I’ve just finished skimming through the Muhlenberg College Annual Report 2013-2014. I am proud to be a Mule, a 1971 graduate of this fine institution of higher education. I’m even prouder that my alma mater has grown in excellence in all things since I left its beautiful confines.
I’m reminded of this every time I read a Muhlenberg publication. This time I started by reading College President Peyton Helm’s article called “Raters of the Liberal Arts: Pick Your Poison.” President Helm discusses the current craze for outside institutions and publications to rate colleges and universities ranging from the sublime, like Top Liberal Arts Colleges, to the ridiculous, like Colleges Most Obsessed with Squirrels.
Then he reminds readers that what they are about to experience in looking through the glossy annual report, packed with gorgeous photos and dauntingly good statistics, is that all of this really doesn’t matter. What matters is that people are educated by the school and our society is bolstered by its graduates.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story.
This is a difficult truism for those of us who have dedicated our lives to the Church of Jesus Christ. It is normally our deep longing, our compulsion, for the Church to grow beyond all expectations, to our buildings to burst at the seams as they are magnify the Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in praise and service.
And just this week the Roman Catholics in New York City announced that they would close dozens of churches. Our Synod struggles continually to aid congregations to not only keep their doors open, but also to stay relevant to the mission of the Gospel in our various contexts. But then I need to ask, how do you measure these things? What marks a ministry as successful?
Business tells us that the stronger the profit is the more successful the institution is. The arts tell us that the more that the art is consumed (museum visitors, concert goers, etc.) the more successful the enterprise is.
Jesus tells us that wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he is there. Seems like that’s ultimate success. Having the Lord of Life in your midst.
Not that this is an easy thing for me. I will always hold on to the wish, the deep desire, to see pews packed with eager worshippers, because I know that what we do together shapes us, forms us, molds us, as nothing else can do, making us God’s loved children and emissaries in continually evolving, ever-new ways.
So for me there’s a balance to be struck. Like the faculty and administration of Muhlenberg College we strive for excellence at Holy Trinity. But like their President, we need to be reminded that the ultimate goal is not numbers. It is praise.
It is life lived in the heart of God.