Video: We count the things that matter the mostNov 16, 2017
We tend to count and measure the things that matter the most. It's why we count our money and balance the checkbook at the end of the month. It's why I track our business numbers just about every single day. It's why we count our kids when we get in the car.
Sometime, really, ask me about the time that Cristy drove off and left one of our kids in the house... A few blocks down the street, she turns from the driver's seat and asks the others, "Hey, where's Judah!?"
Full disclosure: I made fun of her...
... until I did the exact same thing.
I can't give you the inside scoop on her story. Here's mine: I left the school one afternoon, cruised about a mile away in the 12-pac van we drive.
The car seemed about 15-20% quieter than normal. I scanned the rearview mirror while cruising down the street at an ever-decreasing speed, knowing something wasn't quite the way it was supposed to be...
"Levi's still at school!" one of the boys exclaimed.
They said it, right as I felt it. I had, indeed, one week fresh off chiding Cristy for vacating Judah, abandoned Levi at the school he attended during that season. Yes, these episodes happened a mere 7 days apart from each other!
Right as I was turning around, I received a call from the school administrator: “Hey… ummm… did you forget something?”
Yeah, I had.
So we count our kids now- overtime we leave the house, the grocery store... even when we're walking around the neighborhood, zig-zagging our way through the sidewalks. And sometimes we still leave one behind.
Why? Because the kids matter...
On the other hand, I've never counted the number of chips left in the lunch boxes from the day on the way home from school. The thought has never crossed my mind.
Why? Because I don't care about the chips. They don't matter...
Counting things that matter the most
Leads me to this- the topic of the video above. Sometimes, I wonder if the things we count in the church reveal what really matters the most to us.
And, on the other hand, I wonder if the things we don't count reveal the things that don't really matter...
I worked in churches and faith-based nonprofits for over two decades. I still get the privilege to speak in churches today- sometimes on Sunday mornings at "big church," sometimes when we hold healing workshops on their campuses.
I've noticed that churches (and I’m totally including myself in this convo, since I used to be employed by a few and did the exact same thing) tend to count two things: nickels and noses.
Why? Because those are the things that are important to us. Those are the things that we don't want to "leave behind" like I left Levi and Cristy left Judah.
As a result, we send out the numbers of the butts in the seats and the bucks they gave to our mailing lists. We post them on the walls of our buildings. We share these numbers on Facebook + Twitter + other social feeds that can validate that we’re actually DOING something…
These numbers dominate our discussions when we're having lunch with other "church people" or when church leaders are "talking shop."
They're how we "measure up" to one another at pastors' conferences, leadership workshops, and retreats. Sure, everyone SAYS that we're not comparing, but we totally are. Like school kids comparing their little league win-loss records with one another, spiritual leaders do the exact same thing.
I've been there. Done it. Have the t-shirt.
And I have the smirks, the smiles, and the unique ways we reinterpret the data, cross-compare, rationalize, and skirt around it when we feel like we're on the downside of the comparison. We learn how to grin and spin it. We all know that the numbers matter.
The numbers of noses that were there on Sunday and the value of the nickels they dropped in the offering plate, that is. The other numbers are largely irrelevant.
We don't ask about the transformational impact the community of faith is having on the geographical area around it. That'd be a great comparison, but we don't make it. We spend 90% of our energy (or more) focused on the weekend worship service.
We don’t discuss:
- How many marriages have been salvaged and are now thriving (even though marriage was the first human institution created in Scripture and is THE image Jesus uses to denote His relationship with His Church) (see Ephesians 5:22-23; Revelation 19:7-8; 21:2, 9; 22:17)
- How many broken bodies were healed (which is the sign Jesus said would certify that the Kingdom was present) (see Matthew 10:7, Luke 11:20)
- How many people have been awakened to their true identity as Sons & Daughters of the Father, even though this is THE thing that Creation is longing to see (Romans 8:28)
- Economic change in the area… even though this was a marker of God’s blessing and presence throughout the Bible
No, we ask "How many people file in on and sit down in rows? How many people were there to look at back of the person's head in front of them?"
We’re so dialed into this that we even count the number of people who “logged on” online from somewhere outside of our building…
Really? Online "campuses."
End of story.
(Full disclosure: I'm obviously for online learning, and love the accessibility that technology affords. I think we should take advantage of all of it...)
Yes, numbers in the book of Acts
Now, don’t get me wrong. If you’re a “church-numbers” person you may be hyper-ventilating right now. Yes, I understand that Luke gives us a “number count” in the book of Acts as the Early Church begins exploding.
- There are 120 disciples in Acts 1:15.
- 3,000 are added to the Church in Acts 2:41, at Pentecost.
- The total number grows to “about 5,000” in Acts 4:4, after Peter and John are arrested for healing the lame man and preach while they’re on trial.
- By Acts 5:14 we read that the number of disciples actually begins “multiplying.”
(Hint: it begins multiplying only after they release other leaders into full-throttle ministry, though, and cease keeping ministry in the hands of a few. Up to the point when the "seven" are released in Acts 6:1f., the number of disciples only grows by "addition.")
At this point, the counting stops…
And we don’t see the numbers for any other church in any other book throughout the Bible. Just this one. In other words, this counting in the book of Acts is clearly the exception.
We, on the other hand, have made “counting” the norm.
Furthermore, in the book of Acts Luke counts “disciples”- fully devoted followers of Jesus. Not “attenders.” Not butts in seats in the building. Not the number of people who “logged on” at some point in the service from a WiFi connection or Facebook live feed (I know. They didn’t have WiFi back then… but you get the point.)
Furthermore, we don’t really read anything about how much money they gave (other than the facts that Barnabas sold a field in Acts 4:37 and gave the money to the apostles AND the church at Macedonia evidently out-gave their poverty in 2 Corinthians 9:2-5).
If they counted, they would have counted "the other way"
I know the arguments. I grew up in church. I’ve worked in churches.
“People matter to God.”
“Every number is a name and every name is a person.”
“Leave the 99 for the 1.”
(The last one is particularly ironic. By THIS logic, we would count the number of people OUTSIDE of the church on Sundays… that is, we’d keep a tally of the people we’re called to embrace with the love of the Father… the ones that need a touch of Heaven… that was the focus.)
Anyway… It’s OK to keep counting. I’m just raising the question that maybe we’re counting things that the Bible doesn’t. And that doesn’t mean we’re forbidden from doing it… it just means that…
Maybe we’ve settled for an easier count…?
And maybe we’re measuring the wrong things.
And maybe some of the burnout we see in ministry right now is due to pastors + church leaders trying to keep up with a scorecard that was never the scorecard to begin with…
Why does it matter?
Jesus never said, "Fill the building; fill the offering plate."
I know. If we lined up 10 pastors right now, 10 out of 10 would agree that He never said that. They would likely agree that other things are more important than nickels and noses.
They’d agree that Jesus said things like:
- People will know you by your love (John 13:34-35).
- You will do greater works than I did (and He never filled a building, or an offering plate) (John 14:12f.).
- The Kingdom- and everything in it- is present in you (John 17:20-21).
Some of them would point out that every time a crowd gathered for the sake of creating a big crowd, Jesus pushed on to take the Kingdom present to other places (see two different instances in both John 6:15, Mark 1:37).
So what if our measures were different?
Just thinking out loud…
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