Monday, October 4, 2010

An Inefficient God

We Americans love efficiency. I love efficiency. Few things can frustrate me like having to deal with a severely inefficient situation--and this happens frequently in my life! God must be teaching me something. But lately I've been pondering whether God concerns himself with efficiency nearly as much as we do. The simple answer is, he doesn't. If we look at Scripture we see God acting in ways that are clearly inefficient. An efficient God wouldn't make his prophet spend 40 years tending sheep in the desert. That's not a very efficient leadership program. He wouldn't entrust the spreading of his message to a bunch of unskilled fisherman and other ordinary laborers. No, if God were an American, we'd have a slick organization with a great PR department and a well-thought-out 5-year plan for reaching the masses. There would be a great leadership development program with guaranteed results in no time at all. That's what an efficient God would do. The world would hear his message in record time.

Well, thankfully we don't have an American God. But I wonder whether our American/Western Christian organizations and churches often end up adopting the cultural value of efficiency and treating it as a biblical value. Now I don't think there is anything wrong with trying to use our resources, including our time and money, wisely. I think God wants us to exercise good stewardship. But if we expect the same standards of efficiency in the work of building his kingdom that we expect from businesses and corporations, I think we are going down the wrong path and will be sorely disappointed. God's kingdom simply doesn't seem to work that way. Does God want results? I imagine that he does. Does he measure his success by the speed and efficiency at which he achieves those results? Based on Scripture it appears he doesn't.

I write this because I sense a growing trend to exalt results, preferably quick results, as the measure of ministry success. Ministries that don't "produce" within the time frame expected by their supporters will lose that support. But those supporters need to understand that in the realm of the spiritual, things move at a different pace. It doesn't mean that God isn't at work. But think about how God often describes the work of his kingdom. He uses metaphors of planting seeds and letting them grow. Maybe we have grown too distant from the land for these metaphors to have any resonance with us. But we would do well to remember what they indicate. God's work takes time and by our standards often seems terribly inefficient. So go ahead and keep tabs on how your favorite ministries use their resources. But realize that results take time, maybe even more time than you and I will have on this earth. That's okay. God's not in a hurry, so we don't need to be either.