Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wesleyan Missional Metrics, Part I

In the second presentation I offered at our gathering, I suggested that one of the things we'll need to do to bring about a transition from an attractional model to a missional model for congregations, conferences, groups and any other structures we might imagine is to shift what we're trying to measure-- letting go of the typical attractional metrics (people in pews at worship, dollars collected or dispersed, etc), and taking on instead more missional metrics that focus on what I called "spiritual impression" and "community impact."

To get at what "spiritual impression" means, I've come to describe the difference between a laser printer and a letter-set press.

A laser printer creates an image on paper making an "attractive negative image" on the paper of whatever is to be printed so that the toner about to be sprayed on it will stick to that attractive image, and not stick to other places on the paper. A heat process then bonds the toner in the appropriate pattern (where it is supposed to stick) to the surface of the paper.

A letterset press transfers ink that is rolled onto a negative of the image by pressing that negative image (assembled by hand), under high force, onto the paper. The result is that the paper bears a positive of the image in ink, but also actually "impressions" from where the letters and images pressed into it worked their way into, and in even somewhat through, the paper. If you feel carefully on the other side of paper that has been printed in this way, you will feel a negative of the image on the front side. Not just the surface, but the paper itself is thus changed.

If we measure from an attractional model, we'll know what has stuck to the surface. If we measure from a missional model, we'll be looking for signs that lives have really changed.

John Wesley gave the people called Methodists, and any others who cared to listen, two kinds of ways of measuring such spiritual impression. The first was the General Rules. Simply put, the General Rules were "Do no harm. Do good. Go to church to practice the means of grace."

Rule 1:
Can you see signs in each other that you are actually "doing no harm?" Or rather, doing less harm than perhaps you used to do? The list he provided here wasn't just about bad "personal habits" (we might say, getting drunk, smoking, swearing, doing drugs, sexual sin) but also included things like "the buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty," "taking things on unlawful interest," "putting on gold and costly apparel," "softness and needless self-indulgence" and, perhaps hardest to hear in our society, "laying up treasure on earth."


Rule 2:
Can you see signs in each other that you are doing more and more good to more and more people? Are you clothing more people, feeding more people, being sure that more people in prison are getting regular visits and the sick are getting the health care they need? Are you speaking and teaching truth to others regularly, not just "when you feel like it?" Are you taking care of others in the Christian community (your small group at the very least), so that none of them has any real needs going unmet? Are you willing to take up the cross daily, even if that means you get a bad rap for it falsely?

Rule 3:
Are you attending worship regularly? Are you continuing to learn scripture from people who know what they're talking about? Are you seeking guidance from the scriptures yourself? Are you celebrating and receiving Holy Communion as much as possible? Are you praying yourself, and with your family? Are you fasting, or if you cannot fast from food, fasting from something as a means of disciplining your body for prayer?

Now, these rules were just that: rules. But the function of the rules was not militaristic (break one and you're in serious trouble!), but more as ideals and guides (these are what we're all trying diligently to live into).

Which brings us to the second kind of measurement-- not merely signs of DOING these things (or not doing them as much, in the case of the first rule), but also signs of being INWARDLY changed. Wesley talked about this as the transformation of the "tempers" from being "natural tempers" into being "holy tempers." Are you showing not just in what you do, but in HOW you do it, the sanctifying power of God? Are your actions more and more motivated by love? Do you approach even difficult or unpleasant "good deeds" with a greater generosity and joyfulness of spirit? Are you increasingly eager to be watched over by others in love? Are you more ready to speak the truth, hard as it may be, with gentleness and love? Are you showing more compassion to your families, your neighbors, and one another?

How are you using metrics like these, or not, where you are? How might you use or adapt them? Where do these seem helpful, and why? Where might these be unworkable, and how can you work to change that? Are there additional metrics for spiritual impression that you might suggest based on your experience or intuition?

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards

2 comments:

Steven Manskar said...

This is excellent work Taylor. Thanks. I am convinced this is the direction the UMC must move.s

DGH said...

I'm lovin it! (oh wait is that saying McDonald's? hmmm oh well sue me!) heh.. I will take this to the Core leadership Team of Th3 Waters and see if this can generate some discussion. thanks Taylor!