One of the idols in American culture that we must constantly battle is the pre-occupation with measuring worth by whether institutions are growing or not. In our conversations we are immediately impressed by a school’s numerical growth, but do not go on to ask whether the result produced is high quality. Why when we consider education do we put a value on the quantity of students served, but not as much on the quality side? Is it simply because the quantity is easier to count and evaluate than measuring whether we are meeting our mission in qualitative ways?
If Jesus measured his ministry by our numbers standard, he certainly would have felt like a failure – in the end the huge crowds dwindled down to a small band of sleepy disciples who fled or denied him. If Jesus had been about the numbers he certainly could have worked 24/7 – yet he rested in being obedient to his Father. He did not see a quantitative result in his lifetime here on earth. Yet we buy into the North American success model in both our schools and our churches. We so much want to rest in our own hard work and accomplishments – to hear the comment, “Well they must be doing something right over there!”
Since our schools and our churches are so connected, it may be instructive to consider what one observer of church life has to say about the modern definition of success.David Fitch, in his book The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism and Other Modern Maladies (Baker, 2005), lists several problems with how we define success. He raises several thought provoking questions in a chapter subtitled: “When Going from Ten to a Thousand Members in Five Years is the Sign of a Sick Church” (27-46):
- Do numbers reveal if a church is functioning as the body of Christ?
- What is the size of the actual functioning body?
- Is our focus on numbers rooted in our sacred cows such as the autonomy of the individual and our organizing for economic efficiency? In other words, “How can we best organize to produce the largest amount of decisions (for Christ) and the best quality of services for Christian growth most economically and efficiently to the largest number in this geographical location?”
- Do decisions (for Christ) count where there is no sanctification?
- Is salvation preached as more than “as a personal ticket out of hell but as the entrance into the reality of the lordship of Jesus Christ where God is working to bring about his kingdom?”
- How could we use qualitative measures of community and ministry such as saved marriages, reaching out to the poor, restoration from drugs and alcohol, amounts of giving, inviting in the stranger, etc.?
- Why is it that pastors of large churches are more willing to build bigger building than empower a group of forty to fifty people to plant another living body of Christ?
What can we learn from Fitch’s questions about churches when applied to our schools?
What questions should we be discussing about the decline or growth of Christian schools?
Should we be more concerned about, and put more energy into, planting new Christian schools than growing our current ones?