New Metric Needed
Seismic rumblings rippling through our culture require a new metric to gauge the church’s effectiveness. This new metric takes into account four intangibles.
by Tim McGraw
I believe today’s pastor needs a new metric to gauge the church’s effectiveness. Epic change has altered the ministry landscape. The older metric may not tell us all we need to know. The time is ripe for a fresh perspective.
My journey in ministry began in the early 80s during the era of “church growth” — when breaking numerical barriers was the name of the game. Church growth reflected America’s booming economy. Glossy publications featured architects and builders. Seminars popped up across the country teaching how to overcome every conceivable growth obstacle. Books and tapes rained down like manna from heaven. And the mantra for success was “buildings, budgets, and bodies.” But times have changed.
Seismic rumblings have rippled through the culture. A demographic shift, an aging population, postmodern leaning, the effect of technology, the threat of terrorism, toxic politics, and a collapsed economy have combined to reshape the ministry environment. What pastor doesn’t resonate with Dorothy’s line in The Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”?
We must recalibrate the older metric. Building, budgets, and bodies tell us what we can measure. What about the things we can’t measure? What about the intangibles that are difficult to quantify or log on a year-end report?
I suggest a new metric that takes into account four intangibles.
A young man gave his testimony in a Sunday service. He described years of methamphetamine abuse. To pay for his habit, he said, “I gave myself to men.”
You could hear a collective gasp. His jaw-dropping remark changed the atmosphere.
We know when authenticity is present and when it isn’t. Young people are especially sensitive. They can spot phoniness a mile away. A young man recently told me: “I’m not looking for a pastor who wants to be cool with me. I just want someone whose words I can trust.”
A fresh wind blew through the sanctuary during testimony time that day. You might question the propriety of the young man’s testimony, but not his honesty. My guess is there were people listening who admired his courage. Some were thinking to themselves: If he can be that honest, maybe I can, too.
Authenticity is just what we need to bring us out of denial.
How do you measure a big heart? The apostle Paul pleaded with the Corinthians to open theirs (2 Corinthians 6:11–13). Smallness of heart is a spiritual sickness that stops the flow of love. If we’re to minister effectively in a multiethnic context, our hearts must enlarge.
More than three-quarters of the residents in the city where I pastor are Hispanic, or Latino. Half are Spanish-speaking only. Despite this, most of the English-speaking congregations target the remaining 23 percent. Few attempt to reach the Hispanic majority. Those who do sail in uncharted waters.
Preachers love to extol Revelation’s diverse multitude worshipping in heaven, but what about the same multitude worshipping on Earth? Shouldn’t we contend for a gospel that breaks down social barriers and unites diverse groups? Do we fully embrace the miracle Paul envisioned in Romans 14–15 and Ephesians 2?
I’m not saying that a cultural group should not have the gospel in their native tongue. What I am saying is the church in America must enlarge its heart. We cannot impact a multiethnic population by living in comfortable isolation, quiet indifference — or worse, hidden prejudice. We must embrace culture, and not just with a wink and a nod. We must find ways to reach the increasingly diverse mission field in our own back yards as well as around the world. The challenge before us is more than academic. Raw demographics will force the issue.
Faithfulness may not be glamorous, but ministry is impossible without it. Unique opportunities are opening to the church. They are anything but traditional. Rather, they’re coming in the form of invitations to volunteer.
One of the upsides to a down economy is the reality of need. The government is broken, and schools are asking — literally, pleading — for help. The old wall separating church and state is coming down. The reality is, we have a tremendous window of opportunity.
The appeal from our school district reminded me of the urgent request of the Macedonian man in Paul’s vision (Acts 16.9). “Come over … and help us.”
Thankfully, Paul did. Will we? Do we discern the movement of the Spirit in the public sector’s remarkable openness toward church volunteers?
A new metric might include how many people are volunteering in the public square. Faithfulness to the choir is a good thing, but it may be just as important to sit with an angry teenager at the local junior high school. The church can make a difference. Doors are wide open. All we have to do is show up and prove ourselves trustworthy.
In Matthew 11, Jesus confronted a fickle crowd with the truth about John the Baptist. John did not come seeking position, nor did he come to entertain. Rather, John’s motivation lay elsewhere. As Jesus memorably put it, “And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it” (Matthew 11:12, NLT).1
In this case, force is a metaphor for passion. For years, the Church has been enamored with technique as a means of attracting nonbelievers. We’ve invested in marketing, impressive technologies, even forms of entertainment. We’ve tried everything humanly possible. But today is a different day.
As a postmodern culture continues its descent into darkness, it will take more than technique to pull nonbelievers out. Children and youth are particularly vulnerable. Someone recently said, “Kids are getting sadder, sooner.”
Another author wrote, “If your 14-year-old is alone in a room with an electronic device (i.e., smart phone or tablet), he’s watching pornography.”
You may dispute the last statement, but there’s no dispute regarding the enemy’s assault on the young and innocent.
I watched a video of an 11-year-old African student who stood in for his absent teacher in a religion class. He told his classmates about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Afterward, the entire class of young boys and girls began speaking in tongues and crying out in the Spirit. Every child received the Spirit’s fullness. Intense weeping and travail went on for over an hour. Not understanding what was taking place, an administrator called for a priest to come. She mistakenly thought the children were demon-possessed. The Spirit of God had invaded that classroom with raw power and spiritual force.
I believe what happened to those children is God’s answer to the strategies of hell. The Spirit will not leave children defenseless. The outbreak in that classroom is also a reminder to churches. We cannot penetrate a darkened culture with technique or entertainment. Spirit must confront spirit. When God is ready to move, His kingdom advances by force.
Spiritual passion is not new, but I include it in a new metric because of the need of the hour. We’ve tried other means and methods — slick technology, comfortable amenities, and appealing entertainment. But these can never substitute for spiritual passion. The kingdom of God advances through Spirit-filled people of passion who press through the status quo. Thus, our greatest need may be for a fresh infusion of the Spirit’s life. In days of darkness, this is God’s answer for both children and adults.
The older metric focused on what we could count or quantify. Those things remain important, but they don’t tell the whole story. To gauge the Pentecostal church’s impact on society, we need a new metric that includes the intangibles. Jesus made this clear in His eternal audit: “Well, done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21,23).
We must add quality to quantity in a new metric.
1. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.