“Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me… When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”…And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:43-45, 60, 65-67).

It’s confession time. So let me preface this account by saying that administration is not my spiritual gift. Neither is the gift of mercy, but that’s an entirely different story.

I was a Sunday School teacher at a rather traditional Southern Baptist church. Once they figured out I wasn’t an official member of the church they were flabbergasted but showed me grace due to a long and consistent record of financial contributions. So I transferred my “membership” and was allowed to continue facilitating a class of single, “20-something” misfits. And I fit right in although I was 20 years their senior. It was a unique group that grew rapidly, though rarely had more than 15 attendees. They sometimes showed up still wearing the wrist stampings that allowed them to get into the clubs they were frequenting the night before. No worries, we were there to talk about Jesus.

There was one young lady, in her early 30’s and not part of the party crowd, who was always faithful. LeeAnn served as a pillar for the group and the class secretary. For those who are unfamiliar, she kept the attendance roll and other records the church used to report to the convention. That was all well and good until she went on vacation and I was left with the administrative chores. That is when I exaggerated a bit in documenting the attendance and other statistics. Knowing how much Southern Baptists love their numbers, my report read something like this:

Attendance – 6,429.3

Professions of Faith – 8,477.8

Baptisms – 9,469.27

Rededications – .436

Giving – $12,965,328.97 (Warren Buffet, I noted, was a visitor).

Shockingly, I received a call from the Pastor of Administration early on Monday. After admitting my miscalculations, I told him the good news about my embellishments: “We have suddenly jumped to #1 in the convention in several categories, most importantly baptisms. Praise God!” After he chided me I asked if we could pray together and petition God give him a sense of humor. He not-so-graciously declined. But I had accomplished one thing – church leadership made sure someone other than me did the records when LeeAnn was out. I was off the hook!

I hope, unlike the Pastor of Administration, you get my point. Yes, we see God use numbers throughout His Word. There is an Old Testament book with that very title and we see the approximate counting of the converts at Pentecost (Acts 2) and soon afterwards. But, really, why are we so obsessed with numbers when it comes to ministry? I, by the way, can tell you exactly the number of hits this blog has on a daily basis so, convicted, I recently took the “counter” off of my blog’s home page (my total hits had just crossed over 7,103,540,789,000…oh, never mind).

Is this some sort of self-justification? Is it pride? Is it shallowness? Or is it just the natural outcome of bad theology? Maybe it’s all of these but, whatever its source, it concerns me.

Our tendency to use numbers to determine our “success” or “failure” as followers of Christ and ministry leaders seems a bit incongruous to me. Especially if we look at the earthly ministry of Jesus – who someone has called the first and greatest mini-church pastor.  At the end the number of His followers had fallen precipitously and he was left alone and forsaken by most of those who claimed that they would be there until the last. Was His ministry a failure? I don’t think so. After all, I don’t believe He was thinking as much about quantity as He was quality. I don’t think he was keeping some legalistic count of all the numbers. At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus had shifted His focus from the masses who pursued Him for food, healings, and miracles to a very small number of people. Most of the last year of His ministry was dedicated to these few – discipling and preparing them for the ministry ahead.

So maybe Jesus was telling us that our service, and the way God measures it, is more about being biblically faithful than being numerically successful. Maybe He was saying that investing ourselves in a few is often better than trying to accommodate throngs. Given our trend toward mega-churches and a “bigger is better” mentality, this is worth considering.

By the way, excluding the title, this post has 852.27 words.

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