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The age in which we live is obsessed with data. Statisticians have created elegant formulae to analyze everything from the economy to sports. So it is only natural for believers to carry that same thinking into the church. Are there metrics by which we can analyze whether we're doing a good job? Some would say absolutely yes. The measurement of whether a church is doing well is found in outward success: growing attendance, increased membership, more baptisms, bigger giving. After all, numbers mean souls.
But what about churches in rural communities? What about Jeremiah? Bigger numbers alone cannot be the ultimate goal, so other Christians conclude that the measurement of whether a church is doing well is not found in outward success but in persistent faithfulness. We are to look instead to see whether we're being faithful. Are we doing the right things? Preaching the Bible? Evangelizing? Then we're all right, regardless of outward success.
But while there is a lot to like about this view, there's still something lacking. Most of us have encountered churches that might be described by the phrase dead orthodoxy: the doctrine is sound, the programs are traditional, they're doing the right thingsâ€”and yet they are lifeless. And in those cases, faithfulness can actually become a justification for that very lifelessness: "we're just sticking by the stuff." In other words faithfulness can become the mirror opposite idol of success, just another way to justify ourselves before God.
Is there then a way to evaluate what we're doing as a church? Is there any indication as to what we're doing is right? Jesus answers this question in today's passage.
Matthew Hoskinson serves as pastor for the First Baptist Church in the City of New York (firstnyc.org). He is the author of Assurance of Salvation: Implications of a New Testament Theology of Hope, and a regular contributor to the ChurchWorks media blog. He has also written for the Gospel...