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Measuring Immeasurables

There is much that is good about business culture, not least the pressure for real, concrete and measurable results. Those in business live or die by the balance sheet: we must show a profit or, at the very least, no loss. Of course, it’s terribly simplistic, but that’s what our partners, shareholders and the stock exchange want to know: are we in profit and by how much? There is a brutal attractiveness to the balance sheet: in a handful of cold numbers, it sums up the state of an enterprise. It is a powerful, tangible verdict on performance. It ‘says it all’.

It’s tempting to treat churches in a similar manner. ‘Give me figures!’ we may ask about a particular church. ‘What’s the turnover? The membership? The budget? The surface area? The staff? The growth rate?’ Such things are important because any church should be well-run. Indeed, the charity laws demand it. And I would really recommend, for everyone’s sake, that our church expenditure is at least matched by our income.

What is interesting in this context is St Paul’s approach to how a church is doing. We are told by Luke that the apostle was a tentmaker or perhaps a leatherworker (Acts 18:3) and the letters bear out the fact that he earned his living (1 Corinthians 9:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:9). So the great apostle must have known something about the world of business – of contracts, negotiating, meeting deadlines and, inevitably, profit and loss. Yet the fact is that if you read the letters of the New Testament carefully any sort of business approach seems absent. What you do find are numerous phrases like this to the Thessalonian church: ‘But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love’ (1 Thessalonians 3:6). Such little asides are overlooked by preachers and commentaries yet I find them revealing. Paul focuses on precisely those things – faith and love – that cannot be measured or put on any spreadsheet.

One of the greatest challenges for Christians in business is to bring our Sunday faith into the weekday world of work. Yet a no less significant challenge is being careful about how much of our weekday ethos we bring into our churches. Not only does the balance sheet not tell us the whole story, it may not tell us anything about what is truly important. The very things we can’t measure on a spreadsheet, like faith and love, may in reality be the greatest things of all.  Revd Canon J.John