Today’s blog post is a continuation of last week’s discussion when we identified care for the individual as one of the traits of a missionally effective church. Another trait is accountability which is where we will turn our attention. Robust institutional accountability is not a call for symbolic accountability, but specific accountability in doctrine, missional effectiveness, and to the church’s clients (to use a business term intentionally).
Doctrinal accountability has been the struggle between the progressive and evangelical wings of Protestantism for almost a century. My own journey as a seminary student and now pastor of eighteen years has been deeply shaped by surfing these edges of chaos. On the surface, the doctrinal advocates and activists debated foundational beliefs about Christ’s nature, the Trinity, and Scripture.
Yet, behind the attempts to control denominational gatherings or confessional documents is the struggle to be bound within any belief system, and bound to one another. Time and again whether one came out progressive, evangelical, or somewhere in between, the post-modern slipperiness around truth guided the conversation. The individual’s relation to the doctrinal statement of the moment and the political implications of one’s account to it are as much at play as the nature of the truth itself.
Missionally effective churches are accountable to resource allocation and impact. The financial expense of doing ministry, particular to property, labor costs, and the increasing urban context, necessitates stretching budgetary resources further than ever before.
Measurement of ministry effectiveness by way of clear, stated, and calculated metrics should have guided most church systems, but rarely have. Rather, fannies in seats and coins in offering plates have traditionally been the only indicators of church health.
We should be embarrassed that these two metrics have consumed so much of our time, rather than using robust scorecards to evaluate what God has called the church to do.
American evangelicals are still early in the missional movement. Clearly identified metrics have not become standardized and wide-spread. Yet, in whatever form ministry happens, and however success is defined and reached, ministry effectiveness must be measured. This demonstrates accountability to the institutional mission established by Christ and verified in a particular community. Without actual verifiable Christ-centered effectiveness, as our citizenry expects of hospitals, governments, and nonprofits, the church asks for a pass on accountability. Then when, not if, we fail, institutional peers in our community have less respect and patience as we recover.
The Roman Catholic pedophile scandal is the perfect example of this. It will take decades and generations for trust to be rebuilt, and this stain will mark the church long into her future as the crusades, inquisition, and witch trials continue to do.
For too long a sclerotic lethargy has kept some church doors open, but evidence of transformed souls and communities is hard to see. The church owes accountability to its clients: the participants in a fellowship of Christ-followers. Good leadership and responsible institutional practices serve our customer (yes, the marketplace language is appropriate because it is the place that takes accountability seriously). Our customer needs to know we will not sexually assault your children and then cover for one another. Our customer needs to know their dollars will not only be managed legally and ethically, but strategically—we will actually steward your money. Our customer, who invests volumes of time in worship, discipleship, mission and evangelism needs to know their investment will generate a great return for the sake of the Kingdom.
Granted, the use of marketplace language here has offended some readers. Yet, the point needs to be made without the lofty distractions of theological jargon; an exchange occurs among and amidst Christian fellowships and their greater community. A business filter can be a healthy way to combat and check our own struggling, non-missional churches. So, it is good to ask questions like, “Does that ministry exchange bring value to everyone involved?” The accountability placed on businesses by the bottom line of profit drive businesses towards wealth or bankruptcy. A similar accountability needs to guide missional churches as she facilitates the means of grace for the love of her Bride, Christ.
Dr. Case Thorp leads The Collaborative for Cultural and Economic Renewal, and is the Senior Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.
WHAT WE ARE THINKING ABOUT
SUN. SCHOOL CLASS: Choices on the Horizon
(Taught by PJ Wehry)
EVENT: 11-1-2018 6 Questions w/ Scott Maxwell,
Print Journalism and Its Future
QUOTE: A good church is a Bible-centered church. Nothing is
as important as this—not a
large congregation, a witty pastor,
or tangible experiences of the Holy Spirit.