Monday Morning Numbers Complex
A few years ago, I was driving through Ozark, Arkansas a small town my dad had a tent meeting in when I was about nine years old. I can remember my cousins and Mike and I hitching a ride from their farm to town. Ozark has a city square like you would see in the, “Back to the Future” movies. When I was nine it was a busy place. That was the place to go. We hung around, played pool and just kicked it. When I recently drove through the old town center there was not much action, just a few antique stores. The community that was there years ago is gone, even in this small country town.
We live in a world captured by the mega.
Mega-retailers, mega-malls, mega-entertainment centers, mega-stars and mega-churches. We continually follow the mega-success stories. We have been programmed to accept the fact that, mega is success. We are moving so fast in this mega world that we hardly think of where it is headed. We simply follow. The church of Jesus Christ has also been caught in the mega-movement. Pastors have been running to the Christian mega-retailers hoping to learn how to achieve such success. But, the followers of Jesus Christ need to see that Jesus and mega don’t always talk the same talk or walk the same walk. When Jesus rose from the dead He did not go to the crowds or make a mega-production of the resurrection. The angel instructed the women who came to the Tomb, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you”(Mark 16:7, NKJV). He went to his friends, a small community of followers who were His church. Jesus was about community and relationships. Jesus was happy hanging around with twelve disciples. Monday mornings, I am sure you mulled over, “How many people did we have in church yesterday?” Every Sunday an usher hands me a report. I can tell by how he looks if the attendance was up or down. Of course, someone will ask you.
I do believe in “counting sheep.”
How many people show up to some gathering place on a Sunday morning is not as important to Jesus Christ as it is to us. He was not embarrassed to meet with twelve men day after day for three years. He was not ashamed to commission eleven before he left them and returned to the Father. Why have we come to the point that numbers dominate the landscape of the church? When our Founder, our Lord overlooked the crowds and went for the few and the one. He taught that the one lost lamb was worth leaving the ninety-nine for. (Luke 15:4-7)While we count the numbers that gather in our Christian celebrations do we fail to count the lost ones? While we spend fortunes to make the ninety-nine or the thousands comfortable, what are we spending to reach the lost ones. Most of the programs we develop are for those already in the sheepfold, fattening them up as they feast on the best we have while, the lost are overlooked. We provide the best of everything for the ninety-nine and we expect the lost ones out to – seek us out. There are more stories about Jesus centered around one or a few than multitudes.
Small Church Mega-Impact
This morning, I am thinking about more than large or small, mega or mini churches. I am thinking about, what is important. Jesus said, “The lost one.”It is interesting that Jesus did not say to build a beautiful pen for the sheep. Put every comfort you can for the sheep and then keep the door open and wait for the lost lamb to return. Jesus said, “Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it?” (Luke 15:4, NLT). We say, “We want a New Testament church” but do we practice it? Are we consumed with filling the earth with the good news? Or is it about building our church? We focus on attendance. We praise numbers. We structure to draw those already following Christ. We rejoice when someone transfers from another church to ours. We anoint them with oil and slot them into our program, so we can keep them. We don’t bother to find out what personal issues they may be running from by transferring churches. The pattern church of the Bible is not about how many people you can gather. We see the numbers in the first few chapters of Acts in reference to the church at Jerusalem. We also see that gathering crowd was not the plan of Christ and it did not prove to be productive in Jerusalem over the long run.
The Answer is Discipleship.
The American culture is built on the backyard barbecue, the Little League, the local school and various meeting places. Society is built upon family and community. Relationship and community are the strength of the church, not the size. Jesus commanded us to, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19, NLT). Jesus did not teach us how to organize our weekend services, but he did give us a personal example of how to make disciples.
There is no mighty church be it, mega or small, if there are not disciples.
The challenge for me is not to measure my pastoral success by a comparative numbers game with other assemblies, but instead to listen to the Holy Spirit. To “hear” will keep me tuned to “what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” No congregation has a monopoly on the latest “word” from God, but a composite of truths can be heard and balanced by listening to God’s “words” where unusual growth is occurring.There are examples in the Bible for practicing good record keeping and making reports. The Word warns against becoming more concerned with numbers than with God’s ways. King David reaped judgment when he took a census of Israel which displeased the Lord (2 Samuel 24). God’s work does not add up by 1 and 1 equals 2. God’s work is not calculated. You cannot always see it happening. It is divine life. Spiritual working beyond the scene. Beyond your ability.
This Monday morning let’s agree that:
You cannot measure the true work of God,
Fruitful ministries aren’t always big,
We need to value proven ministry and time-honored faithfulness.
Maybe on a Monday Morning the Preacher could have written this:
“Just as you’ll never understand the mystery of life forming in a pregnant woman, so you’ll never understand the mystery at work in all that God does. Go to work in the morning and stick to it until evening without watching the clock. You never know from moment to moment how your work will turn out in the end” Ecclesiastes 11:5-6 (MSG).
Blessings to all God’s faithful servants this Monday morning. Larry Neville