1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and byhis appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, andexhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2; to contextualize, read on through verse 5)

 

Numbers. They are a tricky lot. I’m not sure that I am fully aware of how much we, as preachers rely on them. In my life as a Southern Baptist preacher, they tend to knock on (down?) the door more often than I would like. Perhaps it would be different if I were, say, a professor of mathematics like my brother. Numbers are his stock and trade. He likes them, and they like him. It’s a mutual love society when the two of them get together.

 

Me? I’m still haunted by the conversation that I had with the Blushing Bride’s cousin shortly before he lost his battle with cancer. He’d asked about the book I was reading at the time (Simple Church), and I tried to get the gist out in 150 words or less. His response seemed cynical with a touch of wry. You must understand that when one battles with cancer the battle shows up in, of all places, the struggle with faith. And I must admit that the fight with cancer often produces (cynicism aside) a rawer, if not more genuine, faith than the most holy (holier than thou?) of priests/ministers/preachers of the gospel.

 

And to this day, what he said still gives me pause: “So, it’s all a numbers game then.”

 

While that was not the intention of the authors of the book, and I pray that it is not my intention as a local pastor, I can’t help but occasionally check my motives. We like the old joke:

 

“How many are you running in Sunday school?”

“Well, we’re running about 500, but only catching about 85.” (It’s okay to laugh, after all it is a joke.)

 

But the truth of the matter is—we get so caught up in the statistical data that we forget why we’re here. I wonder if the God we serve is not nearly as enamored by the number of baptisms we had last year as He is the number of Christians who are actually showing signs of growth. Of course we can’t quantify closeness to God with our calculators and spread sheets. Unlike God, we cannot see the hearts of man (at least without open heart surgery, and then we only see the organ, not the motive).

 

I have a constant fear that I will strap myself so closely to the quantitative measure of my ministry (and thus, be jealous that I have not become the leader of a megachurch) that I throw all godliness to the wind in favor of the next big show, the trite tidbit of mediocrity that looks good to the gathering crowds. Then is when the preacher ceases to be the preacher and becomes the entertainer, the minstrel in black-face.

 

Numbers are numbers. They can be tools that are helpful, but they must never become our goal. We must remember: we are not here to please men, nor to impress them with our show, our expertise, or our ability to draw a crowd. Our purpose is to become more like Christ daily. How is my “becoming” going? Am I caught up in the numbers game? Or am I simply caught up in Jesus?

Advertisements