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ROI & synchretization within the church

ROI – as described in the dictionary read – (corporate finance) the amount, expressed as a percentage, that is earned on a company’s total capital calculated by dividing the total capital into earnings before interest, taxes, or dividends are paid.  The church has taken, albeit in a sincere effort to be good stewards of resources, (time, money & people) to embrace this concept as a prerequisite, discerning criteria and quantifiable for supporting missionaries, doing local mission and ministry, etc.

Why?  As stated above, first in an effort to be good stewards.  You’ve read the parables, the man was given five talents to hold while his master was away…  But where this goes wrong is in the synchretization of the host culture (America’s deepest mores today are individuality, privacy, rights, freedom to do whatever without judgement or indictment, comfort, security, materialism and consumerism) to the church, specifically how we, the saints, view what is normative in our perspective, values, endeavors, etc.  We’ve become an anemic church….  While missions boards are quite exacting in the ROI of their missionaries’ effectiveness on the field, churches are flat not effective to those same standards.  Why?  They try, work hard at it, and (for another day) don’t have perspective and are horrible missiologists… stuck in the habits and world views of a time past and yet comfortable and don’t want to change, as well as that synchronization creeping in and driving decisions… comfort, security, domestication.

The challenge in applying these ROI’s in business to God’s work is that, well, God’s not in business… and those same driving decision criteria of ROI leading the process often have immediate pay-off and long term decline, negative impact and even defeat.  But in God’s perspective, He’s not, well, concerned in performing to an ROI.  What am I saying?  Do you remember this passage?

1 Corinthians 3.1-15
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul”, and another, “I follow Apollos”, are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? (I)Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

10According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

God is effective, but He is seldom efficient…. God often does things upside down, contrary to human wisdom and rationale.  He sometimes, okay, almost ALWAYS, takes longer to do it than we think He should.  God often has His sent ones (missionaries) invest years before harvest.  He often used people to make significant, vital contributions that others make the harvest.

Hudson Taylor, infamous British missionary to China, never saw a convert…but the Cambridge seven who followed & fueled a movement of more than one hundred thousand missionaries saw the soil tilled, planted and watered.  Among these were Eric Little’s (Infamous Olympic runner…Chariot’s of Fire movie fame) parents, along with he and his siblings who died at the hands of the Japanese in WWII.  And the real harvest was ONLY after the westerners were martyred or forced out!  No ROI there.

Italian Jesuit priest and missionary, Matteo Ricci, sent to China died in Bejing and was granted a plot in the royal city… 1st westerner ever.  During his life, he was the first westerner allowed to stay in the royal city.   He was the 1st western missionary to surrender the western clothes and cleric collar in lieu for Chinese dress… inspiring Hudson Taylor centuries later.  When he died 5,000 Christian Chinese in the church he began, fostered and discipled attended his funeral.  Also in his funeral company was multiple high ministers of the emperors court.  What is often overlooked is that he spent twenty years in a city awaiting to be allowed entrance to the imperial city.  There was no ROI during that time.  He did what missionaries do: listened, related, learned, came to understand that he might speak hope and life into them.

As amazing as this forerunner and icebreaker was for the missionaries that followed 200-250 years later, the amazing contribution was made by a Jesuit priest and professor of astronomy at the University of Rome years earlier.  Christopher Clavius, best known for correcting the Julian Calendar to include leap years, and later for recognizing a young Italian’s astronomer’s heretical recognition that the earth revolved around the sun, not vice versa, and this done when it could have caused his excommunication or even death.  He did this at the end of his life, knowing it would eventually debunk his life’s work with this new reality.

Why mention Clavius?  He taught Ricci.  Ricci was an accomplished astronomer and China, believe it or not, was way behind in this area of applied science.  He single handed brought the new study of astronomy to China, translated it himself into Mandarin and gave China a hand up in this field.  This all happened later in Ricci’s life after admission to the imperial city.  He also more accurately developed a global map, as known at the time and as a good missiologist (missionary), placed China in the center of the map – not Europe.  He understood, after an earlier faux pas that China meant “Middle Kingdom”.  His entrance to the city was partly due to the correct and discerning gift of a telescope to the emperor, who had interest in the heavens.  So Clavius, who led few if any to Christ (he was a seminary professor, not a missionary – in Christendom Europe) directly planted the seeds that led to the long cultivation which led to 5,000 souls in one generation… now come forward with the impact into the future, up to today where more than 10% of China knows the Living God.  ROI for God is effective – just takes what appears inefficient to human reason and, well, ROI…

Be it your neighborhood or extended family.  Be it your work place, your team, your school.  Be it your church, or your missionaries… do not make a decision of continuing based upon pure human rationale…  Remember how upside down He works in so many people’s lives – impact far removed from an act of a single day.  Remember how He rarely works efficiently in your own life – having His own time schedule and means of transformation & sanctification.  As your faith community discerns directions, supporting missionaries, remember how …some plant, some water, some fertilize, some weed, a few harvest.  Which is dispensable?  None…  Allow God to lead you on an adventure that makes no sense to the world, to corporate America.  Why take their advice anyway?  They’ve repeatedly led us to the brink of disaster…not everything is gold on Wall Street.

Remember, the very unfolding Gospel (good news) from God is centered on the very unlikely method of salvation – Christ incarnated as a human, serving instead of being served.  How ridiculous and counter to good ROI… Gosh, he never travelled farther than twenty miles if that from home and gave his message to uneducated and powerless peasants.  Imagine….

Now…. imagine.







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