The Metrics of Giving Yourself
Updated: Nov 14, 2021
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:8
I’ve just started reading a book I’ve had on my list for a while called The Tyranny of Metrics. It is a simple summary of the problems of boiling everything down to data you can fit on a spreadsheet. From Margaret Thatcher’s government, to the Pentagon, to hospitals, and to most every place, our world has an odd obsession with numbers. I’m not sure of his full answer, but one thing it suggests to me is that we should learn to trust wise human judgment over metrics.
Now I think that this can also be seen in churches. I have a friend I talked to once in Rochester, and he was kind of perturbed that his denominational association was expecting monthly reports of baptisms, regular attenders, and whatever else they were looking for. At a different point, a teacher of mine basically said, ‘pick a beneficial metric and track it.’ Now I don’t want to be too hard on such things, but at the end of the day, this is very problematic for the same reason that running the pentagon by metrics is problematic. Just imagine if the churches that sent Adoniram Judson or William Carey had asked for ‘conversion reports.’ After 5 years or less they would have yanked them for failure to launch.
The problem is that the metrics don’t display whether a person or church has been faithful to the ministry God has called them to (which is at least nothing less than the ministry of the Word to the saints to the praise of God’s glory!) It is actually hard to grade any church or ministry on their faithfulness although we could probably point out unhealthy church situations like permissiveness or praise of sin or syncretism of Christianity with politics.
So what does a faithful church look like? Yes, they are centered on the word of God. But this can easily turn mechanistic. A faithful church is called to minister the word of God through and to people. It is a weird thing that God has called us to this. I read recently, ‘God could have called angels to do the work, but he’s called you and me!’ And funny enough, a Christian doesn’t get baptized and then fully know the ins and outs of the hypostatic union and perichoresis. Instead, they confess the gospel: ‘Jesus died for my sins, and you know what? This person told me about it.’ Paul gave of his whole self to the Thessalonians. Part of this might have been because they were so willing to receive him, but I don’t think it was much different wherever he went. According to Acts 20, it seems that Paul did something similar in Ephesus where he just kept laboring to the point that the Ephesian church was beloved to Paul. The point is that as Paul gave his whole self we should seek to give ours.
Now this isn’t to say that we should live exactly like Paul. God has given us each different skills and resources and context; but it is to say that in the place God has placed you, you should live your life transparently to all. We have grown into a weird hiddenness in our day. We might be ok with lots of our stuff public-ish online, but then when we are in the presence of another person we hide ourselves. It is pretty common, and it is hard to actually be open with another person. We all have hopes and dreams and desires and struggles. We all have blind spots. It’s a mess we mostly don’t want to invite anyone into. But at the end of the day we’re all human, and if you call yourself a Christian, Christ has redeemed you and he will eventually bring you to maturity and out of that mess. And he matures you (whether you think this is unfortunate or fortunate) through other humans that are also partly a mess.
So be patient. Invest yourself in others both Christians and those who God is making disciples of through you. And live with hope because one day God will make everything right again. And that will be a metric we can’t even comprehend.