Sunday, November 07, 2004

sheep and worship

Sometimes worship experiences just click. I preached on kingdom KPI’s today, a process I have been spinning about over the last few days.

As people came in the door, they each got a plastic sheep, about 1 cm. (thanx to Renee for the spark of the idea). Small enough to lose.

I spoke about the lost sheep and at the end of the sermon I invited them to name their sheep …. I mean, to name a sheep. Full sermon here if you can be bothered (of if Kingdom KPI’s in postmodernity are bothering you)

I was up in Auckland during this week.

On Wednesday the New Zealand Herald had an article titled “Working for The Boss.” Capital T for The. Capital B for Boss.

And the article, part of the employment section, interviewed three church ministers about their job and how you train, and what skills you need to be working for The Boss. Capital T. Capital B.

The introduction went like this ….
“Some bosses are bliss. While others can be challenging.
But what’s it like working for the ultimate boss … what is working for God like? Are there key performance indicators?”

And at that point I paused my newspaper reading.
I was intrigued. Does God have KPI’s … key performance indicators?

KPI’s are a business term … measuring your sales, and your turnover and your share price etc.

Does God have KPI’s (key performance indicators) for us? If so, what are they?

This weekend has been Baptist Assembly. Lynne’s job title is “Researcher” for the Baptist Union. It’s a job she did in Auckland for 7 years, and a job she’s been able to bring with her to Christchurch. Part of Lynne’s job is to research the Baptist church’s statistics.

And so in August every year, Lynne sends every Baptist Church a 9 page form.
9 pages with questions about worship attendance, giving, membership, baptisms, etc.

Lynne enters the data and then at Assembly, gives all the participants one of these.

240 9 page forms, summarized into one of these.

The summary lists all the Baptist churches. And outlines their service attendance, baptisms, membership. And calculates the percentage changes with the year before.

Opawa looks good. 10% increase in worship service attendance this year, 9% increase in membership. First time in 5 years the church has had positive percentages.

So are these God’s KPI’s?
Is working for God about our church attendance
and about our offering figures
and about our membership?

Read Matthew 18:12-14

The same story appears in Luke 15:4-7.

God’s key performance indicators.

The first KPI is to be looking for the lost one.

99 sheep. So someone’s taken the time to count. Statistics are important. Taking the time to count can be a sign of love, a way of showing you care.

98 …. 99 …. And one is missing.
I’ve got 99 here. I’ve got 99 making noises, being sheep, bleating and baaing.
99 who need feeding. 99 who need protecting.

What do you do?
Well, in God’s Kingdom KPI, you leave the 99 to go looking for the lost one.

So this is God’s Kingdom KPI.
Not the 99, not the worship attendance inside the church, but the time invested in looking for the lost. Not the size of membership, but their energy, passion, vision and the commitment to go looking for the lost one.

That’s the first Kingdom KPI. But it’s worth looking a bit more closely. You see, the lost sheep stories in Matthew and Luke have different beginnings and different endings.

In Luke, the lost sheep chapter starts with Jesus among sinners (15:1-2). And it ends with the shepherd throwing a party for lost sheep, celebrating the one sinner rather than the 99 good sheep. So in Luke, the lost are sinners and repentance is being found by the good shepherd.

It’s a lovely image. God finding us.

In Mathew, the lost sheep chapter starts with Jesus holding a little child and the surrounding stories are about people struggling with their faith, struggling, tempted to sin (18:6-9). And the Matthew lost sheep story ends with the Father who “doesn’t want any of these little ones to be lost” (18: 13).

So in Matthew, the lost sheep are struggling Christians, former Christians, tempted Christians. And once again that lovely image, of repentance as God finding us.

So looking for the lost in Luke is looking for sinners, and looking the lost in Matthew is looking for struggling, tempted, former Christians.

Hold that thought and open with me a mission report produced this year by the Anglican church in the UK. Called the Mission-shaped Church, it divided people into 5 groups.

Regulars – people in church – about 10% of the population.
Fringe – people on the fringe of church – about 10%.
Open de-churched – people who’ve been to church and are open to come back – they might have moved cities and haven’t yet got round to finding a new church – about 20%.
Closed de-churched – people who’ve left church damaged and disillusioned. – felt rejected, hurt by a fight, can’t stand the new minister, felt manipulating, sick of hypocrisy, nagging questions about faith, sexuality, other religions -questions that won’t go away. Closed de-church – again about 20%.

10% regular, 10% fringe, 20% open, 20% closed.

And the non-churched – about 40%. People with little understanding of Christianity. Could be spiritual, could be seeking, but church just ain’t on their radar.

And the report concluded that most church evangelism is among the 10% fringe and the 20% open.

And it asked the question: what of mission to the 20% who are closed and the 40% who are non-churched.

