I’ve mentioned my worries about the longterm viability of some of our institutions as the Churches of Christ continue to divide. And I’ve mentioned our difficulties in cooperating. While I’m on the subject, let me explain a closely related problem that gets widely ignored in churches (not just Churches of Christ).
As a rule, we do a terrible job of holding parachurch organizations accountable. We probably have a thief or two out there, but that’s not my worry. Rather, who evaluates the effectiveness of these works? I mean, if you give money to XYZ soul-saving organization, how do you know how many were brought to Jesus last year? How many of those were Baptists that some missionary re-baptized? How many were the children of existing converts? And, especially, how does their work compare to the work of other similar organizations?
There’s just so very little accountability. When we put money into a church planting organization, for example, it only makes sense to start on faith in the idea and the people and God. But after a few years, someone needs to ask whether it’s working — and how well it works compared to other methods.
In the business world, testing our efforts and benchmarking our efforts against other possibilities is normally obvious and second nature. We know how to measure success, and we usually have the good sense to fix (or end) things that aren’t working very well.
But in church, this seems just oh-so-mean, and somebody complains that “you can’t run the church like a business,” and so we let ineffectiveness fester forever. We figure if it’s not working, well, at least we planted. It’s God who gives the increase.
Nonetheless, I don’t think Jesus would be happy to find that we’re casting all our seeds on the hardened road when we could have cast them in the tilled soil. I mean, methods matter. And if we have a choice between something that works and something proven to fail, how dare we blame God?
Now, I’m not one for a quick trigger. I think if a missionary is doing poorly the solution may be new training or sending more missionaries to support him. I mean, you don’t just assume that he’s a failure because he’s the wrong man in the wrong country. On the other hand, neither do you invest hundreds of thousands in a failed work over the years when the same funds would certainly have saved thousands elsewhere.
Jesus told us to be good stewards, not naive. Jesus spoke in terms of returns on investment with numbers like 20-fold or 100-fold! He has high expectations! We should, too.
Be patient. Don’t be stupid. Don’t quit on something you can fix.
And come up with a system that holds ourselves to account. I don’t know: maybe we set up an independent organization that does nothing but study effectiveness and issue reports. Or maybe we train elders on how to evaluate programs.
Or maybe we create a vital, independent, fearless Church of Christ press corps? I mean, right now not a single periodical feels it has the mission of asking hard questions.
I don’t know the answer. I just know that I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the status quo.