Measuring Your Ministry
A farmer was walking in the field one day measuring the meaning and success of his life. He looked up into the sky for some answers, and he had a vision. He saw the letters “P” and “C” in the clouds. He interpreted that to mean to “Preach Christ.” After many frustrating and fumbling attempts at preaching, he realized that the vision was telling him to “Plow Corn” (Rueben P. Job). After many fumbling attempts, I’ve decided to become a farmer. Of course, I’m just kidding.
Ezekiel had a vision! He had an encounter with God by a river, in what was seemingly in the middle of nowhere. He receives a call to lead a rebellious people into exile.
I began to think to myself: “How in the world was Ezekiel supposed to measure success on the road to exile?” Perhaps it is a little overly dramatic to think of ourselves being called to lead a people into exile, but I think we can certainly ask the same question of our own calling? How should we measure the success of our ministry?
“Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. And he said to me, "Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you." And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, "Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.' And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 1:28-2:5)
When I was a kid I often got grounded for bad grades. I was often sent to my room for long periods of time. Instead of studying, like I should have, I created this intricate baseball league that was 10 teams deep. My league was filled with stats of every player, trade deadlines, and it even consisted of a minor league system! For as long as I can remember I have loved pouring over stats. Even today, I love looking at the plus- minus-ratio of basketball players; studying how many minutes they played, their rebound average, and who is leading the league in assists and scoring. I love studying a pragmatic grid to measure the effectiveness of all the players.
As I am now in my 15th year of pastoring, I have this love-hate relationship with stats. Unfortunately, at times, I track stats in order to measure my life, and then I compare myself with others to try to determine how valuable I am in the eyes of the world. I don’t like it that I do that, but at times I do. When the stats are up I’m up, and when the stats are down, I’m down.
All of us seek some sense of measurement to know where we stand in comparison to others. We like to play the percentages, and measure our lives, to find some sense of validation that we are “successful” and worth something. From test scores to financial portfolios, all of us are in some way obsessed with statistics.
The pandemic has really challenged the way we measure our ministry and even our lives. Trying to figure out how to measure social media attendance, in-house attendance, and everything else has become daunting. I feel like our church has done well during this time, but it is still difficult to measure whether or not I’m doing a good job. I was talking to my DS the other day, and I said, “On the one hand, I think we are doing really well, considering everything that is going, and then the next minute I start thinking I’m not doing very well.”
It’s strange for me to hear God tell Ezekiel to go and speak to a rebellious people “whether they hear or refuse to hear.” As one commentator said, “If responsiveness is to be the measure of success, Ezekiel’s mission is declared a failure before it even begins” (Iain M. Duguid).
This is not an easy task for Ezekiel. He is not, as one commentator reminds us, being sent to the Gentiles where the language barrier would be the primary problem, he has been sent to a people who have hard-hearts, and who are rebellious and stubborn.
Even without a language barrier they will refuse to listen (Duguid). Ezekiel’s calling is not exactly on the best sellers list as a model for church growth development.
Ezekiel will not be measured by results, but by whether or not he said what God told him to say! He will not be judged by how many kids are enticed to raise their hands at VBS, or how many people come to the altar (especially, now that there are social distancing restrictions), and he will not be judged by who does or does not respond. He will be measured by whether or not he is obedient and faithful to do what God asked him to do, no matter what the results are.
If you are looking for a way to measure success in your ministry: Be obedient to what God asks you to do. We live in a world that does not like to be told what to do. We do not like being told where to go, what to say, what to do, or how to live our lives. “Nobody can tell me what to do!”
I love something George MacDonald said, “Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have, this day, done one thing because He said, Do it!” (George MacDonald)
Ezekiel was an anomaly in the midst of an exiled and rebellious people. No one can take credit for his obedience, not even his mom and dad. He responds to the infusion of the Spirit (the ruach, the wind and breath of God). I think he understand that if he is going to lead a rebellious people into and through exile, they will need, and he will need, something greater than himself. He will need the Spirit of God. Ezekiel does what he is told to do.
Lastly, if you are looking for a way to measure meaning and success in your ministry: Be faithful to what God asks you to do. Faithfulness may be the most crucial piece to measuring your success in ministry during these times.
The utterance of the Spirit in this passage reminds me that we are never enough by ourselves. We are always in need of the assistance of God if we are going to minister faithfully.
If I can be real with you for just a moment – I think people who have been called into ministry understand that we are not enough. As soon as we step onto the stage and into the pulpit we realize just how inadequate we are.
We understand that the majority of us are not as talented as Andy Stanley. We understand that we do not look as cool as Francis Chan does when he preaches in a Star Wars T-shirt and flip-flops. We understand that our family is generally not as well behaved as Dr. Dobson’s. We get it. We are not enough.
We understand that we are one conversation (or text) shy of someone being upset with us. We understand that we error in our decisions at times, and that occasionally, by the grace of God, we get it right. We get it. We are not enough.
We understand that we are not the lone arbiters of truth. And then again, we understand that we are told that we will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). We understand that people like to be the “experts of the Scripture” without humble submission to theological, exegetical and hermeneutical training. Most people do not have to bear an ecclesiological responsibility to a flock. Most want to be “experts” of Scripture without ever having to carry the weight of a pastoral cross. Every time we open up Scriptures we get it. We aren’t enough.
We understand that we are kind of like the Levites who were numbered among the orphans and the widows because they lacked an inheritance of their own. (Numbers 18:23-26). We understand, that sometimes we are the “un-presentable,” “less honorable” and even “weaker” vessels of the Body, as Paul describes (1 Corinthians 12:21-24).
We understand that sometimes we are not much different than James and John who were jockeying for a high position (Mark 5:35-45). We get it. We are not enough.
But, we also understand something! God called us to this task of ministry, not to be successful, but because He said to do it! And, that has been enough to sustain me all these years. We love teaching and walking with people on the journey. We love to preach, but fame is not our goal. (Although, an occasional text that we have done a good job is certainly welcomed). We walk with others on this journey not for the sake of popularity; we just want to be an instrument that leads people closer to God.
We understand that God didn’t call us because He thought we were enough, but because GOD IS ENOUGH!
If you are looking for something to measure your ministry on the road to exile, or even in the midst of a pandemic – take some pointers from Ezekiel. Be obedient. Be faithful. For God IS enough.
Rev. H. Gordon Smith III, NBC Alumnus, Pastor of Frankfort First Church of the Nazarene, Indiana, Former NBC Adjunct Professor
Filed Under: Communicator Published: 09/23/2020