personal productivitystrategy

Ron Walborn on Evaluating Personal Growth in Your Church



ronwalbornWelcome to this Thursday’s podcast on unSeminary. Today, I had the privilege of talking to Ron Walborn, Dean of Alliance Theological Seminary. We talked about assessment and how to determine if people are growing. I asked Ron what sort of things we should be thinking about as pastors when it comes to assessing people’s growth.

Ron explains that the word “assessment” is increasingly on the lips of every dean and faculty member across the country. Accreditors and the Federal Government have standards in place that force seminaries to think about this. “Schools have to prove that students are learning what we say they are going to learn.”

To do this, we have to state up front, what are the goals of the program?

  • The program goals are then tied to the courses a student will take to achieve those goals.
  • Every course has learning goals.
  • Learning goals are tied to assessments in the course. For example, why are we doing this research paper? What does it teach us or enable us to do?

Most churches don’t have a process to help people develop and grow in their gifts and abilities, but you can take this same practice and apply it to the church setting.

Setting Goals

Ron advises setting goals for your classes based on:

  • Knowledge: What will participants know as a result of taking this class
  • Training: What will participants be able to do as a result of taking this class
  • Character: How will the class impact or change the participant’s disposition or character

Then, how will you measure the outcome?

Ron also offered another great method as a way to disciple people in your congregation and measure their growth. It’s a simple four-step process:

  • I do –you watch
  • I do –you help
  • You do –I help
  • You do –I watch

You can use this method in small groups, in jail or street ministries, or in other safe ways. It takes some time and effort, but it’s worth the risk to get people out of their comfort zone and into loving and caring for others.

Episode Highlights

00:40 // Rich introduces Ron and welcomes him to the show.

00:59 // Ron explains about the seminary.

01:10 // Ron talks about his travel to different campuses and countries.

01:57 // Ron speaks of church growth

04:49 // Ron speaks of program and training goals.

06:43 // Ron speaks of encouragement and inspiration.

08:52 // Ron speaks of church and society.

10:18 // Ron speaks of praying, learning, and ministering.

11:34 // Ron speaks of time, effort, and energy of helping to grow others.

13:57 // Rich speaks of taking the time to pray.

15:16 // Ron speaks of love and care for others.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Hashtag

Book Worth Reading // A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastors Journey Toward The Gospel of Peace by Brian Zahnd

Inspiring Ministries // Northern Seminary

Inspiring Leader // Andy Stanley

What does he do for fun? // Travel and a lot of travel

Episode Transcript

Rich – Hey, everybody, welcome to the unSeminary Podcast. Thanks so much for listening in. Happy Thursday, we hope you’re having a great week as you get ready for this weekend at your church today. I’m excited to have Ron Walborn with us from Alliance Theological Seminary. Ron, welcome, thanks for being here today.

Ron – Great to be here Rich, thanks.

Rich – I know we’ve talked before and it’s a bit unnerving to talk to someone who, actually, is a big dog at a seminary. And, so, sometimes, people are like, “Are you like anti-seminary?” I’m like, “No, no, no, no, not at all.” I think they’re super important, and, so, Ron I’m just glad you’re here today and, actually, I’m excited for what you have to share. So, how are things going at the seminary? Give me a sense of how things are these days.

Ron – It’s going great, I mean, I’m only at the Rockland Campus most of the time but I was just out in New York City yesterday with our faculty down there, and they’re doing great, and then I was able to be down in Puerto Rico at our campus there.

Rich – Oh, gosh, that’s unfortunate.

Ron – Yeah, when it was really cold and snowy that’s when God calls me to Puerto Rico. They always need a visit from their being.

Rich – Yeah, you just got to go down there.

Ron – I’m just trying to help and encourage people, I’m going on my missionary journey.

Rich – That’s right, that’s incredible, nice. Well, today we want to talk about really assessment and how we can understand if people are, actually, growing and a lot of times churches, I know, I wonder about this. I think at our church we do a number of different kind of discipleship things and I stand back and wonder, “Are these effective?” And I’m sure, as a Dean at a Seminary you think about this all the time so what should we be thinking about as a church when it comes to kind of the assessment of people’s growth.

