The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Part 7.5, Is This Any Way to Run a War?

cooperation.jpgI’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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Part 7.5, Is This Any Way to Run a War?

  1. Cary says:

    I agree with your sentiment here, but I do think it needs to be checked very carefully. "Is it effective?" is a very tricky question and is highly dependent on what your criteria are and how your criteria are based. This is where typical business thinking can actually destroy a much needed work because it doesn't produce the "bang for the buck" (ROI) that it seemingly could elsewhere. A lot of western European mission efforts are being pulled because of this. Western Europe is a hardened, post-Christian society that is difficult to reach. So do we abandon established missions there for a more "lucrative" field like South America? In a business world that would be a no-brainer, but is that what Christ would advocate?

    So yes, everyone needs accountability and to be seeking after a greater level of effectiveness, but we need to be very careful that our criteria are truly spiritual in how we measure such things.

  2. Jeff says:

    Or maybe the answer is to let the church be the church and do the work of the church, while letting outside institutions (schools, charities, businesses, etc.) not be the church? And stop thinking cutting a check to some outside organization fulfills our obligations individually and collectively?

  3. Nick Gill says:

    Cary has a very important point. How we define "effective" must be kingdom-oriented, flexible, and honest.

    Mission efforts are beachheads of the kingdom of God. Sometimes strategic withdrawals are necessary (because of poor leadership, poor reconnaissance, poor planning, or perhaps even just poor execution). Often, though, what is needed is reallocation of troops. Different leadership, different equipment, or maybe just reinforcements.

    Evaluation is tremendously important at every stage of the operation, though. The business model probably isn't the most effective (because it is typically based upon a "Greed Works" mentality). But for us who have struggled so hard to reject patternism and legalism, it is incredibly difficult to construct a model (pattern) with which to evaluate our praxis.

  4. Nick Gill says:

    The "work of the church" – now there is a loaded phrase.

    Begging the question is a rhetorical method that restates a question in such a way that it circumvents any discussion and demands that your listeners agree with you in order to answer your question.

    When you ask, "Maybe the answer is to let the church be the church and do the work of the church while letting outside institutions… not be the church?" you are begging the question. How?

    Doing "the work of the church" is precisely what Jay is talking about. Jeff, you are proposing a very limited definition of "work of the church". Others (Jay in particular) would propose a much broader definition. Since Scripture does not directly define the concept "work of the church" this discussion can be very profitable for all.

    My initial offering to such a discussion would be, "Since the kingdom of God extends to all areas of life, the work of the church must be extensive."

  5. Jay Guin says:


    This is really good discussion. I'm trying to get my thoughts together to post something.

  6. josh says:

    "Or maybe the answer is to let the church be the church and do the work of the church, while letting outside institutions (schools, charities, businesses, etc.) not be the church? And stop thinking cutting a check to some outside organization fulfills our obligations individually and collectively?" (Jeff)

    Sound too logical. And it runs counter to the progressive mindset of "find the most unscriptural way to do things and stick with it no matter the consequences."

  7. Mark says:

    I think part of the problem is that there is more work to be done than any of us or our churches can do. When I am not busy trying to "find the most unscriptural way to do things," I give a lot of thought to how our church can make a difference in the world.

    An journalist from Boston was here in OKC a couple of weeks ago. He is working on what he hopes will be a book about America's response to the crises in Africa. My wife and I and two other couples from our church have adopted babies from an orphanage in Rwanda, so he wanted to interview us. One question he asked was, "Are you making a difference in Africa?" I said, "Not us, at least not in the big picture. We took two babies out of 46 in that nursery, and then they got two more." I went on to say, "The church is making a difference. We're doing what we can. Rick and Kay Warren are doing what they can. Other churches are focused in other countries where they are adopting orphans" and so on. That is part of the work of the church.

    Maybe this is another one of those both/and issues. World Vision and Compassion International make it possible for people to support a child for $30/month. Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship is making a difference all over the world.

    Churches are partnering on programs like Whiz Kids (an after-school tutoring program), inner city missions, and so on.

    I would say, "Let the church do the work of the church," and keep writing checks to organizations that are making a difference in areas that are beyond the scope of what your church can do.

    I'm sorry to be so wordy.

  8. Mark says:

    While I'm being wordy, organizations like World Vision and Prison Fellowship are part of the Evangelical Council for Finacial Accountability (ECFA). If we want our parachurch organizations to thrive, we need a mechanism like that to help ensure financial accountability.

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