What we can count is what will count

Churches are always trying to measure in some manner how they are doing. The need and desire to measure is a right and necessary instinct.

But when it comes to church health, what do we measure? Well, most churches count what can most easily be counted. Or, to put it as the title of this blog phrases it, “what we can count is what will count”.

So what is it that can most easily be counted? Nickels and noses. How much money is in the plates and how many rears are in the pews. After all, if attendance is down and the finances are reduced, we must not be doing well. Right?

Of course, the answer is yes and no.

If the church is not expanding in its influence and incorporating a growing number of disciples, it would be hard to call that church healthy. And if there is not an increasing financial energy to propel the mission, it would likewise be hard to call that church healthy.

But what happens if we stop there? Or begin there? I have been told by church leaders over the years that this or that person must be catered to, even in the midst of outrageous and destructive behavior, because of the amount of money he brings in. Or even that a particular pastor must be kept, once again even in the midst of very dark personal patterns, because of the amount of money he can bring in for the church. Yes, it gets that bald and brash.

And, likewise, most churches are of the mindset that there should never be pruning because attendance statistics should always go up the curve. Of course, wise pruning could mean eventual increase, just not now, but no matter…what matters is that there should never be a decline. This seems to be to some the only wise course of action.

In other words, these things that we can count, as in 1,2,3,4…, must be counted. The problem comes in at just that level. How do we count other things that really matter in the life of a church, like integrity, honor, love and relational strength, empathy for the poor and broken, peace in suffering, mellowness of heart, and authentic prayer?

That’s where we get lost. That’s where we we don’t know what to do.

Here I stake my ground on Aristotle’s Golden Mean. It’s this and that, not too much this and not too much that. Somewhere in the middle.

I refuse to baldly claim as Rick Warren does that the size of a church is the indication that a larger church is healthier than a smaller church. As he often says, there is even a book in the Bible titled Numbers!! God is interested in numbers. Indeed He is. You can’t read the Old Testament promise to Abraham without thinking about numbers. His descendants would be more numerous than the stars. And in the New Testament Book of Acts, there is a laser focus on the numerical growth of the church as evidence that the risen Christ was alive and active among them. A church that never grows and expands the base of disciples can not be a model for us, no matter how much those inside the church “love” one another. Though one can wonder how this kind of “love” can be the genuine thing if it never attracts those far away from Christ to it.

So, yes, let’s count nickels and noses.

But at the same time, let’s use other measures. After all, King David was judged for numbering Israel, and right at the beginning of the church’s growth explosion in the Book of Acts, there was an evident pruning process right out of the chute with the public exposure of Ananias and Sapphira. The latter “hurt” both attendance and finances. But it was done, nonetheless.

What are those other measures? How do you evaluate the Fruit of the Spirit? How do you measure family functions? It will come down to relational environments. Does the church genuinely connect with others at the level of serious personal growth and personal support for the welfare of the family? This is one of the reasons that the primary demands the Bible makes on leaders are relational in nature. Those given charge over the flock must demonstrate that those closest to them and who know them best are better off for it. My experience is that the church regularly ignores this advice. And thereby brings the same destruction being spawned in families right into church leadership. The church cannot survive this.

The leader must demonstrate competency in family function. Do his kids love and respect him? Does his wife honor him and flourish within the life of love he offers to her? Does his gentleness, patience and kindness characterize his core relationships? Or is he pushy, domineering, incapable of being rebuked and of a party spirit, and I don’t mean the happy kind of party. Is he always forcing people to take sides or does he build connections and paths on which people can walk toward one another? Can he establish healthy boundaries without creating a moral-free-for-all where any behavior will be tolerated? Can he admonish without destroying?

So the questions that come to a church are not only mathematical. And that is exactly where most churches get lost.

It is hard for me to think of a situation where leaders who had healthy family systems botched church leadership. It is hard for me to think of a case where diseased church systems were not directly related to leaders who had already evidenced serious dysfunction in their families. This is a scary thing for us pastors. Sanctification at home is the primary arena out of which flows blessings for the church.

And that is one thing we ought to measure. This we can count. And it ought to be.

Yes, I have had dreams of being in the bathroom and not being able to get to the pulpit

There’s a lot in the news right now about the pilot who got stuck in the bathroom and couldn’t get back to the cockpit to land the plane. Here.  But I have had the nightmare of trying to get to the worship service when it is already started, and I can’t get out of the bathroom. It’s like the stereotypical student nightmare of trying to get to an exam and not being able to just get there.

OK, no bathroom humor about my sermons. My self-image is already too damaged.