Yes, Faithfulness DOES Include Effectiveness–and MAXIMUM Effectiveness

This post comes in response to people who raise a perennial issue, that of whether Christians should be concerned only with “faithfulness,” while “effectiveness” is seen by such folk to be merely a worldly concern we should set aside.

One friend simply put it that way: “faithfulness” means doing what God says, regardless of considerations of efficacy.

To such good people, and to you, I offer this revised version of a passage in my Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World:


Some Christians quite firmly maintain that “it is not our job to be effective—that’s God’s business—but to be faithful.” Alas, how convenient it is for certain Christians to fly the flag of faithfulness as their numbers dwindle, their evangelism languishes, and their social ministry remains unwelcomed by others. I grew up in a conservative tradition that reassured itself in this way: “We’re small, and uninfluential, and disparaged by others, but that’s just because we are so true to the gospel.” Nowadays I hear such rationalization also from those on the religious left, who congratulate themselves on their “prophetic faithfulness” even as they effect no change in the world worth mentioning.

Other people, however, are not rationalizing. They’re good people earnestly trying to live in the light of the Gospel. To them I say, I share your fears, but not your response to them.

Yes, they’re right to resist the modern tyranny of the “efficient,” the ruthless rationalization (in another sense) of life per Max Weber or la technique per Jacques Ellul. We must beware especially of short-term and obvious efficiencies that do not in fact conduce to the maximization of shalom in the world, but only to the immediate satisfaction and self-aggrandizement of the actors. In short, we must eschew stupid and selfish “efficiency,” of course. But that doesn’t mean effectiveness doesn’t matter to God.

Hear again this familiar parable:

For [the Kingdom of heaven] is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.”

His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.”

His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:14–30)

The definition of faithfulness here is results. It is effectiveness.

The first two slaves double their master’s investment in them. That’s what the master cares about. He does not even inquire as to how they did it.

The third slave does not make any money at all, but rather retains his master’s original investment in him and hands it over upon the master’s return. Indeed, the third slave is the very picture of “integrity” or “faithfulness” without effectiveness. He carefully guards what the master gives him, as many Christians guard their faith, their purity, their witness. And when the master returns, they have not compromised. The original investment is returned in full: It’s all there, intact and complete.

But the master is furious. He did not gift the slave with the talent in order to have it preserved, but to have it multiplied. And he punishes the slave as a total failure, as “worthless” and thus fit only for removal as so much trash.

The great commandments of God all entail performance, accomplishment, effectiveness. Cultivate the earth. Love God and your neighbor. Love each other in the church. And make disciples of all nations.

Notice particularly this last one. If one confines oneself to Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ last words to his disciples, one can be forgiven for understanding the mandate to be simply to “bear witness”—whether anyone listens or not (Luke 24 and Acts 1). But Matthew’s account makes quite clear that the command is to “make disciples,” not merely to drop the gospel at the world’s feet like a brick and then return home, satisfied with another job well done. We must engage the world, stay with the world, keep at the world until the world—or, at least, lots of the world—has joined Jesus’ band.

The full Biblical teaching about faithfulness, therefore, requires both integrity and effectiveness. Indeed, they work together. Keeping integrity in full view will caution us against inappropriate methods of attracting and retaining the world’s attention, against minimizing the scandal of the Cross, against growing churches—or businesses—by any means possible. Keeping effectiveness in equally full view will caution us against the truly deadly sins of self-righteousness, insularity, and sloth.

God is not an aesthete who desires that we live nice little lives according to some divine rulebook or choreography, but a loving lord and parent intent on reclaiming an entire planet via the agents he has equipped and commissioned. In short, he wants to get something accomplished, and as much accomplished as possible.

And so should we.

32 Responses to “Yes, Faithfulness DOES Include Effectiveness–and MAXIMUM Effectiveness”

  1. Peter T Chattaway

    Not to detract from your overarching point, but doesn’t your interpretation of the parable assume some sort of analogy between the master and God? Is not this understanding of the parable complicated somewhat by the fact that Jewish law forbids the collecting of interest (at least between Jews), so that, when the servant launches his protest against the master and the master replies “you should have at least collected interest”, the master is essentially confirming the servant’s negative characterization of him (especially in the eyes of the parable’s original Jewish audience)? Is not “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” kind of just another way of saying “The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer”?