Now, take these five groups – regular, fringe, open, closed and non-churched – and lay them alongside the looking for the lost Kingdom KPI’s.

And in Luke we see a looking for the lost sinner.
Or perhaps in the categories I’ve just used; looking for the non-churched.

And in Matthew we see a looking for the struggling Christian who has left the 99. Or perhaps in the categories I’ve just used; looking for the closed de-churched, giving energy and time and love spent on the bitter and hurt and questioning and angry.

Looking for the lost. In Matthew and Luke, looking not for the fringe
looking not for the open,
but looking for struggling Christians, the closed dechurched
and looking for the non-churched.

Mission to the closed and to the non-churched.

There are the Kingdom KPI’s.
A focus not on church attendance, but on the energy, passion, vision and the commitment to go looking for those hurt and broken by church, and those for whom church is not even on their radar.

What does that mean? Volunteer for Ground Zero and the WYT? Take the Christmas Journey to the square? Invite local schools to Easter Journey, with Roy Woods to take them through?

The Kingdom KPI. Looking for the lost.

And, let’s be honest. Looking is hard.
In Matthew you look in the hillside. In Luke, one of translations calls it the wilderness.

This is Israel and the hills are steep and the rocks are sharp and the sun’s hot. Looking’s hard.

Looking for the lost one ain’t a Sunday stroll or a quick walk around the block after dinner cos it’s daylight saving.

Looking’s hard.

Yet in Jeremiah 50:6; My people, you are lost sheep, abandoned … in the mountains .. I am your true pastureland.

And so God’s KPI’s are to do what God did. To look in the mountains, where it’s hard, where it takes time, where we’ll be bruised and get battered.

And, let’s be real. Looking is risky.

When you look for the one, what happens to the 99?
This story comes from ancient Israel, Biblical times where there are no electric fences to establish a quick holding pen, no tradition of dogs to keep guard.

No mention in the text of spare shepherds, no Development Pastor to look after things in case of emergencies.

Go looking for one and you run the risk of losing 99.

that’s being real. Looking’s risky.

Now, we’re New Zealanders. The New Zealand high country farm stocks something like 10,0000 sheep.

And we’re talking about one or 99? What’s the risk?

And yet, the average shepherd in ancient Israel had about 5 to 15 sheep.

So the risk of leaving 99 is the wealth of 10 shepherd families.

To lose one out of a hundred isn’t a big loss. The risk of losing 99 in Biblical times is huge.

And so a Kingdom KPI must include risk.

Risk. And Opawa.

Allan Goulstone came to visit me my first working day here at Opawa.
He sat on a chair in the office and told me that Opawa had taken a risk in calling me.

Me. 35 years old with 3 earrings. Me, a risk.

I told Allan that we were square. That I’d taken a risk in coming to Opawa.

God probably smiled at both of us. Because the Kingdom KPI is about risk.

And I wonder if God is smiling at us again today. What’s our next risk?

Looking is risky.

God’s Kingdom KPI’s.

Looking for the lost.
Looking when it’s hard
Looking when it’s risky.

God’s Kingdom KPI’s. Is our energy church based, how many people in here, or lost based?

For some this is challenge. That we need to re-focus our prayer and our energy and our vision.

For other’s this is encouragement. Yes it has been hard. Yes it has been risky. But keep going. Because you’re right in the centre of God’s Kingdom KPI’s.

You were given a sheep as you came in the door.

I’d like to invite you to respond this morning by naming your sheep … a friend, a family member, a work place colleague …

The act of naming becomes an act of prayer.

Take the sheep home. Continue to pray for the lost one.

I’ll read the Scriptures again, and then give you a few minutes to choose a name for your sheep. (Use Moby’s Everloving from Play album)

Posted by steve at 05:06 PM


  1. Steve that was very good. Lots of thought went into that sermon and I totally agree. We need to be about the lost more and less about us feeling good but it is a bonus when church has that feel-good factor as well as long as that is not the main emphasis. I did come up with a personal KPI is whether we are fulfilling our particular God-given role – whether he will say “Well done” and whether we are shining Christ to those around us in order to get them interested. Our society has deteriorated so badly that the lost must be looking for something of substance and are we showing them enough of the real Jesus that they will want to know more. I have been blessed by reading this ‘sermon’.

    Comment by Karen — November 7, 2004 @ 11:04 pm

  2. Thanks Steve – I agree that we need to stop and evaluate “am I (are we) looking for lost sheep”. It doesn’t really put me at ease over the term KPI, though.

    In regards to your other posts – “KPI = business = modernity = vomit.” Well, I am not against something just because it is seen as modernist. In fact, to polarise modernity and postmodernity seems to be a kind of modernist thing to me! However, am I wrong in identifying language as an important part of the postmodern dialogue? Surely we don’t believe that anything is truly new (ie nothing exists in a vacuum or develops without being influenced by history) and therefore, the language we use in a particular milieu offers a particular and hopefully appropriate nuance to an already present principle or idea etc?

