Recently I heard a friend who has a long background in both ministry and business use the phrase “return on investment.” She was referring to an aspect of evaluating the impact of efforts to influence people for the gospel. Knowing this comes from the business world, and not being a big businessperson myself, I wanted a better understanding of this concept and how it might apply to engagement in kingdom work.
On trusty Wikipedia I found this definition: “Return on investment (ROI) is a ratio between net profit (over a period) and cost of investment (resulting from an investment of some resources at a point in time). A high ROI means the investment’s gains compare favorably to its cost.”
There are specific formulas used to calculate this ratio mathematically. Quantifying this can be essential in determining how to allocate resources, or evaluate the efficacy of research and development, or marketing, or assessing the viability of a project.
What interests me the most at the moment is the personal, qualitative, spiritual implication and application. How might Scripture come to life in this?
First, there’s Jesus.
Jesus went all in on his investment. He laid down his rights to royalty and privilege as the Son of God. He humbled himself at the Cross to purchase the salvation of every “whosoever” who believes. Before putting all his chips on the table, so to speak, he spoke some truths that revealed what he expects as a return on his priceless investment of himself.
In John 15, Jesus said, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you” (John 15:15-16).
Jesus chooses his disciples, and he expects them to be in pursuit of increase, fruit, growth, life. He expects us to be world changers!
Praying for his followers, Jesus reminded the Father, “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them” (John 17:10). Our reward for our fruitfulness is our fruitfulness! But God has ordained that our fruitfulness causes a splendid wave of glory to crash upon the head of the blessed Son, our Savior. He is rewarded a dividend every time we lead others to him. Every time we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Every time we walk in humble obedience and love people well. The heavens resound with worship each time we respond wholeheartedly to his work of saving and sanctifying us.
Jesus framed this pretty clearly for his disciples when he sent them out to minister. His instruction was, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” (Mt. 10:7-9, NIV). In his parable of the talents, he makes no apology for insisting that true servants reinvest every bit of time, talent, and resource provided so that the Master receives the best possible return: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he has (Mt. 25:29).
The Apostle Paul deeply understood this. When the lowly disciple Ananias was sent to lay hands on him to restore his sight and commission him to ministry, this was what the messenger was to convey: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
We know of Paul’s gigantic role in founding Christ’s church throughout Asia Minor. So much had been invested in Paul by God’s sovereign hand. Every part of him, his personality and passion, combined with his knowledge of Scripture, law, history, religion, government, and rhetoric, Roman culture, and so many other things—every part of his education and preparation would be utilized to fulfill his apostolic and pastoral calling. Paul would bring great honor to the name and cause of Christ.
Paul suffered severely for the sake of the gospel. He also performed many mighty exploits for Christ. He took Jesus’ expected return on investment seriously. He was intensely driven and guided by it. With a trademark merging of humility and confidence, Paul explains,
“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back” (Phil. 3:12-13, MSG).
I love that—“I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” I want this to be my driving force too, my mission statement. I desire to make the best use of each day and each opportunity, not so I can get a return on my own investment, but that Jesus gets a return on his.
What do you think about this way of looking at our life and ministry? Do you ever think about how to give Jesus the greatest return on his investment in you?