  2. Peter T Chattaway

    Oh, and isn’t the servant’s negative characterization of the master underscored even further by the version of this parable in Luke’s gospel, where the master is described in terms that strongly identify him with the Herods (by going to a far country in order to be made a king at home, by slaughtering his opponents at home, etc.)?

    • John Stackhouse

      So Mister Smarty-Pants Bible-Backgrounds Guy, how is this parable depicting the Kingdom of Heaven? By showing us that God is actually like Herod, selfish, violent, and breaking his own law against usury? Not to detract from your overarching point, but, um, what’s your overarching point–or the parable’s? 😉

      • Peter T Chattaway

        Beats me, I’m not the one who told it!

        I do note that, while Matthew does seem to indicate that the Parable depicts the Kingdom of Heaven, Luke does not quite go that far. And Matthew’s version comes immediately before the discourse on the sheep and the goats, and *that* passage is certainly not as friendly to the wealthy and acquisitive as many interpreters take this parable to be.

        To put this another way: would the master in this parable — the one who “takes away” even from “the one who has not” — be a sheep or a goat, as far as Matthew 25 is concerned?

        I myself have no larger point beyond a tendency to veer away from simple readings of texts that are somewhat complicated when you look at them more closely. Some parables *do* seem to have easy interpretations (e.g. the Prodigal Son). Others have confounded believers for years (e.g. the Unjust Steward). And others, like this one, seem to fall somewhere in-between. All I know is that I don’t think we can easily assume that every time Jesus mentions a king or master, he is secretly referring to a stand-in for God. Certainly these parables can get us to think about the concept of authority in a way that encompasses both God as well as the deeply flawed human figures (e.g. the Unjust Judge), but I don’t think we should gloss over the deep flaws that *are* there.

        • John Stackhouse

          I trust you believe that I’m not “glossing over” things by providing what I think is the best interpretation of a passage in support of a larger point I want to make in a weblog post! I am not unaware of the issues you raise, Peter–good ones that appear in any decent commentary. I’m just offering what I think is the best take on it, per this genre (weblog post versus scholarly exegetical article), recognizing that there are other interpretations out there of this passage–which, as someone who wrote a Ph.D. comprehensive examination on the history of Biblical criticism, I rather take for granted! 🙂

  3. evedyahu

    Thought provoking as always. Thank you.
    However – I do not see how this parable supports your point – especially the part of the servant who had one talent. I assume that most Christians who are saying “it is faithfulness that matters” do not bury their talents. They use them the best they can, but their results are meager.

    Also – as on OT example – Jeremiah comes to mind as a servant who was faithful, but not very effective.

    In my opinion – it is very difficult (and perhaps even dangerous?) for us, human beings, to evaluate the faithfulness of various servants/ministry…only God can do it (and should do it) because only He knows all the variables etc.

    • John Stackhouse

      Well, yes, that’s my point: many Christians DO bury their talents in the sense that they simply try to maintain what they believe is the correct practice of the Christian faith regardless of results. And I am saying that we do not have that luxury: God expects us to get things done, and if we’re not getting things done, then we have reason to reflect on those practices as perhaps (even likely) not being the optimal ones.

      I am aware that this teaching will bother some people. It should. The sadly weak brand of Christianity we take for granted as “normal” in North American, NW European, and Australasian churches is called to account by this teaching. My goodness, do you think that the gospel would thrive in Africa, Latin America, China, Korea, or India today, as it is thriving, if it were not evidently, impressively effective? The challenge for Christians in cultures like mine is to show that Christianity actually makes a difference–that’s what effectiveness includes, as I’m using it here and as I think the Bible means it.

