On Pastoral Ministry Tuesdays I like to share a reflection on life as a pastor, a little glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain.
How do you measure success?
We’re obsessed with it. And in our part of the world we’re determined, it seems to me, not only to figure out if we’re “living it right” but to also figure out if we’re “living it right” as measured against how others are living it.
I’m getting it “more right” than you are. Therefore, I’m winning.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a believer in metrics. I just don’t believe we’re supposed to be keeping score.
Earnestness isn’t enough in pastoral ministry. I don’t think “doing my best” is even enough to know that I’m fulfilling my vocation. But after more than 35 years of this life, I’m very sure that the status of my vocation is not dependent on how it measures up to how you fulfill your vocation (whatever that vocation might be).
Gene Getz wrote a book in 1975 called, The Measure of a Church. He proposed 3 metrics for determining the health of a church and a ministry: Faith, Hope and Love. From here in 2020 I think we’d call his idea…quaint…or…out of touch. Today my shelves are full of books offering a number of metrics but none of them are faith, hope or love.
For the pragmatists, the metric is simple: butts in seats and bills in the offering basket. What are your attendance numbers? What’s your weekly offering? What’s your annual budget? And we roll ours out and measure them against each other. If my numbers are bigger, I’m a winner. For Jesus, of course.
Sometimes it revolves around things like staves and sometimes it’s about a simple vision that leads your church to do one thing really well. I have some friends who want to create brand loyalty. For my fundie friends it’s even more simple – is the Word of God preached? There’s an expectation when this is the metric that you might be very small and it even justifies our smallness because, after all, if you’re really preaching the Word of God people won’t be able to stand it. But no matter what metric a group uses – here in America – it seems like it always comes back to the scoreboard.
Who’s winning and who’s losing?
A lot of pastors struggle with this question. A lot of pastors are worried they’re not “living it right” because we have come to believe a simple equation: do the right thing, get the intended results. After 35 years at this I can tell you that doing the right thing never guarantees you will get the desired result. Turning the other cheek often just leads to another punch. Doing to others as you’d have them do unto you often just leads to misunderstanding and people doing to you what they damn well feel like doing out of their fear, pain or brokenness.
Pastor friends, there is no certainty. There are no guarantees. You can do everything “right” and still find people get angry, disappointed, going elsewhere for church, lying about you to others or just going back to their own vomit. That’s because we’re all humans. It’s what we do. People’s choices and reactions tell you more about themselves than they do you.
But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the first three chapters. The Corinthians may have invented the scoreboard. And Paul was losing. And in the midst of Paul’s defense of his ministry and trying to set things right…PAUSE.
…Can we just note that Paul spends time in several of his letters defending himself and his ministry? Where in the hell (literally) did we get the idea that we’re supposed to be silent when people are trash talking us and our ministries? Where did the idea come from that that’s the way for pastors to respond? Paul did not apply the Gospel that way. I don’t think there’s anything noble about you and me doing it either…UNPAUSE
Paul drops this little metric destabilizer in to the Corinthian’s way of measuring: “only God gives the increase.” God makes faith grow. Paul hadn’t even kept a clear count on how many people he’d baptized but he was estimating for lower and not higher.
As a pastor, with Easter approaching, I get a growing number of emails and messages that invite me to invest some money in another pastor’s program that guarantees results – theoretically, not money back. Send in some money, use the success plan they send you and your numbers for Easter service could double and your retention of those first time visitors could be over 75 – no! – 80%!!!
Brotheren and Sisteren, relax. You’re doing fine. If you got up today, managed to smile at someone, remembered to pray at least once and were kind to someone else, you’re winning. I’m not saying don’t work hard – that’s not the problem most pastors I know have – what I’m saying is, stop competing. Quit looking at the scoreboard. When others point to the scoreboard ask them to pray with you for God to get to growing this garden.
Honestly, you’re amazing and what you do matters. Don’t quit just because someone else tells you you’re behind and you can’t possibly win. You and I are just migrant workers in the fields of God. We do what we do but if God doesn’t give the increase it’s not God’s building that’s going up.
Hang in there, seriously, I’m rooting for you.