Ron – Yeah, great question, and it is something I’m thinking about all the time because seminaries and all higher education institutions are being forced to think about it by the accreditors, by the federal government. We have to prove that our students are, actually, learning what we say they’re going to learn. And so increasingly assessment is the word that is on the lips of every Dean of every faculty member. But to put it simply we really have to state upfront, what are the programs goals of the program that you’re taking? In other words, what are you going to learn if you do a master divinity degree or a master of arts, and, so, we have programs goals in place, and then those goals are tied to the courses that you will take and so every course has learning goals and the learning goals are tied to the assessments that we do in the course. Like, “Why do we do this research paper, what is it going to teach us, what is going to enable us to do?” And, so, when a faculty member is grading those course embedded assessments that’s how we know are we making progress in developing people to the point where they, actually, will learn something and have some things in their pocket when they finish their program. So, to that end, I have, I’ve transferred a lot of that into the church setting.

Rich – Yeah, right, right, right, I’d love to hear about that.

Ron – Because I’m convinced that we don’t develop people well in the church setting and we don’t really have a process to take a young man who comes to a senior pastor and says, “Hey, pastor, I want to be a preacher and I feel like, maybe, I have the gift of preaching.”

Well, you can’t put that young man up on Sunday morning in front of 800 or 1,000 people but how do you develop him and access his development. And, so, we’ve got to have places where people can grow in their gifts, in their abilities, and be accessed along the way to make sure that we’re doing the right things to pour into them.

Rich – Now, when we think about that, just, we’ll take a step back and talk about, maybe, there’s a course, let’s say we’re offering a class, even just that idea of stepping back and saying, “Hey, this is what you’re going to learn in this class.” Even that can be revolutionary because it forces the instructor or the people putting together the class too really, clearly articulate. What are some, when you’re trying to articulate to students or what are some best practices on that front that we should be thinking about when we’re articulating about an upcoming class at our church?

Ron – Well, you want to have goals that are based on knowledge. What will I know as a result of taking this course but you, also, want to have training goals in mind? What will I be able to do as a result of taking this course, how will this affect my character change, my disposition? And, so, when you think through learning goals how is it going to transform a person, how is it going to change them, and then how are you going to measure that to make sure that it’s, actually, working in the class setting.

Rich – Right. Interesting, I know we run a number of different, we have like life groups or small groups that we send most of our people through. But then we’re a bit of kind of life groups. And, so, we, also, have a number of discipleship classes’ opportunities. And, you know, it’s interesting, over the years I would say Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University has been the most consistent course for us and I think, a part of the reason why and this just struck me when you were talking about this. I think, a part of the reason why is because it’s super clear what it is that we’re talking about. And we, a part of what they do in their process is, actually, track what was your debt coming into the course and what was your debt coming out.

Ron – Exactly.

Rich – And, so, we just keep rolling that number up and we can tell, and the fascinating thing about that course is, although, it has a real felt need around people’s debt, fundamentally, that’s why people take the course. You end up getting into all kinds of pastoral conversations with people.

Ron – Absolutely.

Rich – Because you end up. God, obviously touches your finances such as every area of your life for sure.

Ron – And you can, actually, measure the progress of people.

Rich – Yes.

Ron – They can be halfway through the course and say, “I am, now, a thousand dollars, closer to being out of debt.” And, so, they can see progress so, I think, this assessment is important not only for teachers, for leaders, but it’s important for people.

Rich – Yeah.

Ron – Because when they see that they’re, actually, learning what the church, what the seminary is telling them they’re going to learn they get encouraged, they get inspired, and that’s how we create lifelong learners.

Rich – Absolutely.

Ron – Lifelong disciples.

