Crouch on the Failure of Success Metrics

Andy Crouch writes on the incongruity of the successes of Jonah, a selfish prophet who works for one day, and the failures of Jeremiah, a selfless prophet who voices God’s anger for forty years.

What a contrast between Jonah and Jeremiah: Jonah, the most resoundingly successful prophet, and the least faithful; Jeremiah, a complete failure as a prophet, and the most faithful.

There’s a lot we can learn from this juxtaposition, not least the foolishness of measuring faithfulness by success, or expecting success to follow as a normal consequence of faithfulness.

But I’d like to call our attention to what the contrast between Jonah and Jeremiah might say about our desire for “impact.”

Crouch notes that we so often use modern American business concepts—success metrics, numbers, impact—to measure the efficacy of a ministry that we miss the point entirely. Jonah’s success is but a mere footnote in the Bible; Jeremiah’s massive failure is one of the longest books of prophecy in the Old Testament.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to us, really, for I find that I, as well as many folks I know, learn far, far more from our failures than we do our successes. Our failures bring us to self-examination, to frustration, and to loss. And yet all these things are ultimately worked to our good, because we learn lessons from them, things that make us better Christians and servants of God—not for our glory, but for God’s. After all, any successes that we might have in this life really aren’t ours, but the result of God’s goodness flowing through us. Any improvements I make in character or servanthood don’t make me any more saved—Jesus’s sacrifice has already made me sinless. Why improve? I believe that it brings God greater glory, because it shows that even poor wretches as myself can become better, stronger people through consistently showing and giving grace. In God’s eyes, I can become no better than I am at my worse, most sinful moments; in man’s eyes, though, I can become better, and all the credit on that score belongs to Him who helps me.