>When Benchmarks Become the Goal — A Pedometer Parable

>PedometerImage via WikipediaYesterday I got up dutifully with my son to make sure he got to the bus at 6:10 AM.  Then I was on my way to the gym to work out…something I’ve been trying to do for a few weeks now to lose weight (because I need to) and get healthy (because it’s a good thing).  I can’t say I’m always ready and willing at that hour, but I was good to go yesterday and I was looking forward to some time on the elliptical trainer and some weight lifting.

An added driving force is this new pedometer I have through “Virgin HealthMiles.”  It’s something through our insurance company where there’s cash and other bonuses for folks who are taking their daily steps, with challenges against other clergy in other areas and personal challenges.  And, let’s face it…it’s a good thing.  Getting clergy active, considering our generally poor health record, has got to help.  Last time I tried to set up one of the pedometer accounts it wasn’t compatible with Mac Computers, so I didn’t sign up.  That’s changed now and I’m counting my steps…and trying to get 7499 steps per day (I don’t know where the number comes from.  But it’s a goal.

Yesterday after my son was on the bus I made my way to the hotel, slid across the ice in the parking lot (since I had forgotten my grippers in an act of poor planning), and made my way to the hotel.  As I got to the door my heart sunk because I realized I had forgotten my pedometer at home.  But…but…but…I was going to miss all of those steps on the elliptical trainer!  I was going to miss all of those steps on the long walk to the health center in the hotel!  I was going to have trouble meeting my pedometer goal for the day!  Literally, my heart sunk.  I could feel it.  And I actually questioned, for a brief moment, IF IT WAS WORTH GOING THROUGH WITH IT AT ALL!

What a silly thought.  Even after just a short time with the pedometer in my life, keeping track of the benchmark of the number of steps taken through the day I had, for a moment, mistaken the benchmark for the goal.  I had placed my recording of steps in front of the ultimate goal of getting healthy.  I had forgotten to keep the main thing the main thing. 

Benchmarks are important.  They are measureables.  I think keeping track of steps is a good indicator of health.  But there are other ways to get healthy and this is just one of the factors. 

I think benchmark testing in schools is a good thing.  It gives an indication of how education is going across a large spectrum.  But it’s possible to come to the realization that some teachers end up teaching to meet the benchmarks and not to educate the children.

And benchmarks are important in church life, too.  What is membership like?  Is it going up or down?  What percentage of a church’s budget is going to missions?  How many persons were baptized last year?

But sometimes clergy and churches try to protect their benchmarks to the detriment of ministry.  Many a pastor has kept long-gone members on their membership rolls to pad their membership numbers.  And I was told about a pastor of mine who, when counting attendance on a Sunday, used to add about 10% for all the people he believed were in fellowship hall getting coffee.

As our church deals with some financial realities about being in our new space, we have some benchmarks of our own.  They’re dollar figures.  And I confess that, with them looming over our heads, it can be tempting to think of ministry as “HOW CAN WE MAXIMIZE OUR INCOME” and not “HOW CAN WE MAKE MORE DISCIPLES FOR JESUS CHRIST IN THE WORLD.” 

For instance, yesterday at a clergy gathering, it was mentioned how Girdwood Chapel has taken one or two Sundays “off” each year to engage in service projects in our community.  It’s a way to be reminded of our community and also, through service, to be reminded of how Christ has served us.  And we’ve done so willingly, with lots of participation.  However, it has meant a hit to our finances…no offering collected.  One of the other clergy asked if we were doing it this year and I said that it will be a challenge because of what our finances look like.

In other words, our need to show an increase in income was getting in the way of faithful ministry.  Our benchmark may be getting in the way of the goal.  We might be forgetting to keep the main thing the main thing.

That said, I’m gonna keep my odometer on me today.  Sure, I want to be healthy.  But I also don’t want to lose any “steps” along the way.

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