I plopped down into my office chair a sweaty, exhausted mess. I turned on the computer and fiddled with some cables. When the right screen came up, I clicked “Upload” and then took the time to unzip my running jacket and untie my running shoes. When the upload was completed, my eager eyes scanned the numbers and graphs presented on the screen in front of me.
It was a pretty good run: 4.22 miles in 33 minutes and 2 seconds, for an average pace of 7:50 minutes per mile. Total elevation gain was 192 feet, and the weather registered a pleasant 43 degrees Fahrenheit — with a 12 MPH wind out of the South — just as the sun had started to rise over Kent. I was especially eager to analyze all the charts and statistics on the computer because this had been another of my more recent attempts at building some “speed work” into my training regimen. And indeed, it was fun to track all the rises and falls of the pace chart. It looked like a Utah landscape, with flat arid stretches punctuated by towering rock formations. Pretty. And satisfying to have it all behind me at the start of my day.
With a few minutes remaining before I had to get my kids out of bed and prepared for school, I clicked over to the website that’s been helping me to track my calorie intake over the past couple of months. I was happy to subtract the 555 calories that had been burned on my run, and I started plotting out some of my caloric intake for the day: 10 calories for one slice of a Cripps Pink apple (the rest had been packed away in the kids’ lunches)… 104 calories for one large grapefruit… 82 calories of 1% lowfat milk from Giant Eagle… and 228 calories for 56 grams of Chocolate Chex Mix Cereal (Gluten Free)… It was strangely amusing to play with the numbers and work out different scenarios — almost like an elaborate, strategic board game.
The time came for me to get my kids out of bed and started on breakfast.
I got them set up in the dining room and did some cleaning in the kitchen. Since I still wasn’t cooled down from the run enough to hit the shower, however, I eventually drifted back to the office computer and clicked over to my e-mail: several messages of junk mail… some correspondence about a meeting that would be taking place later in the morning… and an e-mail asking for H2O’s 2014 Critical Success Indicators.
I had known this e-mail would be coming, but still I resented its arrival. The network of churches with which H2O Kent is associated regularly requests these reports detailing the numbers of people attending our worship gatherings, our small groups, our leadership initiatives, and so on. It was just 22 questions: really no big deal. I understood the general rationale behind collecting these numbers, and we actually had good numbers to report from Kent. Furthermore, in the case of providing the specific numbers for this particular report, follow-up had already been designated to someone else on our team (so all I had to do was file away the e-mail in its appropriate folder and move on with the rest of my day)! Still, something about the idea of reporting these Critical Success Indicators felt unpleasant: too analytical, too arbitrary. It felt like a misappropriation of business principles to a spiritual context. It felt decidedly unbecoming of a pastor, or a network of churches, to treat human souls as “units” of “production.” I wondered about the efficacy — or even the ethics — of discussing “Success” in these terms.
I went to take my shower, while the kids transitioned into brushing their teeth and changing into their clothes. As the hot water poured down my back I considered the irony of my aversion to the Critical Success Indicators. I was a total “Stat Geek” when it came to tracking my physical fitness — miles, minutes, calories, pounds — but in my actual vocation of Christian ministry, I resented the statistics. What’s up with that?!?
Intuitively, I still sense a distinction between statistically tracking physical fitness and statistically tracking spiritual development. To an extent, I feel it’s appropriate that these phenomena should be monitored differently — and there may be legitimate complaints regarding the idea of reporting “Critical Success Indicators.” At the same time, I also came to the realization that I may have some control issues that play into these incongruent attitudes towards statistics. The fact is that I maintain a great deal of control when it comes to my body’s input and output. My willpower and natural abilities can go a long way towards meeting the goals I set out for myself.
With church leadership, however, I have a lot less control — and this is rather unsettling, if I’m being perfectly honest. I like to succeed, and more often than not I can do so, at least on the personal level, when I set my mind to it. Ministry, however, involves a lot of other intangibles that I cannot (and probably should not) ever control: God’s sovereignty… other people’s personalities and desires… external circumstances… the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). I suspect there may still be some benefit from setting more tangible goals for ministry, but it’s not comfortable to put myself in a place where I might “fail” in something as significant as God’s Kingdom work. I’ve still got some thinking, praying, and processing to do…