I hate bandwagons.
Writing about something because everyone else is writing about it is repulsive to me. But not writing something that matters just because everyone else is writing about it is equally problematic.
So back that bandwagon up, open the door and drop the rope-ladder. I’m climbing aboard.
There was no bigger bandwagon on the internet this week than all the hand-wringing over the Miley Cyrus / Robin Thicke performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards. Forget the atrocities in Syria and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s blindingly brilliant “I Have a Dream” speech, this is what we really care about!
The icky spectacle of a sleazy, hipster Beetlejuice simulating sex with an emotionally lost post-teen didn’t really break any new ground for MTV. And the societal double standard of the woman taking almost all the blame while the older, adult male gets off (pun intended) almost scot-free is no shock either. But the massive response it’s received does carry a lesson for leaders about the lure of numbers.
Although it’s been denounced by almost everyone, by all quantifiable measures the performance was a raving success. It set world records for tweets, Facebook status updates and blog posts (and now I’m contributing to it – thus my revulsion).
The songs they performed were already mega-hits, but now they’ve had a massive resurgence in sales. Ratings for the VMAs were the highest in years, and YouTube views of the performance are also at record levels.
No, that’s not a surprise. That’s why they did it.
So Here’s the Lesson for Church Leaders
When numbers become our primary measure of success they tempt us to compromise our values. And if we think we’re immune to their appeal, we’re not. It’s very easy to give in to the lure of numbers, both when we have them and when we’re chasing them.
As Carolyn W. Metzler, vicar of St. Thomas’ Church in Minn, Maine says, “Numbers are terribly seductive idols.”
This is one reason I have such admiration for megachurch pastors who keep their biblical moorings and moral values. It takes great character to stand strong when massive numbers start tugging at your sleeve.
People have asked “do you think this will finally get MTV to start policing itself and dial back on the sleaze?” Puhleeze!! With these ratings and buzz?! They’re probably negotiating with Thicke and Cyrus to give them their own series.
Miley’s management is thrilled, calling it a huge success. And why not? The money is pouring in.
This should serve as a giant caution for Christian leaders. Not only should the church resist buying in to the “bigger is better” obsession, we should actively fight it. Not with boycotts and blog posts (yeah, I know, I know…), but by living differently. By living humbly. By promoting the value of the small, the weak and the meek (I think someone called them “blessed” once), especially when our ministries and churches are blessed with numerical growth.
Measurement Matters – But It’s Not the Most Important Thing
True success isn’t measured by clicks on our blog, likes on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, butts in the seats or bucks in the offering. If it was, let’s get Miley and Robin lined up for our next pastoral conference!
Yes, there are things we need to measure in the church. But we can’t let numbers cloud the more important issues, and I fear that sometimes we do.
It’s easy to tsk-tsk the VMA performance and their obsession with ratings. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’d never betray our values for greater numbers. We’re not immune to that temptation, so we need to tread lightly with it, especially when the numbers get bigger.
When butts in the seat and bucks in the plate become our primary measuring stick, the temptation to compromise grows.
The sad, broken lives behind this shock-for-the-sake-of-shock performance and those that came before it – not to mention those yet to come – should serve as a reminder that numbers are never the best measure of success.
For another take on the danger of pursuing numbers (without the yuck factor of references to Miley Cyrus or Robin Thicke) check out this very good, new post, Accountable for Attention? by Lane Severson at OutOfUr.com.
So what do you think? How dangerous is the push for more and bigger in church leadership?
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