MEASUREMENT & To Measure of Not to Measure?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/27/15.

Vernon Grounds’ warned about the “bitch goddess of success” (his words, not mine) stating, “It is worshipping [sic] at the shrine of sanctified (or unsanctified) statistics…”  I agree, to a degree.

But, simply because of a potential for abuse we must not ignore measurement, for the Biblical authors did not do so.  Read the full quote by this former president and chancellor of Denver Seminary, followed by my suggestions for a biblical theology of measurement.

“Worldly success is success judged without reference to God or eternity.  Spiritual success is judged by God, success from the perspective of eternity, success without reference to the worlds evaluation. . . . The church has allowed the world to impose on Christian service standards of success which are utterly non-biblical; and when I talk of the church in this context I mean American evangelicalism. . . . the right kind of thinking plus the right programming and motivating plus the right battery of techniques will change any failure into shining success. . . . I am honestly afraid that American evangelicalism is guilty of idolatry.  It is bowing down, if I may borrow a biting phrase from philosopher William James, before the bitch goddess of success.  It is worshipping [sic] at the shrine of sanctified (or unsanctified) statistics. . . . As disciples of Jesus Christ, too many of us are sinfully concerned about size–the size of sanctuaries, the size of salaries, the size of Sunday Schools.  Too many of us are sinfully preoccupied with statistics about budgets and buildings and buses and baptisms.  I say it bluntly: too many of us American evangelicals are worshipping [sic] the bitch goddess of success.” Grounds, F. (1986). “Faith for failure: A meditation on motivation for ministry.” Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin, Mar/Apr, 4.

I have three thoughts.

First, this seems reactionary rather than radical.  To me at least the tenor seems to be a complaint against measurement, while measurement is used remarkably often in the Bible.

Secondly, he is warning about our church preoccupation with size and not quality.  I have written extensively (see these postings) that measuring size is a poor indicator of health and that Acts 2:42-47 gives us Luke’s areas for measurement which were:

  • Measure spiritual maturity (growth in maturation)
  • Measure unity in Christ (growth in unity)
  • Measure service to the community (growth in favor among the community)
  • And finally measure salvations, a metric which God sovereignly grows, for as Luke said, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (see these postings).

Thirdly, here is a short excerpt from A House Divided (Abingdon Press) where Kent Hunter and I look at the scriptures to answer the question: “Is Counting Biblical”  It might throw some Biblical light on the issue.


Is Counting Biblical?  (a sidebar)

Few principles have garnered as much controversy as the principle of measuring numerical growth.  However, missiologist and dean of the Church Growth Movement Donald McGavran states that “the Church is made up of countable people and there is nothing particularly spiritual in not counting them.  Men use the numerical approach in all worthwhile human endeavor.”

But some have argued that there is something spiritual about “not counting.”  They would point to God’s displeasure with King David for ordering a census of the people in 1 Chronicles 21:1 – 30.  However, 1 Chronicles 21:1 reveals that it was Satan who inspired David to conduct this counting of his troops.  Even against the counsel of his commander Joab, who discerned David’s inappropriate motivation, David conducts the census.  David’s motivation for the census was to revel in the strength of his army.  But God wanted David to put his trust in God’s protection, rather than the size of his forces.  Hence, wrong motivation and wrong instigation led to an inappropriate counting.

Elsewhere in the Bible, numberings are conducted for meaningful reasons with helpful results.  In Numbers 1:2 and 26:2 God commands numberings of all Israel along with every segment of each tribe before and after the desert wanderings.  In the Gospel accounts we witness accurate countings of Jesus’ team of disciples, and in Luke 10:1 – 24 we see a company of 72 disciples sent out two by two.  In the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:3 – 7, only by counting the sheep does the shepherd become aware that one is missing from the fold.  If counting those we are entrusted were odious to Jesus, certainly he would eliminate such imagery from his teaching.  And in Acts 1:15; 2:41; 4:4; Luke records the growth of the church by a careful record of its numerical increase.  McGavran concludes “on biblical grounds one has to affirm that devout use of the numerical approach is in accord with God’s wishes.  On the practical grounds, it is as necessary in congregations and denominations as honest financial dealing.”