I paid a visit to the USAF recruiter in my hometown before graduating from high school in 1973. I was very specific with him — I was willing to work in any capacity as long that it ‘did not require math.’ He smiled at me, and may have even chuckled, before he opened a large book that contained detailed job descriptions of every possible position in the entire USAF. He then told me, “Your qualification scores are quite impressive, and I’ve found a great job for you. You’re going to become a Production Analyst.” I don’t know about you, but the word “analyst” suggested immediately to me that raw data would need to be calculated or manipulated in some way in order to analyze anything. I protested, “I’m sorry, but I’m quite sure that anybody who’s an analyst is required to work with numbers. Perhaps I need to talk with the Navy recruiter next door.”
The recruiter closed the book and walked around to my side of the desk and sat beside me. He placed his hand on my shoulder and smiled again. He knew that my father was in the Air Force and he said soothingly, “Listen to me. Ask your father about the duties of a ‘391X0’ when you get home and he’ll tell you it’s a good job. I’m doing you a favor by placing you in this job. There’s a long list of people that want this job, but I’m offering it to you only because your qualification tests are good enough and your father is one of us. If you wait until tomorrow this position will likely be gone. What do you think?”
I told him what I thought; that it sounded like a desk job where I would spend most of my day working with numbers and graphs. He explained that I would be more of a “quality control” position; I would oversee the work of aircraft mechanics to make sure that everything was done according to the technical specifications. He smiled at me again as he handed me a contract to sign, assuring me that my new job was critical to safe military aviation. I heard him roaring with laughter after I signed the contract and walked out of his office. I’m surprised I never saw him again during my stint in software sales — he would have fit right in. “Yes! It’s integrated with SAP right out of the box.”
After completing six weeks of basic military training I was sent to Chanute AFB to train as a Production Analyst. As soon as I saw the descriptions of each block of instruction, I knew I’d been duped. The training began with measures of central tendency, and I managed to fully grasp the difference between the mode, median and mean in data arrays. I groaned all the way through the block of instruction on Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient. I actually vomited while studying the Mann-Whitney U-test. I had to compute standard deviation formulas without the use of a calculator! I had murder in my heart for the smiling recruiter, and planned to pay him a visit when (or if) I completed my training. He was an evil, sadistic man who needed to be stopped before he ruined the lives of other young men and women.
He apparently went into hiding before I arrived back in my hometown in South Carolina. I’m sure he was still giggling as I sat in the parking lot and waited for him. I couldn’t locate him during my brief visit home, so I sadly began the long drive to my first permanent duty station — McClellan AFB in Sacramento, California.
I soon discovered that I had intuition as an analyst. I was able to diagnose anomalies in the design of a landing gear up-lock hook and it was redesigned in large part because of my analysis. I became comfortable in explaining trends to senior management. I created reports that depicted leading and lagging indicators, and included actual analysis when something fell above or below the wrong line. Based on failure rates, I was able to determine the necessary parts to bring along when we deployed aircraft to other duty stations. I could explain schedule deviations, talk with authority about the causes of repeat and recurring discrepancies, and could forecast resource requirements to help prioritize production.
During my twenty years in the Air Force I finished my Master’s Degree in Information Systems Management from Hawaii Pacific University (Go Sharks!) It was easy to find civilian work with an advanced technical degree and all the analytical skills I learned in the Air Force. I soon found myself redesigning business processes for some of the largest companies in America using electronic document management, imaging and workflow software. I understood productivity. I could easily calculate a return on investment, and could speak with enough authority to convince senior management to act on my recommendations. Most everything was measurable and could be displayed graphically.
Fast forward seventeen years and I am now living as a missionary pastor in the Philippine jungle. Relationship is valued far more highly here than productivity. People here will always choose relationship over productivity, meaning that they might do things the difficult way if it prevents feelings from being hurt. I struggled with that for a number of years — why wouldn’t they embrace seemingly obvious gains in productivity? Collective decision-making infuriated me, so I often took charge of situations just to move things forward. Now I’m far less concerned with being productive than I am about maintaining relationships.
It’s difficult to measure the most important things in ministry. What metrics can be applied to measure spiritual depth? How do you quantify faith that results in action? It’s easy to measure how many people prayed the “magic prayer” or how many baptisms were performed in a given period of time, but neither are good measurements for the health of a ministry. There are methods for quantifying survey results or impressions into what is known as ‘soft data.’ And soft data may be the best bet when trying to quantify ministry results. But quantification is unnecessary to measure the health of a church. Stand back and look at your church. Does it feed the hungry? Does it care for widows? Does it visit prisoners? Does it lift the burden from the poor? Does it serve refugees? Or are all of its programs and ministries internally focused? It may not be easy to quantify, but it’s quite simple to see when churches engage the communities they serve.
Some churches shun missions altogether: local missions and international, intercultural missions. But when short term missionaries are sent out, I observe them using short term measurements. It’s effortless to measure the number of water filters that were distributed, or the number of water pumps installed. It’s easy to report the number of baptisms that took place or the number of people who made a profession for Christ during their visit. But short term missionaries have a difficult time measuring their effectiveness doing exactly what Jesus has commanded us to do, which is to make disciples. Discipleship efforts may not bear fruit for many years, so it’s difficult to weigh the fruit while they are still only flowers.
So here is my advice regarding measuring your ministry’s effectiveness — stop trying. Instead, love others a bit more sacrificially. Give more of your time (you can measure that.) Give more of your money (you can measure that too!) Make friends who are not followers of Christ and love them without any agenda. Complain less, serve more, and select someone to disciple. Forget metrics — love isn’t intended to be measured, only poured freely onto others. Love the world around you even if it does not love you back. Refuse to judge others, and correct those who do. Be more like Christ. God will measure your life when it is complete, and that measurement is quite simple: faith, expressing itself in love.
Galatians 5:6 …The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
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Barry Phillips is the author of a short-term mission trip “survival guide” named “I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed It)” and the novel “The 24th Province” available on Amazon.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Pinterest: @barrydphillips