There’s a good bit of discussion going around right now about the importance of “measuring” ministry. On one end of the discussion is the argument that we should measure what’s important, especially progress toward our mission, which often involves some kind of “counting.” On the other end of the argument is the cry that “faithfulness” is enough. This argument elevates the value of faithfulness as the measure God weighs in the Kingdom. While I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers to this debate, let me present a few thoughts.
In Matthew 25:14-30, we read the Parable of the Talents. In the story, a master gives three servants some talents (a sum of money). To one he gives five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent. Then the master leaves on a trip for an extended period of time. While he was gone, the servant with five talents put his money to work and doubled it, as did the servant with two talents. But the servant with one talent, out of fear of his master, dug a hole in the ground and hid the money.
When the master returned, the Bible says he, “settled accounts” (Matthew 25:19). The servants with five and two talents were commended by the master when he said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, 23). But the master wasn’t so good to the third servant. He used words like, “wicked, lazy, and worthless” to describe him. So here are my thoughts on “measuring faithfulness”:
1. Faithfulness Begins with Stewardship – The Bible says that the master, “entrusted his property to them” (Matthew 25:14). The servants didn’t own the property or the talents–they were simply stewards of it. A steward is a manager of someone else’s possessions and a steward handles those possessions according to his master’s desires, not his own. Therefore, if I want to be considered faithful, I must view my money, gifts, abilities, skills (the list could go on) as something on loan to me from God. In other words, faithfulness requires that I manage, or steward, what God has entrusted to me in a way that demonstrates obedience to His will. Faithfulness is first and foremost a matter of stewardship.
2. Faithfulness and Growth are Intertwined – When the master gave his servants the talents, he expected them to make it grow. It was the faithful stewardship of those resources resulting in growth that caused the master to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” When the things God entrusts to us do not grow, are we being faithful? Before you throw rocks at me, let me make it clear that I’m aware of the situations where missionaries and devoted Christ followers toil all of their life, sowing seed diligently, without the harvest appearing until the next generation. I believe God honors these individuals. At the same time, I cannot ignore the fact that the master expected growth and that faithfulness was intertwined with it. The next point provides additional perspective.
3. Faithfulness Requires Initiative and Effort – Perhaps the reason the master ordered the third servant to be thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” was because he didn’t even try. The servant played it safe. The Message says it well, “I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.” But the master wasn’t impressed. In fact, the Bible says he was “furious.” He said, “That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least?” His call to steward what was entrusted to him was bound by fear. As a result he did nothing but dig a hole and hide it. It would have been one thing if he had worked tirelessly and failed, but he did nothing more than take the fearless route of safety and comfort. Faithfulness means that our gifts, abilities, and resources are well spent for the purposes of God. Faithfulness shows scars of diligent, God-honoring service rather than a polished, unused set of skills. In the case of the missionary that worked diligently, I believe their tireless effort could be considered faithfulness–especially in the most difficult fields. Faithfulness requires initiative and effort.
So this raises an important question. How do you know if you’re being faithful unless you “measure” something? In the case of the master and the servants, he measured, or counted, the talents. So let’s look at his from a “church leadership” perspective. What are you measuring? Before you dismiss this post as nothing more than an endorsement to count the “attendance, buildings, and cash,” let me make it clear that I believe these measurements are not enough. The challenge leaders have is determining what to measure. For every leader, and every church, what you measure will likely look different. It will require some long, hard discussions but I believe the effort is worthwhile. Can you measure lifechange? Can you measure community transformation? Can you measure practices that genuinely result in spiritual formation, compassion for the poor, and justice for the abused?
As leaders, I believe faithfulness requires some form of measurement? Otherwise we can easily succumb to an undisciplined life and ministry. Unfortunately too many leaders equate faithfulness to nothing more than “I showed up on time every time” or “I kept on keeping on.” Although important, that is nothing more than commitment or perseverance. Faithfulness is different. Faithfulness is a stewardship that requires initiative, often with an expectation of growth.
Here are a Few Personal “Faithfulness Questions” to Consider:
- What is your perspective of the gifts, abilities, and resources entrusted to you by God? Do you see yourself as the owner or a steward?
- What are you doing to grow yourself?
- Are you leading out of fear, trying to play it safe?
- What kind of work ethic do you possess? Do you take initiative?
- Do you work smarter, not just harder?
- Have you experienced a pattern of God putting you “in charge of many things” because of your “faithfulness with a few things?”
- If God were to “settle accounts” with you today, what do you think He would say?
- How are you stewarding your ministry’s resources?
- How do you view the growth of your ministry? What responsibility do you have in relationship to your ministry’s growth?
- How should the ministry God has entrusted to you be growing? What are you doing to measure this growth?
- What are you doing to invest in the growth of others?
- Does excellence mark your ministry? How?
- If God were to “settle accounts” today with the ministry He’s entrusted to you, what do you think He would say?