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Monday, October 05, 2015

Where Are The Results?

In business, success is quantifiable. Or at least it should be.

At the beginning of the fiscal year, or more likely prior, you set a series of targets to be met or exceeded and, come year-end, you stack up the goals alongside the actual results and … then you figure out how to fudge the numbers for the shareholders.

Too honest. Sorry.

But somewhere between the delivery of the actual numbers from the accounting department and the creation of the largely-fictional version that ends up in the annual report, the truth about the current state of your company is known, if only by a small group of men gathered in a boardroom.

Success — or horrible failure — is quantifiable.

Not really so in the church, is it? Not the way we’d like.

We like tangible stuff. Evidence. Things you can put in spreadsheets and make pie charts from. Year-over-year numbers. Bodies in pews. Total “members”.

Spiritual Metrics

But what are the metrics used by the Lord? I think we have a hint in his assessment of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, don’t we?

Ephesus
The good: works, toil, endurance, hatred of evil and the “works of the Nicolaitans”, testing of false apostles, consciousness of Christ in bearing with persecution
The bad: abandonment of the love they had at first

Smyrna
The good: spiritual riches in physical poverty, faithfulness in suffering

Pergamum
The good: faithfulness in persecution
The bad: some in fellowship who held false doctrine

Thyatira
The good: increasing works, love, faith, service and patient endurance
The bad: tolerance of evil

Sardis
The good: a reputation for being “alive” and “a few people who have not soiled your garments”
The bad: works without genuine spiritual life behind them

Philadelphia
The good: kept the Lord’s word and did not deny his name, patient endurance
The bad: little power

Laodicea
The bad: lukewarmness, self-deception

Things That Didn’t Get Assessed

Notice the Lord didn’t say to any church, “You just weren’t tolerant enough” or “I wish you’d accepted just a little more false doctrine in the name of being loving”. Tolerance is the world’s metric, not the Head of the Church’s.

Here’s some other things he didn’t say about the churches:

“I know your church website got more pageviews than last year”,
“I know a lot of teenage feet trampled the floor of that new gym you built”,
“I know your offering take was up 8% year-over-year”,
“I know you knocked on every door in your neighbourhood with tracts this year”,
“I know that new pastor of yours really gets people excited”,
“I know you finally paid off your mortgage”, and ESPECIALLY not
“I know this year you added 112 new members”.

“Yeah, sure,” some may say, “but they didn’t HAVE all that stuff back then!”

Precisely.

Things That Did

All the things the Lord didn’t assess about these churches are very quantifiable indeed; all the things that would allow us to draw conclusions about the life of our church that might be as wildly inaccurate as the conclusions the Christians at Sardis drew about themselves. But even reputation is worthless if we are not “alive” by the Lord’s standard of life.

All through his assessments, the Lord Jesus refers to “works”. That’s all well and good, but how can anyone (other than the Lord, of course) measure works? Sardis had “works”. Laodicea had “works”. Yet their works were wrongly motivated and not animated by the Holy Spirit. So sheer activity is no useful metric.

And how do you measure love, faith or service? How do you assess spiritual riches, unless you are spiritual yourself? How do you measure the incursion of false doctrine, unless you have studied the scripture enough to be able to identify it?

It seems the things that matter to the Lord are unquantifiable by accountants, boards, committees or even the average believer. Only the Lord himself and perhaps some of those used to walking with him very closely indeed are equipped to evaluate the spiritual state of a church.

There will be no pie charts comparing “Love in 2014” to “Love in 2015” at your church or mine.

Not Much to Measure

The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time when there was not much good to measure. Judah would soon be going into captivity as punishment for years of idolatry, injustice and other sins. The few Jews left in the land were not likely to see much in the way of the evidence of God’s blessing. And yet Habakkuk says:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
Even in pretty bleak circumstances, the individual believer may rejoice in the “God of my salvation”. Habakkuk could not possibly imagine what God was about to do in Babylon through Daniel. The truth that “the heavens rule” was about to be revealed to one of the greatest kings of one of the greatest empires in human history, all because of (or perhaps despite) the failure of Judah and Israel. Furthermore, Judah was about to be cured of idolatry once and for all. This post on The Benefits of the Babylonian Captivity is instructive.

Measuring Rightly

Back to the church for a moment.

God’s work is not hindered by our inability to see it going on or to quantify it to our own satisfaction, nor can it be stopped or even slowed down by our failures. The stream of God’s blessing may well be diverted elsewhere if we refuse to do the things that merit it, but we can no more stop God working by our incompetence or selfishness than we can drain the ocean with a cup.

Further, there are a few measuring tools available to us. We cannot generate numbers from them or fill spreadsheets with data, but they may give us an idea whether we are on the right track. If we are growing in love as we should be, our love will be characterized by, among other things:

·        Discernment 
·        Affection 
·        Generosity
·        Hospitality 
·        Submission

Try putting that in your annual report.

1 comment :

  1. I would like to see a church’s annual meeting report contain those categories…

    …and then say at the end, “...in addition to which, we had some programs and spent some money. Now, let us pray…”

    ReplyDelete