One of the hard parts of pastoring is that it’s tough to tell how we’re doing in the work. The primary metrics of “success” in the pastorate are often fuzzy and sometimes completely indecipherable. On top of that, the work is never really finished until we’re in glory. So much of Christian development is three-steps forward and two-steps-back. Pastors sometimes wonder if they’re doing any good at all. What seems so clear in our Sunday sermon outline smudges and smears in the daily war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. So when the enemy whispers in our ears that we are missing the mark because our churches aren’t perfect, it’s hard for us to tell whether or not he’s got a point.
Metrics of the Church
Everybody agrees (theoretically) that we shouldn’t evaluate our work by simply counting the people, the money, or the size of the facilities. This is the Three B’s: Bodies, Bucks, and Bricks metric. (A friend once quipped that we might as well weigh the people as count them. This would certainly change our definition of “mega-church.”) If these were the main or only ways of evaluating God’s work then the Antichrist and the Babylonian Hooker would seem to be on top of things. The problem is that physically quantifiable elements are intuitive to us, easily measured, and endemic to the metaphors that our culture uses to self-evaluate (entertainment, politics, and business). So the “3 B’s” can become our de-facto ministry metrics despite our denials. And if any of the three fall behind the curve many pastors become disillusioned and disoriented.
So, we should reject any outward measurement of our ministry, right? Well, not exactly. The Bible sees the numerical growth of the church as a good thing indeed. In Acts 6:7 Luke rejoices that the “word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly.” There is simply nothing wrong and everything right about more and more people coming to Christ. So where does that leave us?
Numerical growth does indeed tell us something about our work under normal circumstances. But it does not tell us everything, and certainly not the most important things. There are several other “gauges” by which we should determine if we are doing our jobs. There is one in particular that must be in place.
Spiritual formation, specifically as it translates into loving other people for Christ’s sake, is the most important metric for pastoral work. And the most powerful evidence of the Spirit’s presence in a church is the ability of the people to forgive one another. Let me unpack this a bit.
Forgiveness is Key
The Lord’s primary instruction should inform our primary sense of accomplishment in his service. What was most important to him? He said many things, but none was more crucial than what he called the New Commandment (Jn.13:35-35). He told us to teach his people what he taught and in so doing to cooperate with his Spirit in bringing about “the mind of Christ” in and among them (1 Cor.2:16; Phil.2:5; Gal.4:19). Everything Jesus taught stems from his foundational command to love one another as the Lord loved us. Pastors do evangelism from the pulpit (or should). But the specialized work of a pastor is spiritual direction toward spiritual formation among the regenerate people of Christ. We specifically nourish the faith of those the Spirit has converted to the Lord Jesus (Jn.21:15-17; Eph.4:11; Col.2:1-5; 1 Pet.5:1-5). The evidence of the Spirit’s regenerating work is love evidenced in redeemed relationships (Gal.5:16-25).
Can we actually measure this Holy Spirit fruit of love in the church? Frankly, I don’t think so. But we can observe it if we know what we’re looking for. Here’s what to look for: The quality of the relationships in the church will show the evidence of grace-transformed character. Yet it’s not just the existence of friendships. The primary evidence of love is not camaraderie, but repentance and forgiveness. We minister the gospel in a fallen context where people sin a lot. The question of love then becomes, “Can people repent and forgive each other?” (See Mtt.18:15-35). The persistent desire to forgive is the sine qua non of Christian maturity. It is the hands-on, bottom line evidence of the gospel because Christ’s love at the Cross brought forgiveness to us while we were still enemies. So, this pastoral metric is not aimed at whether or not people disagree in church. It assumes that they will. But it evaluates whether they are willing to work through the tough times and continue to serve the Lord in some real form of unity. If that is happening, it is strong evidence that the ministry is healthy even if the externally measurable markers are less impressive.
Pastors are not creators, but stewards of the mysteries of God (the transforming gospel). The mysteries are bigger than we are. The Spirit works in ways we do not comprehend often. Which means that there is much about what we do that we should simply stop trying to measure at all (1 Cor.4:1-5). On the other hand, spiritual fruit may be observed and good pastors learn where to look for it. It’s not usually on Sunday morning during the public worship time, but Monday through Friday in the rough and tumble of human relationships where tenacious Christian love contrasts so starkly with fickle worldly sentiment.
Just a Thought,