Rich – Absolutely, now, what about, you know, when you kind of pull that out from individual classrooms are there better, best practices kind of as we pull back and think about the discipleship of a whole person. You’ve kind of started talking, a bit about that with individuals, maybe, looking more from what are some milestones for you in your development? What should we be thinking about on that front?

Ron – Well, I always look back to the way Jesus raised up his disciples and it’s an old model, I can’t remember who coined it. Obviously, Jesus is the one that authored it but I do, you watch, I do, you help, you do, I help, and then you do, and I watch. And that forced that process, I have used that back in the day when I was pastoring in Connecticut I had these young men that started to come to my Bible Studies and after a few weeks I said, “Hey, next week I want you to teach a section of this Bible Study.” And, I remember this young man named Mario, his eyes went wide and I gave him some instruction, I showed him how to do it. And, so, when we got to the verse in the passage he jumped in and then he taught that verse in the Bible Study and I helped him. And after a few weeks of doing that he was able to take a bigger section and, eventually, I handed off that Bible Study to him. But he was developed and raised up into a young man who is, now, a middle age man, and he’s been teaching evangelistic Bible Studies his whole life. And, so, we’ve got to find ways to develop people in safe ways where they can make mistakes, where they can blow it, because you’re not going to grow and develop without making mistakes.

Rich – Right.

Ron – And, so, if we put someone up on Sunday morning and they make a mistake they wound 800 people and embarrass themselves forever. So we’ve got to find safe places to help them develop in their gifts and in their ministry.

Rich – Now, it seems like historically. This idea of developing people it does seem like it’s an eroding value or it’s an eroding trend. Is that your perspective on it as well and why would that be?

Ron – Yeah, well, I don’t want to blame models of church, but I do think the whole seeker-sensitive rage created a performance mentality in church and we created kind of a consumer atmosphere where people were coming to buy a good service, and buy a good sermon, and buy a good worship service. And, so, I think, churches felt intense pressure to put professionals up. And a lot of the developmental places began to get cut off because we had to perform. We had to do a perfect service whereas in the old days the greatest Gospel singers started in church singing on Sunday’s.

Rich – Right.

Ron – And it didn’t matter if they were off key a little bit they learned to work it out and so I’m not saying that we need to put those people up on Sunday morning again. I think there is a certain amount of professionalism we need but we must have incubators. We’ve got to have places in the body of Christ where people can grow, and be developed, and make mistakes, and have the freedom to fail, and it goes even deeper. I think that’s true for the gifts of the spirit. I mean, gifts were given by God but they’re developed by us and nobody gets a gift in its completely mature form. And, so, if the church doesn’t have incubators where people can learn to prophesy, to pray for healing, to minister in ways, it’s, that’s where we get a lot of abuse. And the answer to abuse is not disuse but it’s right use and so we’ve got to find ways to develop them better.

Rich – Let’s pause on that because, I think, you’re definitely onto something there. If you think about something like the gift of teaching, clearly a Biblical gift, clearly, you’re not going to get anybody disagreeing like, “Oh, there’s still teachers today?” That clearly is [overlap 0:10:39.4]

Ron – Right.

Rich – So, what, how do you, and, using that example of putting somebody up in front of 800 people what are some incubators that you’ve either seen churches use or you think they should use to help people develop that gift?

Ron – Well, I have to say seminaries a great incubator.

Rich – Alliance Theological Centering.

Ron – Yeah, and I do think it’s important that we have places like seminary like Nyack college when I taught at the undergrad my pastoral ministry students. They would preach three times in the intro class, three times in the intermediate class, three times in the advanced class, six times in their field education experience.

Rich – Oh, wow, yeah.

Ron – And, so, and, then often they’d be chosen to preach in chapel so by the time I graduated a young man or a young woman. And I did put out some excellent young ladies who preach the Gospel with great power. In some denominations it’s called ‘sharing’ but they had an opportunity to grow and to make some mistakes, be critiqued, but then gain their confidence. And, so, by the time they graduated they would’ve preached about 15 to 17 times.

Rich – Right.

