Anyone with novice familiarity with Christianity knows the ins and outs of its origin story, whether five to ninety-five years old. We all easily recall to mind the show-stopping encounter between the serpent and the woman, Eve, as he lured her into breaking God’s one commandment to avoid the forbidden fruit. What was it that made the fruit devolve from off-limits to appealing to desirable in the eyes of Eve? Eve did not simply want the fruit itself offered to her by the wicked serpent. It was something deeper, something about taking the fruit, something about Eve. Eve wanted control. She wanted to be “like God,” able to chart her own course and define her own sense of righteousness (Gen 3:5).
Despite hearing this event preached and reflected on and flannelgraphed all our lives, we haven’t learned our lesson from Eden. What is so astonishing about the first episode of human sin is how it is the same exact trap that even the most religious continue to fall into thousands of years later. The evergreen sin of control plagues the atheist, the individualist, and the pastor alike.
In Immeasurable, author Skye Jethani confirms that church and ministry has been hijacked by the “Church, Inc.” mindset – a term “shorthand for ministry devoid of mystery, for pastors who assume the exercise of their calling is a matter of skill more than the gravity of their soul…if ministry is encountering the heat and light of the uncontrollable sun, Church, Inc. is the tanning salon in the local strip mall” (10). Its great threat is that it “tempts us with control” (11), bringing us back before the serpent at Eden. A pastor friend refers to the American enterprise of church as the “ABCs…Attendance, Buildings, and Cash.” It doesn’t matter, truthfully, what alphabet we are speaking church to church – the allure of control, measurement, and scoreboard faces every church. Whether it’s the wooden register boards in the small Baptist church or the weekly baptisms graphic on the trendy church’s social media platform, all of us are tempted to control. Even those who call themselves non-attractional say their measurement is “faithfulness alone,” but truthfully, it’s not a faithfulness that stands alone, as we try to find tangible, quantifiable evidences of our faithfulness. I know, because that is the world in which I find myself.
“Sometimes the most difficult part about pastoral ministry,” Jethani writes, “is knowing what is not our responsibility” (54). That to me serves as the impetus for Immeasurable – learning to be people who minister while also learning to be people who depend. In a collection of essays, Skye Jethani confronts the reality of pastoral ministry today, the false gospel of “Church, Inc.” and ways forward from it. The essays are short, but potent, each ending with sections for reflection and application.
I appreciate the wide scope Jethani takes with this book. Over 24 topics are addressed, whether broad in nature like “Rest” or “Ambition” or more narrow like “Books” or “Justice.” Each work together to help pastors tackle the “Church, Inc.” model of ministry that undercuts who God has designed us to be.
What Jethani’s work does best is to challenge the status quo and the norms that many churches will find themselves given to. It doesn’t mean that we should take his word as gospel (I think he’d be offended if we did). His essay on brevity, for example, best serves the church when we are challenged by its underlying message – that brevity is helpful in preaching. I don’t believe this means all preachers should consider twenty-minute messages, modeling the Sermon on the Mount, but I do believe Jethani’s word about preaching as inspiring devotion matters greatly. What Immeasurable does so well is it forces us to wrestle with what we’ve always done, the way we’ve done it, and consider how we are falling into the Church, Inc. trap.
I really enjoyed this book. I would suggest that pastors read it, the number one reason being it is a rare kind of leadership book. It is not the kind of leadership book that gives you a process or irrefutable laws or pragmatic bullet points. It beckons you to leading with “a first-class purpose—living in perpetual communion with God Himself” (196). To that end, it is certain to challenge your sphere of ministry. Like Jethani’s powerful example of the woman who washed Jesus’s feet, we are reminded that some things the world deems as ineffective, inefficient, and wasteful are the very things Jesus calls precious, significant, and worship.