by James E. Plueddemann
Last week I wrote a reference for a missionary couple. Their home church wanted to know SIM’s predictable and measurable goals for their ministry and wanted to know whether the missionaries had achieved these goals.
Last week I wrote a reference for a missionary couple. Their home church wanted to know SIM’s predictable and measurable goals for their ministry and wanted to know whether the missionaries had achieved these goals. The same couple told me that the church had cut their support by $600.00 last year because they didn’t produce hard numbers. I don’t know if the missions committee wanted them to plant a certain number of churches, or win a predictable number of converts within a twelve month period.
One mission leader commented that he liked my talk about “vision,” but he wondered if I was going to translate my vision into numerical and time-specific objectives. He seemed quite surprised when I suggested such an activity would not be very helpful.
A major donor was willing to make a large contribution to an unreached people project provided they could come up with objectives which had “measurable and time specific goals.” Another donor asked how many souls would be saved if we conducted a certain evangelistic project. He was interested in the number of dollars per soul. Neither bible-believing donor sensed any theological problems with such a request.
I have a hunch that the Apostle Paul would be quite puzzled by this passion to predict specific numbers by a certain date. Great missionaries and great missionary-minded churches are driven by vision; by a passion for people from every tribe and language to join in singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the wedding feast of the Lamb. The Apostle Paul had a missionary vision for a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Such a vision doesn’t fit our passion for predictable precision. The Apostle Paul didn’t try to predict the number of converts or churches per missionary journey.
THE MISSIONARY MACHINE
Some missiologists and churches see the world of missions as a machine. They are dominated by the cult of efficiency. They view the missionary enterprise as accomplishing precise goals in a predicted time frame, with the least amount of money, and with the fewest missionaries. Because of their passion for precision and predictability, they set goals for things that easily can be counted. They wish to know exactly what the final result will look like, when it will be accomplished, and how much it will cost.
People who see that task of missions mechanistically tend to have a vision for something that is very big and easy to measure. They then set a long-range timetable with several short-range plans. For such people, “going into all the world and making disciples” is too vague. They say we must first precisely define “all the world” as quantifiable people groups, and “disciples” as those who have gone through a prescribed program. They would argue that the task is completed when a specific percentage of people are attending church. Success is measured on graph paper.
But when we aim only at what we can measure, we avoid the most important goals of character and holiness. As soon as we try to predict and quantify character and holiness, we are forced to become legalistic. Results of missions should be measured by spiritual qualities rather than by the mere quantity of buildings or people.
Some missiologists are “sucked into” the subtle world-view of measurable objectives. They argue that efficient missionaries need to precisely predict future outcomes, set accurate timetables and get to work using incremental steps. Such missiologists required us to precisely define what we mean by evangelism in terms of observable behavior and then predict how effective we will be by a certain date. They desire to know how many souls will be won, within a given time-frame and with how much money. Such a world-view is dangerous and discouraging.
When the Lord God pours out His blessing on a people group we will be able to see indications of that blessing. We will even be able to measure how many people made decisions, how many churches have been planted, and how many people are enrolled in a discipleship program. Quantities may at times be “after-the-fact” indications of the Lord’s blessing, so I do believe in using numbers as one of the several indicators of past blessings. But quantities are only valuable when they really do reflect inner qualities. “After-the-fact” indicators of success come from a different philosophy than “before-the-fact” precise objectives. We have faith goals, but we pray that the actual results will pleasantly surprise us.
I wonder if some of you are frustrated by pressures to predict measurable objectives in your ministry. There may be times when measurable objectives are appropriate, but let me encourage you to consider faith goals as a better option.
Numerical objectives are usually trivial. An example of a numerical objective might be to hand out 100 tracts per day. Such a goal is precise, and may be a very good thing to do, but it is not a visionary goals, it tells us nothing about the results in the hearts of those who receive the tracts. We don’t know if the tracts made the people angry, caused a litter problem, or actually were used by the Spirit to bring conviction of sin. While it might be a good idea to hand out 100 tracts per day, the activity is a strategy and not an eternal outcome. Eternal results are in the hearts of people not in mere activities.
Numerical objectives reflect bad theology. Eternal outcomes for our ministry are in the hands of the Lord Jesus. For example, it is not appropriate for us to set an objective of bringing three people into the kingdom per week. When we say that our goal is to plant one church per year, we may get trapped into thinking about a mere building and forget about the true nature of the church. The church is born-again community of people who are becoming like Christ in community, whether they meet in a building or under a tree. Healthy churches are measured by the quality of faith rather than by the quantity of people, offerings or buildings. The quality of faith of believers can’t be described with numbers.
Numerical objectives grow out of un-biblical philosophy. Dangerous philosophies are often below the level of our awareness. The Western world is strongly influenced by logical positivism which argues that all meaning must be verifiable by empirical data. Behaviorism claims that observable behavior is all that matters. The secular world tells us that what we can see and count is the only reality. But Paul commands us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4: 18). Church growth theory is more influenced by logical positivism than by the Bible.
Numerical objectives stifle vision. If we know our support might be cut because we don’t meet predetermined objectives, we will aim at goals that are easy to attain. We will set goals that will make us look good at the end of the year rather than goals that grow from faith in a God of hope. We aim for numbers we are likely to hit rather than qualities which are eternally important. Such goal-setting is a dreary exercise.
Numerical goals encourage us to control and manipulate people. Numerical goals grow out of a desire to control the future, and when we try to control future results we also need to control people. If all our energies are focused on a numerical goal, we tend to use people as mere cogs in our wheel, to help us accomplish our goals. We become hyper-task oriented and people become dehumanized as a means. Numerical objectives tempt us to coerce people into accomplishing our precise goals. If we are trying to control the future, we are forced to try and control people. Numerical objectives encourage a domineering, authoritarian leadership style.
