Remember Moneyball? The story of how the Oakland A’s built a powerful baseball team by scooping up undervalued players? The central premise of their restructuring of the organization was this: teams are measuring the wrong things to determine if a player is worth their salary. By changing what they were measuring, they were able to find valuable players that they could afford (as they had one of the lowest salaried teams in the major leagues).

I love that – underdogs winning and all. People like me whose names have never appeared on a starting lineup for anything do tend to like stories that! But it got me thinking about the consequences of measuring the wrong thing. There’s plenty of things that we try to measure in missions and ministry; just consider some questions like these…

– Where are missionaries still needed in the world?

Maybe because foreign missions is so, well… foreign, there seem to be countless attempts to quantify the work left for us to do in the Great Commission. Listening to missiologists talk can sound a bit like commentary on a football game. And, like it or not, missiologists are coming up with new answers to this question. Answers that missions organizations are by and large listening to. Many organizations have adapted their strategy for deploying missionaries to reflect the innovations of the measurers.

– What should a missionary set as his goal?

Serving as a missionary is one of the rare jobs where the people supporting you do not have a very clear idea of what they want from you. Too often the goal adopted by a missionary (particularly in a very difficult field) becomes ‘stay on the field.’ But for those who manage to move past this most basic of goals, a whole new tangle of potential quests presents itself. Is the missionary to be primarily an evangelist? Primarily a pastor? Primarily a church-planter? Primarily a teacher? All of the above? None of the above?

– Who is qualified to be sent as a missionary?

This was the first one I thought about when I started writing this post. Here I don’t primarily refer to the measuring of an individual’s personal merits as a missionary candidate (though the question certainly applies). Rather I’m mostly thinking of a tendency in recent missions strategy to despise the role of foreign missionaries. Western missionaries are generally deemed unfit for a host of jobs, and native believers are considered the ideal candidates for filling the positions. While I do not for a second doubt that there’s a core of truth in this thinking, too many adaptations of it are but parodies of that truth.

Of course, I’m sure there’s a reader or two who will think, ‘Measure? Who are we to measure anything? Let’s leave the measuring to God and just let those who are called go to the places that they’ve been called to!’ I understand the sentiment, I think. Surely it’s possible for all of our attempts to train and prove a man to fall short – that those we approved would fall, and that those we rejected would prove faithful. And yet, the Bible does not shy away from entrusting churches with the duty of appointing leaders. And it has also provided us with criteria (read ‘measurements’) for judging the suitability of those who would be teachers. The same is true of the other decisions we make in life (what to do with our money, where to preach the Gospel, etc.) Even in our weakness, we are tasked with stewardship. So failing to check for certain qualifications or failing to pursue certain goals is hardly characteristic of super-spirituality.

So what are we measuring? I think that might require a much larger post to answer, but I have seen already firsthand both the dangers of measuring the wrong thing and the incredible benefits of focusing relentlessly on the right thing. Can you look back at a time in the past when you were simply pursuing the wrong ends? How did you get back on track? How can we safeguard ourselves against measuring the wrong thing today?

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3 Comments on “Measuring”

  1. Tommy Depew July 6, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    Great movie and an even better post! Thanks for sharing!

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Aaron July 7, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Got a recommended reading list for answering some of those questions? Is “Joshua Project” or “Operation World” main reading lists for determining where to serve?

    • Jake July 10, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

      Hey Aaron!

      Joshua Project and Operation World can be a great source of information about the world, but as they would squarely fall within the group that is re-imagining the prescribed work of the Great Commission, I would suggest caution in allowing their suggestions to weigh too strongly in my decisions in this regard. Specifically, they have wholeheartedly embraced a people-groups focused perspective on the mission. Of course, that’s just my suggestion, too!

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