"With the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts select Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford University." With this sentence last Thursday evening the National Football League's annual collegiate player draft commenced. Seven rounds and 253 total selections later it concluded, and at that point the analysts and pundits began doling out their "draft grades"-those subjective evaluations given to the quality of each team's player haul.
Letter grades are assigned to each team. "Winners" and "losers" of the draft are declared. All within 24 hours of the draft's completion. In the coming years these drafted players will be judged against these grades, these assumptions of what they will become. A bunch of 21- and 22-year-olds are signed, sealed, and better deliver, or else.
Seems premature judgments about future value are the order of the day.
But should this really come as a surprise to those in the evangelical church? Do we not give snap "winner" and "loser" grades to key ministers and so-called "movements"? Even calling some of the things "movements" can be premature. Is "missional" a movement or just some people doing some ministry stuff in similar ways? Is the "young, restless, reformed" posse a movement or just a resurgence of under-40 Calvinists?
Whether it is an individual leader or a so-called "movement," when we judge them early we fall into the same trap as those NFL analysts. We are blind to certain weaknesses that lead us to mis-assess future success and shortcomings. Some things look so good at first blush and seem destined for success, but in the end they are Charles Rogers or JaMarcus Russell (see Nos. 2 and 4 on this list). Who or what are the future "draft busts" of evangelicalism? Are we even able to tell at this point?
The reverse side of that same coin is that we are equally unable to recognize the future success of the "less likely." Just like nobody saw the championship futures of sixth-round pick Tom Brady or undrafted Kurt Warner at the time, so we are currently overlooking some pastor, author, ministry, or movement that will rise to enormous influence. Our snap judgments lead us in a direction, and it isn't until much later we realize what we missed.
The phrase "much later" should prompt us to reconsider how we evaluate movements, missions, and ministers. Only decades and definite culture change can prove a movement. Only long-term faithfulness proves a ministry or minister. It would be wise to refrain from declaring any of them "winners" or "losers" until it is clear what God has in store for them. And the same goes for the 253 newly minted NFL players.