VISIONARY GOALS ARE FAITH GOALS
While numerical objectives are usually trivial, heretical, and discouraging, visionary goals help us to focus on the eternal in a world of anarchy. They become a driving force for our ministry. Visionary goals give us pictures of how the Lord God Almighty might use us to make an eternal difference in the hearts of people. Visionary goals give us a strong commitment to direction in a world filled with unpredictability and ambiguity. Visionary goals keep us attuned to unfolding opportunities in a chaotic world out of our control. The world is changing at record pace so our strategies must constantly change. Visionary goals are the light house to guide us through a raging sea filled with rocks, dangerous currents and changing winds. With eyes of faith we see through the storm to the vision of how the world is going to be. Visionary goals are seen through our eyes of faith.
Visionary goals come from a God of hope. Visionary goals begin with a fresh faith in the God of hope. We are convinced that the promises of God are true and trustworthy. Because we believe in a God of hope, we must aim for big goals even if we are in the midst of a world that is falling apart. Faith goals grow out of a fresh vision of the Lord who loves us and wants to use us for his glory. Faith goals help us keep our eyes focused on the Lord God Almighty and his promises rather than on the difficulties in the world around us.
Visionary goals seek eternal results. Missionaries with great faith goals need a healthy tolerance for ambiguity. Our vision needs a healthy dose of mystery. We are not in control of eternal results in the hearts and souls of people. We seek to be instruments of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and lives. Faith goals are difficult to predict with precision, because we may not see the results of our ministry until we reach heaven. But if the results of our ministry are only for this world, we are missing out on the most important goals.
Visionary goals grow out of prayer. There is no simple formula for deciding faith goals. Computer projections do not establish faith goals. Faith goals come from spending time on our knees. We need to be open to the mystery of the powerful hand of the Lord in our lives. Wait patiently for him. Ask the Lord for His goals. Ask the Lord to give you a fresh vision of himself and what how he may wish to use you for his glory. What is the Lord’s vision for your ministry?
Visionary goals describe qualities rather than quantities. You may wish to describe some of your faith goals with numbers, but I would encourage you to describe most of your goals as qualities. Don’t merely record how many people you wish to contact with the gospel, but describe by faith what could happen in the lives of people when they give their lives to the Lord. Talk about godly qualities in the lives of students you are teaching. Describe loving relationships between missionaries if the Lord would send a revival to your station. Describe a healthy church in your town rather than merely projecting numbers of believers. Then get on your knees and pray for this vision of blessing on your ministry. Ask yourself the question, “If God would richly bless this ministry, what might it look like in the hearts of people?”
Visionary goals grow out of team ministry. Visionary goals are not individualistic but depend on the Body of Christ. Individuals are stimulated by the faith goals of others in the team. We are dependent on the spiritual gifts of the team and because no one missionary has all the spiritual gifts needed to help the Body to function, we absolutely must work as a team. This team includes national believers and first-term missionaries as well as experienced veterans.
SUGGESTED ACTION STEPS
Begin with yourself. Spend time in prayer asking the Lord to give you a renewed vision of Himself. Ask the God of hope to rekindle your hopes and dreams, your faith goals for ministry. Picture with your eyes of faith how your ministry might develop if the Lord would wonderfully bless your efforts.
Dialogue with national church leaders and other missionaries. Discuss faith goals with your supporting churches. Be ready to enlarge your faith goals as you listen to the vision of your close co-workers. Be willing to share your goals with the team.
Continue wider discussions for your whole district or country. What is the Lord showing you as a family? How is the Lord using the visionary goals of others to stimulate your faith? Don’t make this a mechanical exercise, but an exercise with the family of God catching a rekindled vision of his glory and our task.
When the Lord has given us visionary goals, we are then ready to begin planning strategy. May this exercise re-ignite enthusiasm for the Lord, excitement for your ministry, and fresh appreciation for the Body of Christ.
All people, including missionaries, wear colored glasses which influence our world-view. The problem is that we get so used to seeing the world as a certain color that we can’t see the distortion in our own glasses. I’m afraid that too many of us in missions have unthinkingly accepted the colored glasses of the old scientific paradigm. Just like a fish doesn’t think about water, so we don’t often think about the underlying philosophy that influences our thinking. Our philosophy of missions is dangerous because it is below the level of our awareness and is not open to biblical critique.
I too went through a behavioristic missiology stage, and participated in church growth workshops, extrapolating future growth with logarithmic graph paper. (The church in Nigeria has continued to grow at record pace even though the pastors never did figure out the graph paper exercise.) I led seminars on terminal objectives in TEE. (But I found that TEE students who missed the last question may have grown in their love for the Lord) I argued for seminary curriculum based on “observed exit competencies.” (I’m embarrassed that I put so little emphasis on graduates evidencing the fruit of the Spirit, or a love for people because these were easy to predict as behavioristic competencies.)
I had a “conversion” experience when I realized external behavior is not a good indicator of the heart. I observed theological students who knew all the answers, but were living for the devil, missionary kids who obeyed all the rules, but whose hearts were far from the Lord, and whole denominations that grew rapidly but soon became lukewarm. I realized that outward quantities are poor reflectors of inner quality. When I look at chaos in so many of the so-called “reached” countries in Africa I note that a big church is not necessarily a community of people growing in Christ. Unfortunately, numbers tell us almost nothing about inner qualities.
EMQ, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 184-187. Copyright © 1995 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.