    So, part of the issue for me is the language of the postmodern, but also, yes, the language of business. In my humble opinion, I believe you rightly focused your sermon on people and reconciliation. It is this relational aspect to our mission that is the other cause of concern for me over the term KPI. Do (should) we talk about KPIs in our marriage relationship? Sorry to be facetious but I can’t imagine sitting down with my wife and saying, “Now let’s have a look at how we’re going with our KPIs”. Of course, we work on things like communication, selflessness etc, but we don’t call them KPIs.

    What about concentrating on commitment decisions rather than performance levels? The problem with a KPI is that it is measured by an outcomes based assessment. It seems to take the focus off the journey and onto the results for me.

    What about the Holy Spirit in all this? If we believe that good performance is a result of us, surely we are misguided? Yet if we focus on results, but believe it is the work of the HS, then when things aren’t happening, we might ponder, “am I not spiritual enough”. If results are the work of the Spirit, then shouldn’t we be focusing on our part – the commitment, the journey?

    As I said, I love the challenge you give in the message so I can’t help but think that I must be missing the point somewhere here with all the KPI stuff!!!

    Comment by Steve Chatelier — November 8, 2004 @ 4:53 pm

  3. steve thanks for putting that out there – much appreciated.

    Comment by Si Johnston — November 9, 2004 @ 1:16 am

  4. Steve, a number of thoughts
    1 – the intention of the sermon was to deconstruct KPI’s; to take the language of the dominant culture, to work from within, being a bit subversive at the same time.
    2 – but to be devil’s advocate, why can’t you KPI a journey? I mean a journey does have places to pause, to drink, to eat …. could these not be “evaluated” in order to applaud momentum in the journey?
    3 – and for a laugh, of course you can KPI the Spirit – how many people fall over or speak in tongues!! (Sorry, couldn’t resist a tongue in cheek comment!)

    Comment by steve — November 9, 2004 @ 12:40 pm

  5. Steve,
    I’ve been around too many churches in London and the UK now which might do well to have some tangible KPI’s. I’ve come from the brethern and many of their ‘assemblies’ are shutting down while the faithful are scaling the difficult terrain of postmodern culture looking for the lost sheep which might be able to make sense of ‘journey to life’. With thousands of UK churches petering out, I’m wondering how they should evaluate whether or not God’s still in there with them? I do think there should be some tangible and quantifiable KPI’s (which might change from situation to situation) but am wondering what they might be. Growing up with the numbers game and realising that, for clergy, bums on pews are akin to the pride taken by the average man with his sperm count, I’m reluctant to use this one. But surely lives or neighbouring community transformation is hard to get away from. In the formation of the early church, Luke was quick to write about how many were added. Again, the worldview of the brethern meant that they lived in the day of ‘small things’ on account of the great apostasy (dispensationalism and all that). Clearly this was a gross justification for totally ineffective mission. However, might it be true that we’re seeking to justify our lack of redemptive efficacy by buying into dominant cultural thought too much and are therefore just as guilty?

    Comment by Si Johnston — November 13, 2004 @ 11:41 pm

  6. Si,
    1. I’m struggling to see the link between KPI’s and the fate of Brethern churches in UK. I would suspect a whole lot of factors are at play, including cultural shifts and command and control structures within Brethern communities of faith.
    2. Did you read the sermon … I would suggest the sermon actually encourages redemptive efficacy rather than a lack of it.

    Comment by steve — November 15, 2004 @ 8:26 pm

  7. Steve –
    On the whole, a good sermon. Certainly, following Jesus involves risk, and we should all be willing to leave our comfort zone to love on people who are marginalized or in pain. However, as one of those “closed dechurched” types, I’d like to just say this: I’m not lost. Please don’t send any churchy Christians out to find me.

    I left church to find God, not to forget God. I am emotionally and spiritually healthier than I have ever been. My relationships are deeper and more meaningful than they have ever been, and I haven’t prayed this much in years. I’m still a mess in a lot of ways, but it’s nothing compared to the mess I was when I was working for a church.

    Now if church folk want to hang out with me over a beer so we can get to know each other and talk about God and celebrate what’s good and be honest about all our dark and ugly parts – I’m up for that. In my experience, most of the churched aren’t, and there is all kinds of lostness happening in the lives of those pretending to be bright and shiny on a Sunday morning.

    Comment by Christy — November 16, 2004 @ 8:15 pm

  8. yeah, that made little sense. Sorry mate. I read the sermon a little while before and then commented on some spill over from a conversation earlier in the day with someone over performance indicators and objectives realisation.

    Comment by si — November 17, 2004 @ 11:57 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.