Ron – So, they were much more confident when they went in. So in churches, I think, we got to find small groups. I think that’s a great incubator. I think there’s ministry opportunities in jail ministry, street ministry, missions, there’s places where we can help people. Now, we want to make sure we’re giving them the teaching and the content, not just throwing them out there.

Rich – Right.

Ron – Contrary to popular opinion the best way to learn how to swim is not being thrown into the pool, it’s getting some instruction.

Rich – Yes.

Ron – So that you don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.

Rich – Yeah, there’s adventure and then misadventure. Right?

Ron –   That’s right.

Rich – You want to, you need to be a good context. I’ve spent most of my career supporting excellent teaching pastors who, I think, are some of the best communicators in the country. And one of the things, just by being around those folks I realize is you just have to work at it. It’s a little bit of like when Paul says, “Do the work of the evangelist.” It is, it is, just work and you have to invest time, effort, and energy to make it happen. I had a young leader come to me recently and say, “You know, listen, I really want to, you know, I want to grow my preaching gift. What would you suggest?” And I said, “Well, you need to find a place that will let you preach every week and you have to because you have to get up in front and do it, week in, week out.” There’s just no substitute for them. Even another, a good friend of mine who, I would say, some of the gifts that you were talking about, he’s been experiencing. Kind of an awakening of a desire from the Lord to pray for particularly healing and has seen some incredible things. I won’t take his testimony away from him but has seen some incredible things happen. And I was talking to him recently about that, it was an incredible season to see, he’s in. And we got talking about it and he resonated very much with what you said. He said, “Listen, I’m just praying for people more, I’m just out there,” I’m taking the opportunity when someone talks about, “hey, I’m feeling sick or my back hurts,” or I’m, and it’s just like leaning in at that moment and saying, “Hey, can we pray, now, I’d love to take some time now.”

Ron – Yep, and, to go with that I teach a course at the seminary and at the college called ‘Divine Healing’ and one of the assignments is that they have to pray for, at least, eight people during the semester.

Rich – Right.

Ron – And four of those people cannot be inside the church.

Rich – Oh, nice.

Ron – Because one of the things that will help people learn is when they take risks that move them beyond their status quo, beyond their comfort zone, and the stories that our students come back with are just incredible and amazing.

Rich – Absolutely, yeah, absolutely, yeah, for sure.

Ron – And, so, they learn and they learn to do it in a loving way, in a kind way, not be harsh, not be abusive, and, the truth is, I tell them, “Listen, whether people are healed or not as long as they know they’ve been loved by Jesus and loved by someone who loves Jesus they’re going to have a good experience.”

Rich – Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. We’ve been doing a lot more praying for people, you know, kind of ministry time at our church, which is not typical, that’s, again, a whole other conversation.

Ron – Sure.

Rich – We’re definitely more out of the kind of invest and invite attraction model and over the last, I’d say, year or 18 months, and we’ve come back to that time and time again with our ministry team folks that, at the end of the day, it’s not our job to see something amazing happen in our job.

Ron – Yes.

Rich – What is in our control is just loving and caring on people.

Ron – That’s right.

RICH- And how can we do that?

Ron – That’s right?

Rich – That’s fantastic. Are there other things we should be, before we jump into the lightening round we’ve got a couple quick questions we want to ask you?

Ron – Sure.

Rich – But are there anything else around this developmental, think of a pastor who’s listening in, what’s a couple quick things they should be thinking about when it comes to developing folks.

Ron – Well, I just think that in our culture we’ve had such trauma in the family, such trauma in our society that people are not being developed the way they used to be developed in their families, in their schools. And, so, I think, the church has to step up and begin to develop and care for a lot of broken, hurting people who have never been parented, who have never been developed and cared for. We’ve got to call them into their destiny and, so, we’ve got to take development and the assessment of how we’re doing in development very seriously. And, so, I hope that what I’m learning in Higher Ed, while it can be a hassle at times, and all the accreditation stuff that we have go through, my prays is it would translate into the church in developing disciples.


Leave a Response

Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.