      Effectiveness, of course, must always be considered in context. Jeremiah’s context is not everyone’s. Was he effective? Yes, I think he was: He did what he was supposed to do and had the effect he was supposed to have. Let’s indeed make sure we are using Biblical standards of effectiveness, not stupid, selfish ones (such as “how many people came to agree with me” or “how much money did we raise”). I’m sure you and I would agree on that concern.

      I also agree, of course, that only God can measure our effectiveness in any ultimate way. But we must beware that by saying that we do not then grant ourselves license to just do any old thing, or do what we do badly, because only God knows the full impact of our work. Nor should we blithely continue to support individuals and institutions that are clearly not effective in their mission, just because they are sincere! Sincerity is good, but it isn’t enough. And if you are gifted and called by God, you will succeed in your work–as God, of course, measures success.

      Lots and lots of slothful Christianity has been justified by such thinking, and I’m sure you agree that we cannot be content offering to God what we would not dare to offer an earthly boss or audience (per Malachi’s warning). So let’s be as informed as we can be about the values of the Kingdom of God so that we don’t misunderstand what it means to be effective, surely. But then let’s be as effective as we can be. Why wouldn’t we try to be?

      • evedyahu

        Indeed. I agree with most of what you said in this paragraph. Thank you for the response!

      • Steve Wilkinson

        I’m glad to read this exchange, as I think it is a common correction we need to keep in mind for the effectiveness side of the equation. Often, I think, improper metrics are applied in our ministries. Did we make 5 real disciples, or did we fill an auditorium of people who check the ‘commitment to Christ’ on the form in response to a well crafted experience, invoking such a reaction, which likely ends up only lasting a week?

        The complacency of just personally ‘keeping in line’ is certainly very common, as is a push for effectiveness without ‘keeping in line.’ But another caution would be against those who have both the faithfulness and effectiveness in play, but measure by the wrong metrics.

  4. Verity3

    I agree that effectiveness is an important part of the equation. It’s a necessary implication of “communication is a two-way street” (though that is a model of communication that not all subscribe to). I believe we are responsible to do our very best when we “speak” so that we give our “listeners” the best opportunity to receive our message.

    I also believe that we are responsible to do our very best when we are “listeners,” to give speakers the best opportunity to reach us. It may not be reasonable to hold everyone to the same high standards of communication. But I find it beneficial to leave at least some responsibility on any “listener” to try to hear, after I have done my best to speak.

    I appreciate your effort to balance faithful efficiency with faithful integrity. It seems to me that most of us tend to excel at one more than the other, and are tempted to insist that our own way is best. But I think that believers with different God-given strengths have a lot we could learn from each other.

  5. buddyglass

    I really like what you have to say, John, but here I think you’re arguing against a bit of a straw man.

    In my experience, when some group says, “We may not be effective, but at least we have integrity,” the implication is this: “We are being as effective as we can while maintaining our integrity; other ministries give the appearance of effectiveness, but only because they’ve lost their integrity.”

    Usually this is in the context of criticizing Christian syncretism, the “church growth” movement, evangelists who present a watered down gospel, left-leaning churches that are “soft” on certain types of sin, churches that sacrifice depth in order to remain “seeker friendly”, etc.

    Note- I often disagree with these criticisms, so I’m certainly not putting myself forward as someone who’s in that camp. My point, though, is the “faithfulness over effectiveness” camp generally agrees with you that effectiveness is a good thing, and that God calls us to be effective. They emphasize faithfulness over effectiveness only to highlight the principle that, when the two come into conflict, one should always choose to be faithful.

    (Of course, one might argue that at the point one sacrifices faithfulness one also sacrifices effectiveness, regardless of what superficial gains the sacrifice of faithfulness brings.)

    • John Stackhouse

      Oh, I wish it were a straw man. But as I’ve indicated, I have both experienced and studied groups like this, so I’m afraid I’ll have to let stand my critique. Indeed, I have seen this attitude squelch both creativity and responsibility, and I think that is a Bad Thing.

      I like your nuancing of the portrait, however, which I’m sure fits other groups as you say.

      • buddyglass

        I’ll not question your experience. So, fair enough.

        That said, do they come right out and say, “We don’t care one whit whether we’re effective”? Personally speaking, I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who, while engaged in ministry, had absolutely no concern over whether they were being effective.

