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Diamond and Pulpit

    Three cheers for David Eckstein, St. Louis Cardinal shortstop and MVP of the 2006 World Series!

    He stands either 5' 6'' or 5' 7" tall, depending on which baseball card you believe.  He weighs in at 165 pounds.  His throws to first base look like a soldier lofting a grenade.  He's a leadoff batter and he does get on base with great proficiency three and a half times in every ten plate appearances.  He will not likely make the Hall of Fame.  Those players sportscasters describe as a journeyman, bare-knuckled and scrappy, rarely do.  He was drafted in the 19th round by the Red Sox. He played for the World Champion Angels.  That is, he now has two rings.

    Derek Jeter has four.  Even now those who seem to know tout him as a shoo-in for the Hall.  Certainly he looks like a Famer. Sportscasters "ooh" and "aah" over Derek, calling him a "gamer" and the new Mr. October.  He was drafted by the Yankees in the first round.  He stands at a regal 6' 3" and weighs the same as Eckstein. Derek's on base average this past year was a whopping 41.7%.  He fields the shortstop position with grace and flare, if not without an occasional flaw.  He has all of those World Series rings, but none of them recently.

    I've been reading Money Ball, by Michael Lewis, a book that explains the success of the team with the second lowest salary outlay in the Majors, the Oakland Athletics.  To pare their strategy to its barest essentials might go like this: the A's fill their roster with Ecksteins because they can't afford the Jeters.  How they find these hidden treasures is a tribute to the statistical analyses of the national pastime spearheaded by a fellow named William James.

    As I was reading Lewis' book it occurred to me that the same strategy of looking beyond the obvious for hidden treasures might work in other fields of endeavor. Like the pulpit.

    Unfortunately my profession has not, as baseball has, accumulated reams and reams of statistics. No score sheets (except an occasional Review with haloes!) to compare.  No church, at least not to my knowledge, hands out a questionnaire inviting worshippers to rate the sermon and pastoral prayer on any given Sunday on a scale of 1 to 10.  Some pastors do maintain ledgers of their home visits, hours in study, and souls watered, wed, and planted.  Most of us famously brag that we average 70 to 90 hours a week in our work, counting, of course, meditation.

    To fill this gap (and perhaps to inspire a statistician somewhere out there) I offer here a few criteria on which data might be collected, the better to measure a pastor's effectiveness:

        1. Average length of a sermon, with 15 minutes optimum, since it takes at least that long to develop a theme; and anything beyond that time leads listeners to drift further away than they have already.  Besides, for most pulpiteers, limiting the sermon to 15 minutes will require the preparation of a manuscript, with an attendant benefit of encouraging an economy and felicitous choice of words.

        2. Attendance at non-worship church activities: 100% would be perfection, 90% commendable, 80% satisfactory, and anything less grounds for dismissal.  Church gatherings provide a good listener with the facts and attitudes needed to address in sermons where congregants are.  Like the congregant who sat me down in my office one afternoon and said, "I've listened to you all these Sundays; now I want you to listen to me." 

        3. Annual pledge to the church program: if not near the top, in at least the 90th percentile; otherwise, he or she is not leading.  Period.

        4. The number of days elapsed between the receipt of a gift or bequest to the church and the sending of a personal written "thank you."  Within 7 to 10 days is required, depending, of course, on the postal service.

        5. The rating on a scale of 1 to 10 of the church buildings, appearance, ease of access, and structural soundness, to be measured by an objective outside observer (call me anytime!).

        6. The number of children bawling or squealing during the worship service, and the duration of the bawling and screaming: the more the merrier; the quicker their departure to a nursery, the better.

    I could probably dream up another five or six indices for pastoral effectiveness; but I think I'll wait until a statistician takes me seriously.  Until then, consider the Eckstein-Jeter equation.  Or what in church circles might be reframed as the Wesley-Graham equation (that is, the diminutive and donnish John Wesley vs. the tall, winsome, and down-to-earth Billy Graham). No pastoral search committee would ever think to pick Wesley in the first round of the draft; but Billy would have his pick of pulpits. 

    If we should not judge a book by its cover, then (now that I have provided better criteria!) we should not judge a pastor by his or her coiffure.           



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