When Do We Measure?

Some Christmas travelers have to contend with snow and ice. Not us. Our weather this past week has nearly perfect. Lows ranged from the upper 30s to low 50s, while the highs went from the 60s to upper 70s. According to the meteorologists it’ll be that way for the next week. Great weather. That’s what they say when they do the forecast: “A beautiful weekend!”

But that’s only if you judge by the single day in isolation. If you look at the long string of nice days taken together you no longer see “beautiful weather.” You see a drought. If measured the quality of the weather in relation to our desperate need for rain, a rain-soaked Friday through Sunday would be “A beautiful weekend.”

I wonder if this principle works in other areas also.

A month or so ago we learned of the huge profits the oil companies were making. Now, apart from other questions (like who actually profited from these profits), is it worth asking how we measure the equitability of a company’s profits? Do we measure them in the space of an hour? A day? A quarter? A year? A decade? Over the past several years I’ve read some literature on investing. I don’t count myself very knowledgeable, but I remember seeing one principle mentioned over and over. Invest for the long term. If you invest for the long term, it’s said, you cover for the short term volatility of the market. So maybe the oil companies go through fat periods and lean periods. Over what time span do you measure to decide fairness? Or whether you want to invest in them yourself?

Surely the long term view doesn’t always work. Think of food. If I’m starving now and will be for the next 60 days – but have the prospect for endless steak dinners after that – it won’t do me much good. As a living being, my sustenance must be measured more regularly.

What about the Christian life? What about a church? We look for progress in both. In both Scripture (think Jesus’ great successes before his arrest and crucifixion) and Christian history we see instances of apparent failure followed by ultimate victory. When do we measure?

“Leave it all to God. Don’t judge.” Judging is mighty close to measuring, isn’t it? Why do we measure? In most cases it’s so we know what to do. I measure my son’s feet before I buy him new shoes. I measure my hunger and how much money I have before I place my order at the restaurant. I judge – there’s that word – my student’s ability in the subject I’m teaching so I know what to teach next (and whether a subject has been adequately covered or needs more attention).

So – when do we measure – when do we judge? In general, I think we need to consider more broadly then we tend to do. Is the forecast for sunny weather this weekend good news or bad news? It depends on the needs for rain. Is the Endless Pasta at Olive Garden a good idea? It depends on my overall health. if I’m trying to lose or maintain my weight and have no prospects for exercise in the near future I’d guess not. One of my youth comes up and says, “I want to beat those kids into the asphalt.” Do I count this success or failure? Well, since the kid I’m thinking of what have beaten the kids without a qualm a month ago and know he’s only talking about it, I’ll call that progress.

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One Response to When Do We Measure?

  1. Clif Guy says:

    WHEN we measure is closely related to WHAT we measure; and both are meaningful only in relation to our mission. To use your illustration: the weather is beautiful if one’s mission is the enjoyment of outdoor activities, but it’s disasterous if one’s mission is growing healthy crops or livestock.

    My experience in the church is that we very frequently struggle with when and what to measure. Often we can make progress by developing a compreshensive definition of the mission. With the right definition of the mission, the flaws in a measurement scheme become apparent, and better measurement schemes suggest themselves. Measurement schemes work when they measure ALL of the important aspects of mission effectiveness.

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