        Consider the example of a “street preacher” who stands on a corner yelling at passers by to “turn or burn”. I’d argue, and I think you might agree, that this is not an especially effective mode of evangelism. That said, the preacher probably still prefers two converts to one. So, within the narrow parameters of his specific ministry, he’s still concerned with effectiveness.

        If you were to criticize his message or its delivery as ineffective I suspect the response would be that to change either amounts to a sacrifice of integrity.

        • Steve Wilkinson

          They don’t say they don’t care one whit, but in some manner show it by their actions (and I think we ALL do this in some area or another… some of that might be excused, I suppose, if you really are being faithful in the area of your gifting). The example I’d give is the person who just attends church, lives a morally good life, and that’s about it. It isn’t a bad start, as they have faith, are minimizing the damage they input to the system, and someone *might* notice them and coax them into conversation (and IF they are prepared enough to have the conversation, some fruit might result). But this hardly seems to fulfill ‘make disciples,’ even their own discipleship. And, it only slightly begins to fulfill ‘always be ready to give an answer’ (cf: 1 Pet 3:15). Effectiveness isn’t so much the issue as it only being luke-warm faithful either. Why would one expect effectiveness to follow from that?

          • John Stackhouse

            I’m talking about rhetoric and attitude, buddyglass. I’m not talking about some wild extreme, but I am talking about bad situations and cultures in which sloth, sloppiness, and self-congratulation have replaced honest, realistic, and humble self-examination in the light of past performance and proper objectives. “I’m called to this” simply won’t do if your ministry seems to be foundering. Maybe you were, and still are, but it’s an open question if your work isn’t fruitful, and you need to be open to that open question. John 15 (there’s another Scripture for you, Sister Beth!) is pretty straightforward about branches being fruitful–or else. Clear enough now?

    • Steve Wilkinson

      I agree, there really aren’t two components, as faithfulness inherently includes effectiveness. ‘Make disciples’ includes at least one other person, and if you’re being faithful to all of Jesus commands, it will affect those around you.

      The problem is that many churches have become fairly dead on making well-rounded disciples in the above sense. If you’ve not been in such a church, count yourself fortunate. We’ve been through at least a couple generations where it became commonplace to simply attend church and live a life of semi-integrity, just hoping that might somehow rub off (maybe going out of the way so far as to hang a Gospel tract on someone’s doorknob). I suppose people assumed a Christian culture, and then we only needed to rub off on the few souls that weren’t conforming. All of this isn’t necessarily a bad start (except for the Gospel tracts, maybe), but it just doesn’t seem to capture the whole thing very well. It basically isn’t really being faithful, but just giving a partial effort.

  6. Beth

    In the earlier comments, you grant that it is God who must ultimately measure our effectiveness and success, not us. The danger is that we’re all susceptible to define effectiveness by our own standards, and our culture’s standards (in our case, a capitalistic, product-and-efficiency-oriented culture). Even the religious people of Jesus’ day used the wrong standards, and thus saw him as a total and complete failure, completely ineffective at doing what they thought he was supposed to do. This should give us some humility as we judge others’ effectiveness today. Sure, we should challenge fellow Christians on sloth, insularity, and self-righteousness… but it’s trickier to call them out on lack of effectiveness.

    Two of the great commandments you list that we have to keep “effectively” are about love. What does effective love look like? I think it looks like faithfulness. I think God calls us to love others no matter the response, no matter the “success.” The disciples Jesus made betrayed, denied, and abandoned him at his death.

    I participated in a “Humble Apologetics” seminar you did once. You taught us that the best way to evangelize and make disciples is by loving our neighbors, being available in times of questioning and crisis, and refusing to force decisions or conversations. It will take some of my neighbours several years to trust me, because they have been disillusioned by the church or turned off by more “efficient” drive-by-evangelism methods. This is not the case in the other places you mentioned (Africa, China, etc.). This is a challenge of disciple-making in the First World. But this also makes it hard to know when to measure my “effectiveness” in making disciples. Do I stick with these friends even when they’re not asking many “spiritual” questions, giving me results? Or do I wring my hands, question my performance, and move on to more fertile territory?

