Evaluating cross-cultural partnerships with “metrics”? … Be careful

Mission and metrics in cross-cultural partnershipA good friend sent me an email asking if we had some tools for evaluating a cross-cultural partnership. Her friend—another Christian leader—had asked…

“Have you seen any organization attempt to quantify or describe the quality of a cross-cultural relationship? The [name of organization] Board of Directors is big on metrics.”

I sent my friend two documents I had created for Mission ONE in 2003. The first document is a tool to evaluate the cross-cultural partnership from the side of Mission ONE. The second tool is one that our partners in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East can use to evaluate Mission ONE. I mentioned to her in my email that we have not used these evaluation tools in a long time, but that perhaps these documents could be helpful to the person making the inquiry.

Then I began musing on the concept of “metrics” in evaluating a cross-cultural partnership. Below are my thoughts.

If we measure the effectiveness of the partnership from our side, we ought to make sure that our partners can “measure” us and our effectiveness from their side as well. But would our indigenous partners ever initiate such a thing? No way. I have never heard of that happening. Why? I think they likely would consider this a dishonor to the relationship.

Isn’t it true that the people doing the measuring are usually the ones with the financial power? Ironically, the ones being “measured” are often actually the ones who have a lot more at stake (their very lives, families, ministries, reputation in the community, etc.).

What if an indigenous ministry partner from the majority world asked their wealthy American financial supporters to measure, not just amount of money or time invested, but also …

  • the actual amount of prayer devoted to a ministry partner, and then report on that?
  • the amount of personal sacrifice quantified as percent of personal income devoted to the partnership or world missions?
  • or the amount of time they listen, compared to the amount of time they talk — in the partnership dialog between leaders?

The very use of the word “metrics” sounds cold. What if your spouse said, “I need some metrics on the effectiveness of our marriage”? Of course, a partnership is not a marriage, but a healthy cross-cultural partnership is deeply relational, built on trust over a period of time with common vision and values. And Christian cross-cultural partners do have a relational closeness in Jesus Christ, which, from heaven’s perspective anyway, is intimate and eternal. Why else would Jesus pray, “that they would be one…” (John 17:21)? Isn’t this our hope?

The use of the word “metrics” in Christian ministry also implies that everything important can be quantified. But fruitfulness is both quantitative and qualitative. On the one hand, “fruit” can be understood as the number of people professing Christ, or the number of churches planted; that’s quantitative.

But then there’s Galatians 5, describing the fruit of the Spirit. How do you quantify the fruit of agape love, or patience, or meekness, gentleness, or self-control? These are qualitative things that are very important to God and very difficult, if not impossible, to measure.

The practice of cross-cultural partnership, therefore, which over-emphasizes “metrics” will invariably lead to outcomes that focus on those externals. A truism of business management is that “you can only manage what you can measure.” When applied to Christian ministry, wouldn’t this lead to a focus on quantitative external expressions of the faith, while qualitative expressions of the faith would be marginalized? It is no wonder legalism can be so inimical to the gospel.

Another thing about the word “metrics” is the cultural baggage that comes with it. As stated above, the word “metrics” implies the idea that everything important can be quantified and categorized. Isn’t that a Western construct, a part of modernity? The biblical principle of stewardship notwithstanding, it really fits the American Christian consumer mentality of “more souls per dollar invested,” or “best bang for the buck.” It is part of the empire of globalization that prizes efficiency above all else. Isn’t there is a kind of Western cultural imperialism implicit in the term, “metrics”?

Having said all this, I recognize that accountability and outcomes are important. God is interested in outcomes. He wants the nations to be discipled, not only that people have the opportunity to be saved. Stewardship is important. Evaluation is important.

And if you are evaluating a cross-cultural partnership with “metrics”—be careful. Make sure the evaluation is mutual.

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