Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Value of Evaluation

Here's a sticky issue for anyone in ministry: How do you measure success? The tempation is to elevate mission work to a super-spiritual plane and declare that it defies all possible human measurement systems. There is some truth to that. Tallying the number of baptisms in a church doesn't begin to communicate the joy of salvation, the power of redemption, or the force of transformation. But does that mean that we should not bother to evaluate our work?

On the organizational level, numbers from the field help to communicate the nature and value of our work to board members and financial donors. Within the field, numbers provide a framework for accountability. But we missionaries are often resistant to report numbers, because we know that a number says little about the miracle of a changed life. 

David and I are required to fill out a quarterly report on our ministry-related activities in an effort to quantify our efforts. Like many missionaries, we have struggled with this expectation, even if we understand its purpose. I confess that I have been among the pooh-poohers, the whiners, and the nay-sayers, groaning in agony each time I was instructed to fill out a report. I nodded along last week, as a colleague shared an amazing story about recently meeting a woman at a church in the States who had come to Christ 30 years prior because of a music cassette that he had produced in Germany, ending his tale with the words, "And they think we can measure God's work?"

A room full of missionaries laughed and cheered.

Just a few months ago I'd have been right there with them, questioning the vaidity of my mission's metric system. But in June I attended a conference on "Measuring Ministry Effectiveness," and that conference changed my tune. I not only learned significant ways and means for evaluating the nebulous work of ministry, I was convicted about my cynical attitude. Because, you see, metrics aren't meant to measure God's work. God's work is always perfect and beyond measure. No, metrics don't measure God's work, metrics measure MY work.

At the conference I attended I began to see how measurements shape and even drive the work of ministry. I heard the maxim "If we don't measure what matters, then what we measure becomes what matters" and I realized that it was true!

Oh, but the idea of being evaluated or measured rubs against the grain. It makes us feel like we're being critiqued or judged, and we just don't like it. But what if measurement is holy, right, and good? What if we are called to give an account of our work?

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), three stewards are given funds to invest for their manager. When the manager returns, he asks for an account (What? He wanted to measure their work?!?). Two of the stewards made a return on their investments, and they were commended. One did not earn any interest, and he was handed a pink slip. This isn't a parable out of Forbes Magazine, this is a Jesus Original. Jesus tells the story to remind us of the importance of measuring and being accountable for the results of our actions.

The truth is, if I am not evaluating my efforts, I am not maximizing my efforts. I could be wasting time and money by doing all sorts of fruitless activity in the name of Jesus, and not even know it. Of course, ministry work is dependent upon the work of God--apart from him we can do nothing. But I believe we are still called to give an account for what we do. We don't own the fruit of our labors, just as the stewards in the parable didn't own the interest that they earned on their master's money. No, the fruit and all it's glory goes to the King of kings. And yet, we must give the account. I want to be found faithful.

I have not only repented of my resistance to metrics, I think I am becoming a proponent of the value of measuring ministy impact.

So I wonder, for those of you who are currently serving in a ministry capacity, are you measuring your results? What tools and techniques do you use to measure? And would you create and utilize evaluative measures even if no one required you to report your results? Or do you feel resistance to the idea of measurement where ministry is concerned?

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