    I actually think my generation needs a call to faithfulness, not a call to effectiveness. I see a lot of my peers wander from one ministry to another, doing one year in Africa, one year in this church, a short-term project in another city. They are unsatisfied, they are not seeing results, they run into hard times, so they leave and move on to the next thing. They need to read a post about being faithful to your calling even when you’re small, uninfluential, and disparaged by others, as Jesus often was perceived.

    Also, in case Peter Chattaway (Mr. Smarty-Pants Bible-backgrounds-guy) is right in his alternate interpretation of that parable, do you have some other Scriptures you could use to back up your points? I’m sure another PhD-smarty-pants-Bible-guy wouldn’t want to hinge it all on one parable. 🙂

    • John Stackhouse

      Why choose, Beth? Why choose just one pole or the other? I’m calling for us to be faithful: to follow Jesus as best we can and to consider effectiveness as one (ONE, you’ll note) of the criteria by which we judge what it is he is calling us to do because Jesus wants certain things done.

      Of course I’m not saying we should conform to the values of “this world” regarding “effectiveness” when those values conflict with the Bible. Do we really need to keep reminding each other of that?

      Well, yes, probably we do! But I thought I made clear that I agree with you on that basic point and I’m trying to make a complementary, not contradictory, one.

      And, my friend, I did refer to other Scriptures. Pretty Big Scriptures, in fact, such as the Great Commission. And the Great Commandments–which entail cultivating the earth as well as loving God, neighbour, and one’s fellow Christians, and I assume (don’t you?) that caring for others as well as I can means, AMONG OTHER VALUES, taking effectiveness into account.

      I confess I get tired of trying to make balanced points and having intelligent people take pains to remind me of one pole or the other as if I’ve forgotten it. I haven’t, we’re not disagreeing about that, so can we talk about what the original post talks about?

      Why are we arguing about this? Better, why are WE arguing about this, given our pretty common frame of reference?

      • Beth

        John, I don’t see us as arguing – I see us as using the blogging medium to have a devils-advocate-type conversation, which you always seemed to enjoy in the past. If it sounded argumentative, I’m sorry.

        I gladly accept effectiveness as one value we should consider alongside others. Maybe I just don’t see the benefit in highlighting effectiveness in particular, considering the cultural issues I brought up. I think too many of us in the Church already tend to see God as a guy in a suit telling us to do more and perform better. But maybe that’s because I’m a perfectionist. And I know that we don’t run in the same circles, so I will grant that in your circles you may have had good reason to assert the call to be effective.

        I do realize that you referenced the Great Commission and Great Commandments, but I don’t see these as screaming “Be effective” any more than I see them screaming “Be faithful”. They tell us where to direct our efforts, but not what to do when we’re not seeing results. Thanks for including John 15 later on, though. I do agree that we need to wrestle with what fruitfulness means.

        • John Stackhouse

          Sorry to be unclear, my precious sister! We’re not arguing, we’re arguing! 😉 I just meant, “Why are we engaged in a disputation over an issue on which I thought we’d agree?” I didn’t mean, “Why are you assaulting my dignity with your relentless, mean-spirited abuse, you big bully, you?” You haven’t been “argumentative”–in a bad sense!

          I’m guessing your second graf above is the key. You don’t see why I’d bother stressing the point that I did. But you now see comments indicating that other people are dealing with some of what I deal with, hence their support for the post.

          As a pretty driven person myself, I sympathize with people (= you) who are wrestling with perfectionism, “performance-based piety,” and the like. But part of why that mentality can have such a grip on us is that it’s not entirely false. And the best biblical teaching, it seems to me, retains both the free, unmerited grace of God in some healthy combination with God’s complete demands upon us (taking up a cross, working hard at self-control, expending ourselves entirely for the gospel, seeking the Kingdom of God at all costs, etc.).

