by Jim Reapsome
I see our missions enterprise moving inexorably toward what I call the scorecard mentality.
The game of golf has a handy way to spell success. It’s called a scorecard. It has 18 blank spacces on it. After playing each hole, you write down the number of strokes you took to get the ball from the teel to the green and into the hole. After your round, you add up the total and the numbers tell the tale — winners and losers, successes and failures.
But during my 55 years of playing golf, I’ve realized that there’s much more to success in golf than my score. It’s a succcess just to be out in the fresh air enjoying the smell of the grass and trees. For me it’s a success jsut to get my mind off my usual worries for a couple of hours and enter combat against a different foe. The game is a success if I haven’t lost my temper after a lousy shot. The greatest successes I’ve enjoyed in golf have been the hours of companionship with good friends.
I see our missions enterprise moving inexorably toward what I call the scorecard mentality. We’re moving toward defining success by the numbers alone. Yes, I know the old and bitter fueds about the church growth movement, measurable objectives and accountability. So I need to explain my concern.
First, I never play golf without keeping score. No missionary or mission agency out to fear keeping score. My scorecard accurately tells me how I’m doing. But I’m not going to throw away my golf clubs, quit the game and kill myself if I don’t shoot par. Every missionary and agency should clearly define par and shoot for it. Golfers don’t change par. If they did, the game would be ludicrous. Everyone would play to her or his own standard.
So we very much need par in missions and we need accurate records of how well we are doing. Golfers who cheat and lie about their scores only fool themselves. Why, then, is a scorecard mentality (not the scorecard itself) to be feared in missions? Because if all we do is keep score, we miss many of the larger values, pleasures and purposes of the game.
I see more and more pressure in missions and churches just to keep score, and less and less interest in the larger biblical values God places before us. Part of this pressure comes from the notion that accountability means keeping score of dollars raised, meetings attended, churches built, people converted, institutions raised up and so on.
That kind of scorecard is fine as far as it goes, but it’s limited to only one phase of the game. It fits our intensely pragmatic engineering models of mission progress.
But God’s scorecard in Scripture plunges us into deeper and often unchartable territory. I recall a comment from a friend who objected to my vision of "par" in missions as presenting every person mature in Christ. "Too nebulous," he said.
He’s right of course. In golf, 4 is 4, no matter how you look at it. But what does a mature person in Christ look like? We can count members, converts, buildings and dollars, but how do we count maturity in Christ? Because we can’t count — and be held accountable for — spiritual maturity, we gloss over this overriding value and goal in world missions.
Perhaps the most serious blind spot caused by the scorecard mentality is our loss of biblical "par" of faithfulness to missionary calling and duty. My dad worked 27 years at the same job and never missed a day, despite some patches of bad weather and ill health. He was so strongly committed to his job that he never considered the possibility of staying home.
As I look at the scorecardd of the seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 2-3), which was kept by the only flawless scorekeeper in the world, I note that he gives his high marks to faithfulness, perseverance and keeping his word. We shoot part on his course when we overcome. Success as far as Jesus was concerned was measured by faithfulness.
Jesus also defined par as loving each other. In fact, he said we would score well against the unbelieving world if we loved well. If we shoot par on every hole, according to our scorecard, but fail to love, our scores will go unrecognized by the scorekeeper in heaven. The apostle Paul set par for the church as work produced by faith, labor prompted by love and endurance inspired by hope.
Hard to find numbers for these parts of the game? Of course. But if we don’t count faithfulness to Christ and his purposes for our lives, we’ve missed the point of the game. If we discount love, faith and hope as essential ingredients of success, we deceive ourselves and betray our calling. The scorecard mentality is a not so subtle way of causing us to miss what God desires most and what he wants us to enjoy most.
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