I recently purchased a new home. If you’ve ever done that, then you’re aware that knowing the numbers is extremely crucial and helpful. In order to make a good decision, you’ve got to know your budget and the price of the homes you’re looking at. This is how you measure if each home is an option for you.
Is it in your price range? Is there enough room to do what you envision doing in it? These are the data points you use to help you make a wise decision. If those things all align, you’re setting yourself up for success.
But there’s something the numbers can’t measure. They can’t measure what happens in the house. This is what really defines success for a home.
The bottom line takes control
Unfortunately, bottom-line measurement of success through the lens of numbers happens in churches all the time. I know you’ve heard things before like…
- “We want to baptize X amount of people by Y date.”
- “We want everyone in a small group by the end of the year.”
- “We’d like everyone to go through this study.”
- “We would like to have X campuses around the city by Y year.”
- “We need financial giving to be X this year to do what the Lord is asking us to do.”
These statements are invitations for the people that make them. As Joseph Myers says in his book Organic Community…
Measuring by the bottom line marshals all attention to an end point. The bottom line is an invitation to do whatever is necessary to reach that bottom line.
At an internal level, the people that create the bottom lines become controlled by them and it causes them to in turn manipulate and control others in service to the numbers.
If reaching the numbers they’ve created requires other people, then they must get other people on board. Remind you of any sermons you’ve sat through?
In this situation, the Holy Spirit’s leading tends to be equated with whatever makes sense in relation to the static end-point that’s already been decided – usually by one or a few people in the group.
The problem here is then decisions get made through rational gymnastics in light of the numbers. Instead of combining our wisdom as a many-but-one Body and Family of Christ to reach collective decisions like the New Testament envisions, we succumb to whoever makes the most convincing (or sometimes the loudest) argument because we’re trying to align the possibilities with the numbers.
Because the numbers are in charge, we’re now limiting our possibilities to what the numbers dictate.
For a group of people to baptize X amount of people by Y date, then God must want them to do A, B and C because this is what makes the most sense. The smartest or boldest people in the group typically determine what A, B and C are, and everyone else is persuaded and/or asked to fall in line. Worse yet, Scriptures (taken out of context) are used to defend this type of elitist decision-making process.
If the Spirit were to say to do D, then that must not be Him because it’s hard to see how that results in the pre-determined number. So the thinking goes.
Numbers lie when measuring life
Numbers are perfect for planning, measuring, and building things without life in them like cars and refrigerators. If you didn’t use numbers, your measurements would be off and your output wouldn’t be what you desired. Things would be the wrong size, pieces wouldn’t fit together, etc.
But the problem is numbers lie when it comes to relationships.
They can’t measure the success of a home. They can’t measure the success of a church. They can’t tell you what a church should be doing in real time.
Myers goes on to say…
Bottom-line, master plan measurement often amounts to numeric, linear, or statistical evaluations. These measurements masquerade as fact but all too often fool us into thinking we’re doing better or worse than we really are.
If everyone is in a small group then that’s success? If not, then that’s failure? Really?
But people have been fired because they didn’t hit a number, even though many good things were happening.
There’s only one thing that can measure life. It’s story.
Who cares if everyone is in a small group if that’s not what was the healthiest option for the community at that time? Who cares if everyone shows up? If they’re not buying in because it wasn’t their idea, and they were guilted into coming, does it really matter that they were there?
Now I’m not saying the Lord can’t give us numbers as a vision and goal for something happening. But I am saying that the numbers can’t be in charge for a church to be ordered by the Life of Christ. But that’s what tends to happen, and relationships refuse to work that way.
Numbers can emerge from and be subject to the stories that are happening. But as soon as this gets flipped and numbers control the story, unity gets fractured.
Story should be our Source
The story of relationships is where Spirit-led church order that leads to unity emerges from. When numbers are used as static plans that guide decisions, the source of the church’s life together becomes the disorder of human planning and control. It may feel like order, but it’s mechanical. Life is no longer the Source.
A church environment that allows the Life of Christ to provide order uses the story of its relationships together to emerge what should happen and how it should happen.
When numbers are the plan, the people that are a part of the plan become numbers. They feel that way too.
When numbers are used to make decisions, life together becomes controlled, programmed and manufactured. The numbers create the plans and pathways and then they get imposed on others.
The relational environment that allows the Life Of Christ to be the Source of all it is and does is one that holds story as its measure of what’s happening and where it’s going.
Organic order comes from the plans and pathways emerging from the stories of the members’ relationships together.
Numbers are more apt to block our eyes and ears. When we decide the numbers are the will of God, it causes a loss of sensitivity to the Spirit. Stories better allow us to hear and see what the Spirit is doing in real time.
Stories, not numbers, lead to relational unity in the Spirit.
This is what it means to be organic.
The rest of the posts in the What It Means To Be Organic series are here.