I originally wrote this article for an Asian Access internal publication. I think it is applicable to a wider audience, so want to share an edited version with you today. It violates our “60 second” rule of short posts; however, I think you will be encouraged by taking an extra minute. Thanks for reading! Peter
We live in an age where everything, and everyone, gets measured. Unless we are talking about fat, calories or golf scores, ‘more’ is always better. There is a call to be more effective, accomplish things faster, produce better results, be more strategic, and to just be ‘more, more, more’.
I don’t think ‘more’ in itself is inherently bad, and personally desire to be more effective, productive and strategic. We all do. Periodically we engage in an evaluation process that often includes simply asking “Am I effective and strategic?” This question is easily asked, but often difficult to answer. Not from an avoidance of honest introspection and counsel, but because a spiritual endeavor is often difficult to measure.
Yet the desire, and pressure, to measure is strong, and there is a potential pitfall of placing importance only on items that are measurable. Additionally, the drive to measure may influence our ministry in such a way that we avoid the immeasurable. Measurable items sure make for an exciting story, or at least they often allow us to feel that we are being effective and strategic.
Author Earl Creps challenges us to examine the metrics we use, labeling it the discipline of “missional efficiency”. Earl shares, “Not everything that needs doing needs measuring. The metrics employed by an organization have a way of focusing its attention and resources on the goals those measurements are tied to, regardless of whether the goals have merit or not. So when we measure, we need to take extra care that we are evaluating things that need and deserve it, not just the things that are easiest to count.” (Off-road Disciplines, pg88)
A challenge of spiritual living in a material world is that we may experience “assessment drift”. In trying to measure effectiveness, we simply don’t know how to evaluate the mystery of the spiritual life. This can lead to “assessment shift”, which is when we emphasize the wrong kinds of measurement. We drift and shift, and soon wonder if what we are doing has any lasting impact or importance.
It was in this state that I found myself this summer. My attempt at “RELAXation” (http://thomsontimes.com/?p=41) was floundering (though not entirely unsuccessful) and I began to wonder if the words “loser” and “poser” were actually visible on my forehead for others to see. A quick check in the mirror gave a boost to my confidence, which quickly dissipated once I returned to the question of effectiveness. Then, through a series of unexpected “conversations”, God used a few “friends” to shed some light on my dilemma. Journey with me…
While on the train, my friend Keith put it this way, “Well you can run to the end of the highway and not find what you’re looking for, no, it won’t make your troubles disappear. And you can search to the end of the highway and come back no better than before. To find yourself you’ve got to start right here.” At first, this made no sense to me because I wasn’t running from anything. Just the opposite, I was running the good race, heading towards the goal. Then Jesus chimed in (they were double-teaming me) “And what goal might that be, Peter?”
“Get a clue, Jesus. Don’t you know why you called me here? I am planting ten churches in Sanda, helping to start new church-planting networks in the Kansai, helping to lead the mission.”
“Man, if you don’t know why I am here, how am I ever going to get this stuff done.”
“OK, not funny. Stop with the silence, already. Twenty years of busting my butt deserves more than silence and I really am trying to run this race well.”
We didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, but I sill had fifteen minutes to my station, so I decided to shut up and listen.
What Jesus said wasn’t new, but it was forgotten. Church planting, networks, leadership development, all these things are fine, but my identity is found in none of it. Even if I accomplish all these things (as if it ever really depended on me, what arrogance!), what’s the point? Is my life and the question of effectiveness, and ultimately self-worth, irreversibly tied to these goals? Keith was right. I needed to start “right here”, and that meant stop running and rediscovering the eternal HERE. I was running hard, but Jesus was asking why I was more interested in reaching the goal line than hanging out with him. I was adrift, my goals had shifted and along the way I stopped abiding.
“Well, OK, Jesus, but this is going to make for a really crappy newsletter (or blog post!),” was my response. Clearly what Jesus was saying didn’t sink in, so my friend John joined in and told me to shut up and take it like a man. And to stop listening to Satan.
“When we are under attack, we’ve got to hang on to the truth. Dodge the blow, block it with a stubborn refusal, slash back with what is true. This is how Christ answered Satan – he didn’t get into an argument with him, try to reason his way out. He answered with Scripture (Luke 4:1-13) and we’ve got to do the same. This will not be easy, especially when all hell is breaking loose around you.” (Wild at Heart, pg 164)
To be clear, I am not saying that evaluating ourselves is of the devil. But in my case, seeking to find value and worth through measurable performance opened the door for Satan to whisper “ineffective poser” in my ear. Lately he has actually taken to the tactic of screaming more than whispering. Like the nightmare when you are running as hard as you can but can’t make any progress, Satan has been lining the race route and holding an ‘L’ to his forehead with his fingers while me feet went nowhere.
But Jesus says, “Come here and listen. ‘You are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and to speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.’ So, ‘When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant.’ Peter, ‘Live deeply in what you were taught.’” (Scripture quotes from The Message)
And then things began to sink in. While adrift, I had allowed evaluation to replace something of far great importance, identification. I have been trying to assess my effectiveness by assigning quantitative values to that which is qualitative in nature, namely my identification with Jesus Christ as his disciple. I had lost the courage to identify solely with Jesus and was allowing performance to define me. Contrary to what we have proclaimed so strongly as a mission, being was losing out to doing. I was a long way from HERE.
So this fall I am looking anew at my life and ministry. Step one is to throw out the word evaluation and replace it with identification. Is my life more aligned to the “cornerstone”? Am I more conformed to his image? Do the metrics I use lead me towards greater identification to my calling to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in a fallen world? Do I stand more firmly upon eternal truth and not back down in the face of attacks? After twenty years of ministry in Japan, do I know where HERE is?
Honestly, at times I still am tempted to define myself only by that which is measurable. Old habits die hard. However, I do believe that I am on the right track, and Jesus is right here, running beside me. We are in the zone together, and this is what I want more of.