          I don’t think any of God’s commands “scream.” I know you don’t, either, but I don’t think it helps to put things that way. I do think, actually, that there are important implications for all of us in what they say–and in what I’m saying they say. For example, if you work with people on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, or if I work with students at Regent College, part of what it means to be faithful is for us to steward the resources and opportunities God gives us as well as we can–and that will mean not just persevering in a difficult task, but maximizing the good we do, no? If you can counsel or I can teach 10 people instead of 2; if you or I can make a deep difference in someone’s life instead of a shallow difference; if we can sharpen our skills to communicate better or learn greater compassion to listen better–that’s seeking to be effective. That’s really all I’m saying. And I’ve been around LOTS of individuals and organizations who use “faithfulness” instead as an excuse for lazy, lousy attitudes and work. That’s what I’m speaking against. Clearer now?

          Thanks for hanging in there with me!

  7. JLBetts

    It’s wonderfully appropriate to read your post in light of my upcoming sermon series on the letter of James – seems to me James’ approach is very much as you describe: faith and works hand-in-hand, faithfulness and effectiveness both always in sight.

    And, if I recall fragments of church history correctly, James has generated the same kind of controversy and criticism, with Luther calling it “a right strawy epistle” (though I don’t have any idea what he actually said in German) 😉


  8. rob

    You’ve put your finger a great point; a distinction that is sorely needed. The common complaint against “pragmatism” is often only a complaint against methods that do not actually work (as you say, narrow, ill conceived, selfish methods). But to argue against such is not to argue against “pragmatism” it is actually arguing within pragmatism (or at least on the shared assumption that methods ought to be oriented to outcomes). For example, the complaint is oft made that mega churches are too pragmatic: they use superficial things to attract people to church. This is problematic, it is claimed, because it makes for superficial discipleship. Rather, the counter goes, we ought to invest in discipling a few people well. But this is an entirely pragmatic argument.

  9. jdsundara

    Hi brother John,

    this was a very insightful article. I think I often used to tell my students that God loves faithfulness more than effectiveness. More out of a need to comfort and encourage young missionaries working among unreached groups about whether they saw people come to faith or not.

    I agree with your point, about faithfulness must inevitably include effectiveness.

    Any advice on how to counsel and encourage young missionaries working on the field in the 10/40 Window about affirming their faithfulness and effectiveness in spite of not seeing any (or perhaps only seeing little) fruit?

    • John Stackhouse

      Thanks for this comment, and I hope to respond to this valid concern about “small things” very soon. I have been concerned about it a long time and have, in fact, published several articles about it here and there. I’ll try to get something out shortly.

  10. Dan

    The more pressing issue is “what does it mean to be effective”? How do we gauge that? What are the standards we use?

    In terms of a safe injection site, I would say your standards of “effective” are rather different than some of the standards held by others (like the government you voted for [cough, cough] or other Christians…). Hence, I think you would view your approach as both faithful and effective on this issue (except for maybe the voting for Harper thing?).

    I would argue the same about my approach on the matter that sparked this conversation. The point being that I believe that what I am attempting to construct is both more faithful and more effective than the alternatives — it’s just that you and others are easily confused about what it means to be “effective” in this sort of effort.

    Did I just throw down the gauntlet there? Oh well. Morituri Te Salutant!

    With love and respect (of course… just in case my online tone apears off here…).

    By the way, my younger brother is involved in the same sort of work and has been going the completely opposite direction — working within the system, building towards gradual change, creating, close connections with all the major power players, etc. etc. etc. (you would probably like him) — so I’m really curious to see the end result of each of our trajectories. He told me the end result would be one of us getting rich and one of us going to prison but he wouldn’t tell me which one was which.

  11. matichuk


    Forgive an ignorant comment from someone who never finished Making the Best of It. I am just curious how you characterize Bonhoeffer’s involvement with the assassination plot against Hitler. I know, he got involved in it because he thought it was the best course of action, even if it meant sacrificing his pure ideals. Certainly he was trying to faithful in rather harsh historical circumstances, but in the end, not very effectively. Or was he effective? His in prison presence certainly was continually used by God.

