Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Measuring Greatness

Written by: on September 12, 2019

There is an overwhelming amount of things to reflect on from Jim Collins for our leadership and ministry assimilation. It feels as if his research and concepts have been a part of all of my ministry leadership years. And it basically has been.

I could start with just the title of Good to Great and dive into my convoluted relationship with the word “great”. I left youth ministry for the Philippines as an eighteen-year-old with a heavy pressure to do great things for God or else. It did not go well, at least at the soul level. This has made me cautious that in leadership positions we do not project greatness on sheep as a means of subtle manipulation for our mission fulfillment. How do we call people up to greatness while maintaining the theological pin of it actually being God doing the great things? What is the Christian definition of “great” and our role in what He is doing in the world?

But it is the nuances between the measurements used in business and in church life that is of most personal research interest. I have spent days and probably months of my life quantifying and measuring  and reviewing church data. And I believe in it. And I also believe there are some things that are difficult to graph.

We should measure all that we can in our ministries – at least all that is meaningful. And the churches I have served with have been wise enough to do that. It provides information from which to make decisions. I have used ratios for hiring and ministry trends to set agendas. Stewardship of resources and the accountability that goes with it are requisites for any ministry endeavor.

Measures can help inform strategy. I am a fan of identifying outcomes we want to partner with God to accomplish that are in line with His heart. (Rates of crime, divorce, etc. or percentage of church attendance in our region are examples.) Collins’ hedgehog principle would aid a social sector organization to identify and focus tenaciously on something like this by finding the overlap between passion, uniqueness and resource engines.[1]And then we back up and examine the inputs needed to positively affect the outputs. And then we stick with it – let’s see that wheel fly. I believe so much of what Collins’ purports would dramatically and positively impact the Church.

So the winner is strategy and execution and measures to inform it?

But the truth is, we are in the people “business” and people are never “done”. Is the heart fully formed to perfect Christlikeness while on planet earth? Are not there some things that only God knows? Do we know how God works in a person’s heart exactly? And just because someone may have gone through our connections process or our leadership pipeline like we designed it, are we finished?

The fruit of the spirit and the process of sanctification seem – let me use a very academic word here – squishy. They are difficult to measure. And trust me, we have attempted to quantify it but there are things that are elusive. And that is ok. We are not God. Isn’t the job of ministry leaders to just love people well on behalf of God?

So the winner is people and just loving them?

I still believe it is both. I am reminded of the polarity surfing analogy as a way to conclude. Strategies and execution are interdependent on people and caring. My mind wants to solve and fix the tension. Is it strategy and execution that make ministry happen? Or is it the loving and caring for people? Yes.

Polarities are issues that are never solvable in any way that could last…Whenever you think about a pendulum swinging from one side to then overcorrecting to the other, you have a polarity. Each side of the polarity mutually creates the other so they are interdependent; they need each other to exist.[2]

The end of all of this is the love of God and of people, let’s say. The means is often the God-inspired strategies and our execution. It is important to not confuse the two certainly but it may not work well to eliminate one side of the pole either.

[1]Collins, James C. Good to Great and the Social Sectors. S.l.!: Jim Collins, 2005, 19.

[2]Garvey Berger, Jennifer and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders ( Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015), 96.

About the Author

Andrea Lathrop

I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, mom and student. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida and I have been an executive pastor for the last 8+ years. I drink more coffee than I probably should every day.

6 responses to “Measuring Greatness”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    I agree that measurements are difficult to quantify in the church. When I am struggling with these things I remind myself of the parable of the sower. It did not matter what type of soil the seed landed on, the sower kept sowing. No matter the polarity, God is sowing.

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Such a great take on measurements. Coming from a church that still doesn’t really measure anything in the sense that most modern churches due, I sometimes find myself wanting “Data”. But I have also found, that as you said, many of the “transformational” things can’t be measured only manifested.

  3. A very sobering post Andrea, we’re God’s vessels for His use and He’s in control of the pendulum and determines which way it swings. I was particularly struck by Collins’ finding on personal humility and Jesus’s emphasis on the servant being the greater. While the timeless principles that help a Leader turn good to great, are valuable lessons, we should always be sober enough to remember that it’s more about God’s leading that it is about methodology.

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for your perspective informed by your life and ministry experience. Like most things in life, in the church, and in pastoral leadership, most complexity is best approached as both/and not either/or. Thanks so much for the reminder from our readings of Berger and Johnston, the polarity construct is very helpful. What role will this play in your research?

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Harry – thank you for your question about my research. I am not quite clear how this will serve me in my research but am challenged to think more about it. I wonder if part of it for me is the nuance between getting the right people on the bus to fulfill mission vs the people on the bus are the mission in ministry contexts? I keep thinking about how our church staffs can embed in their development programs more ways of honoring the leaders’ humanity and not just there productivity. I’ll keep thinking and praying. Much appreciation.

  5. Mary Mims says:

    Andrea, thank you for your post and pointing out that there is a balance on using certain ways to measure greatness and God’s purpose in what we are doing in ministry. It is clear that God does not measure greatness the way we do, but it is not an excuse to not do our best in what we do. It is a hard balance, but the way we touch a life cannot always be measured.

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