're done and again ready to think of more programs.
For some leaders, taking time to simply listen to a member seems to be a distraction. Instead of taking it as an opportunity to serve or listen, we rush to our programs and leave the people, whom Jesus came to seek and to save.
Why was Nehemiah effective in rebuilding the walls in Jerusalem? He asked Hanani and his brethren "concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem." Then they related to him the need and condition of God's people, "The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire" (Nehemiah 1: 2-3). This condition broke Nehemiah's heart. It led him to weep, mourn for many days, fast and pray before God. He also visited the place himself before planning. What was the result? The city walls that were in ruins for more than 120 years were rebuilt in only 52 days.
This is an apt illustration of seeing or evaluating the grassroots first before writing a plan on paper. Nehemiah saw the "people" first, and spent time in prayer and fasting before writing on "paper."
We often quote church co-founder Ellen G. White's popular statement on reaching out, which says, "Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me'" (Ministry of Healing p. 143). Jesus touched the hearts of the people effectively because He mingled with them and ministered to their needs.
So the next time we plan, I believe it is necessary to consider the grassroots level. In this way, we can have a plan that is not detached but relevant to God's family as a whole. I would suggest that leaders consider the following things in planning:
1. The directions coming from the higher organization, -- e.g. General Conference, divisions -- should be designed for individuals at the grassroots level. I believe that God has chosen our leaders to direct His affairs on earth. Nevertheless, this is never an excuse not to see and feel the heartbeat of the grassroots level.
2. The leadership nearest the grassroots, which are the missions and conferences, guided by the unions and divisions, should come up with an effective tool or means to measure the progress of the mission and direction of the worldwide church. This tool should also offer feedback to the higher organizations.
Evaluation should consider where the church members are now in terms of salvation, righteousness by faith, doctrinal knowledge, spiritual disciplines, mission and community involvement. It would be is disastrous for young people if reformation is emphasized without understanding first that they are saved and made righteous by faith alone. Otherwise, we'll only produce Pharisees.
3. Adjustment of plans, if necessary, should not be seen as a distraction but rather a development to reach our goals.
4. Once a carefully and prayerfully crafted instrument is established, administered and interpreted, results must be presented to pastors and leaders of missions and conferences.
We can ignore these suggestions because it requires time, effort and resources, but we would miss out on a lot of opportunities.
The plan of salvation necessitated God to send His Son, to pitch His tent among us, to live, eat, sleep, laugh and shed tears with us. God would have been an abstract painting to us if Jesus had failed to be the "exact representation of His being." God did not only see but also knew by experience our needs and conditions.
He knows the grassroots.
--Petronio Genebago is Youth Ministries director for the North Philippine Union Conference.