By Pastor Tom Fillinger —
“You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God. (Deut. 25:13-16, ESV).
The ethic in this passage is simple—straight forward honesty. Truthful evaluation honors God and his people. How would the ministry statistics reported by many evangelical churches and denominations change if the principle expressed in this passage were applied? Dramatically!
The official reports published by many denominations are almost entirely devoid of any attempt to measure transformation objectively. The evangelical church is in the grip of an evaluation process that applies a numerical rather than a theological metric. The biblical mandate is that the people of God are transformed into the image of Christ. Transformation is evaluated by verifiable character and behavioral expressions in daily living such as the profile revealed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25).
The penchant to assess ministry effectiveness by quantity alone is not new. Spurgeon grappled with this blight during his ministry in London (1854-1892). His well crafted criticism evidences his studied disdain for this damaging methodology.
Do not, therefore, consider that soul winning is or can be secured by the multiplication of baptisms and the swelling of the size of your church. What mean these dispatches from the battlefield? ‘Last night… fifteen souls were justified…’ I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of un-hatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretense of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be reasonable… if [a harvesting of responses] leads to idle boastings they will grieve the Holy Spirit, and work abounding evil” (Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, p. 16; The Downgrade Controversy).
There is a discernable pathology in the theology of the American church. Methodology in ministry is a clear and unambiguous expression of theology. The trend in the past twenty-five years has been to modify ministry to conform to perceived preferences from the culture. This trend has been aided by the corrupt metric of mere numbers as a reflection of effectiveness, “more is better.” Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the declaration in 2008 by Willow Creek and Bill Hybels. His statement—the past twenty-five years of attraction without transformation has not accomplished in the lives of people what Scripture mandates— transformation (“Willow Creek’s Huge Shift,” Christianity Today, May 15, 2008).
The following data from the Francis Schaeffer Institute provides a stunning summary of the damage that doing ministry based on methodology devoid of applied theology has produced in the American Evangelical church.
God’s marvelous Church has become culturally irrelevant and even distant from its prime purpose of knowing Him, growing in Him, and worshipping Him by making disciples! This is evidenced by what is going on in our culture and in our church. Most of the statistics tell us that nearly 50% of Americans have no church home. In the 1980s, membership in the church had dropped almost 10%; then, in the 1990s, it worsened by another 12% drop—some denominations reporting a 40% drop in their membership. And now, over half way through the first decade of the 21st century, we are seeing the figures drop even more! (Richard J. Krejcir, Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline)
This capitulation to culture as the norm for the American church received affirmation from pollster George Barna.
Furthermore, Barna adds, American consumers are demanding “practical faith experiences” over doctrine, “novelty and creativity, rather than predictability in religious experiences; and the need for time-shifting, rather than inflexible scheduling of religious events.” In an earlier book he said that the number one principle of Christian communication, as in any other, is that “the audience, not the message, is sovereign.” In other words, the customer is king.
An entirely different perspective for evaluating ministry effectiveness is evidenced in the ministry of The White Horse Inn.
But Christians have traditionally believed that Jesus Christ is King; that he came to inaugurate his kingdom, not to sell a product, and that he came to save sinners and make them co-heirs of his kingdom, not to satisfy consumers.
One of the places where we see this obvious contrast between consumer spirituality and Christ is in our Lord’s own teaching in John 6. After feeding the five thousand, Jesus crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and the crowd eagerly sought him out. The day started out with lots of promise. Five thousand people had just been fed and they were ready for the next act. A free lunch was great, but wouldn’t a lavish dinner make Jesus the talk of the town? This could be his core group of seekers from which he could finally take his ministry global. But then it all began to fall apart and by the end of the episode, Jesus had driven nearly everybody away by teaching some of the most difficult doctrines thus far in his ministry. In this program we’re looking at John 6, what Robert Godfrey calls “Jesus’ Church-Shrinkage Seminar.” . . . The wisdom in Jesus’ strategy: better to have a dozen disciples than 5000 consumers (Consumers or Disciples? June 6, 2011).
There is a metric for evaluating ministry that is biblical, normative and objective. When applied consistently over time it provides an accurate portrait of both individual and corporate transformation (Rom. 12:2; Col. 1:28; Heb. 13:17; 2 Peter 3:18). The key question we must ask ourselves is this: Is the metric by which you measure ministry transformation, or, mere numerics; how many, how much and how often? The Apostle Paul labored to present everyone perfect in Christ. That must be the goal of every pastor and every church.
Tom Fillinger has pastored for 42 years, the past 15 at SouthEast Community Church in Columbia SC. He is also the CEO of IgniteUS Ministries. IUS is a Leadership Development ministry and the focus is to equip pastors to “change the way America does church!”