    In terms of full disclosure, I am implicated in your original post because I believe that faithfulness is a more important criteria than effectiveness. This doesn’t mean I think ineffectiveness is any great virtue, I just prioritize the one over the other. The late Christopher Hitchens was fond of pointing out the ineffectiveness of Mother Theresa in bringing about systemic change to the slums of Calcutta, though most people would praise her for being faithful to her calling. In either case, she didn’t bury her Talent in the sand.

    • John Stackhouse

      Sorry, JM, but I’m not clear what your point is here and what I’m supposed to be saying in reply.

      Bonhoeffer believed, as I do, that trying to be faithful to Jesus includes trying to be effective. It’s not one or the other, or one more than the other. The definition of faithfulness, for him and for me, simply includes the value of effectiveness.

      What counts as “effective,” however, is partly evident to us (in Scripture, yes, but also in common sense, science, social science, history, or whatever else is relevant to ascertaining the true nature of a situation) and also partly not, in at least some situations.

      So if you’re trying to be effective as part of your calling, great! And if you’re always concerned to be listening to Jesus as to what truly counts as effective, great!

      And if you can just try to forget the stupid and loathsome things Hitchens said about Mother Teresa (as if she went to Calcutta to effect wide-scale social change!), great!

      • matichuk

        Thanks! I am not so much trying to make a point as clarify yours. What you say here is helpful for me. I hear you saying that, yes, as Christians we are called to be faithful, but implicit in that is to strive for effectiveness in your calling. This makes sense to me. Being faithful to God in whatever station he’s called us is to work towards an end. As someone called to full time ministry, I want to constantly be pressing into the best ways to communicate, care for and love my neighbor, care for ‘widows and orphans’ and do effective outreach. It seems rather silly not want to do one’s best for God in whatever station he calls you. I certainly do not want to drive a wedge between faithfulness and effectiveness and hope my witness is characterized by both and not simply pious ineptitude.

        But most people are not seriously arguing for the virtue of ineffective and inept faithfulness are they? It seems to me, the critique that Ellul and Weber have is more what most people have in mind. Certainly I have been a part of church’s where systems and technique were implemented in doing the Lord’s work, but this was severed from a prayerful connection to God.
        It seems to me the call for faithfulness is a critique of the sort of practical Deism which seeps into church culture.

        Yes, I can also think of ‘dying churches’ who think they are being faithful and are not particularly effective in their service to God. I think some of these churches need to close their doors and think of more effective means of faithfulness and others need to change their modus operandi.

        I don’t think I’m disagreeing with you. If I am, or just miss your point entirely, I welcome your correction.

  12. Thomas Beyer

    Interesting to note that no one lost any money. What would the master have done then ?

    Second question: given the financial criis of 2008 and a collapse of stock markets or whole funds, is the “hiding under a mattress” approach not prudent in some instances ?

  13. Thomas Beyer

    Third question: the guy who got 5 talons only doubled it, despite his higher talents than the guy with 2. Should he not have been able to deliver more than 5 ? His performance was only as good as the guy with 2 ?

  14. Eric

    Yes, Professor Stackhouse, you have put the matter so pithily I have begun cross-stitching it on my pillowcase 🙂

    Fascinating thread, this could go on and on and on and . . . (Nietzche would be laughing if he wasn’t . . .) 🙂

    I wonder if it is a false ‘opposition’ anyway – that these aren’t poles, but that faithfulness and effectiveness don’t belong to the same category (Virtue)?

    But then again. . .

    If you want to think of them together, rather than as opposite poles or totally unrelated then the Lukan version of the parable of the Sower is suggestive “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Faithful and effective? Or perhaps better, faithful and fruitful? Perhaps ‘Effectiveness’ has too many overtones to be a useful word . . .

    but then again . . . Mark and Matthew’s renditions don’t serve so well – but that is only to open more tins of squirmy things 🙂

    Happy New Year John, and continued blessings on your wonderful stirring of the pot!

  15. Eric

    PS A Big Thank You! for your careful continued involvement in the fall out from your posts which makes this a blog very worth reading. Too many post and run for the hills


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