Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Measurable Data Is Secondary in Ministry

Recently, someone asked me about the “measurable data” of my years of ministry. The question bemused my sense of calling. The question is clear. It is about numbers: attendance, baptisms, annual giving, and other quantifiable characteristics. But, the question misses the primary point of what the early church called koinonia.

Koinonia is participation, social interaction, communication, communion, distribution, and fellowship. James McClendon writes that koinonia “and not agape is the characteristic New Testament term for Christian love, the new, shared love of those whose lives are remade by the resurrection of Christ. It is the word for love in the Easter strand.” Ministry is about fostering koinonia, not making attendance and giving the primary focus.

Human measures miss God’s priorities. As Christians, we are to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” God calls us to “love one another.” The primary directives are clear. The basics of faith are long established in the early creeds. The New Testament supports these creeds. For example, see the Apostles Creed or Athanasian Creed. Confessions reflect the distinctiveness among various traditions. After this primary focus, quantifiable characteristics are secondary, but not ignored.

In business, establishing a quantifiable matrix is not only helpful, it is essential. These measures can help managers make informed decisions and be less emotional. Is a product profitable? Yes or no? If the answer is “no,” then the company should either find ways to make the product more profitable or drop it. At some point, the sunk costs (money already invested in the product) do not matter. Or, if the product was a team’s brainchild, then measurable data can clarify the decision.

Ministry is different than business. The faith journey is unlike human approaches to life. Humanity likes to take control. Asking about measurable data in ministry means applying a human approach to God.

How can we measure success in ministry?
Commitment to God’s calling (Matthew 6:33)
Reflecting the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
Biblical focus (2 Timothy 3:16)
Integrity (Proverbs 10:9)
Seeds planted (Matthew 13:1-9)
…this list could go on in the same vein.

Businesses puts profit first. Churches must be careful not to follow suit. Measurable data, like attendance and giving, are helpful. They can point to some primary measures of ministry success. But, they can also be misleading. There have been many pastors in vibrant, growing churches (giving and attendance are going up), but they have dark secrets. Then, when people find out about their problems, the church suffers. If one were to look only at the data, the pastor and staff would appear to be successful. Likewise, small churches do not mean a lack of success.

Many ministers change churches. They move for a variety of reasons. Only God knows the driving force in their hearts. Yet, it seems strange that God never seems to call someone to a smaller church.

When people ask me about my ministry, my mind immediately goes to stories of God at work. There have been heart-swelling discussions in small groups, baptisms after a journey of transformation, moving professions of faith, funerals that impacted the entire community, children’s brilliant questions, and the list could go on and on. In each case, I have been privileged to be part of it. To me, these stories are the significant measurable data.

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