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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Numbers Game

“My people have a law never to speak of sizes or numbers to you…. You do not understand and it makes you do reverence to nothings and pass by what is really great.”

Oyarsa, an angel in C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet.

I recently heard someone say of a mutual friend, “He’s called to greatness,” by which he meant a crowded church, a large budget, a high profile work. I couldn’t help but wonder, what makes us think that God’s call is always upward mobile?

George MacDonald wrote in a letter to his father in 1847: “Perhaps the best thing for me would be a quiet country charge—small enough to enable me to attend thoroughly to all the pastoral duties, and intelligent enough to urge me to use my intellect and holy enough to make us advance each other in holiness. Ambition points to the metropolis—but is not ambition a terrible thing for a motive to the ministry?”

Are there not people in small communities who need to be taught and loved? Why wouldn’t God send some of his best workers to labor an entire lifetime in a small place? He’s not willing that any should perish. Is it not true that when difficulties mount and numbers are scarce a deeper a more lasting work may accrue?

Small churches make up about 80% of all churches here in Idaho. Most number 100 or less. Small is the rule, not the exception. It seems it’s always been that way. Paul, when he wrote to the Romans, mentioned four house churches, small enough to fit in someone's home. Their effectiveness was not hindered by their size.

Think of Jesus’ ministry: it started large—5,000 people or more—and grew smaller every day. “Many left him,” we’re told, a state of affairs that would throw most of us into panic.

Our culture equates size with success. Bigger is better. It takes a strong person to resist that craze, especially if he or she is laboring in a small place. As Piglet says, “Its hard to be brave, especially when you’re Very Small.”

It’s not that numbers don’t matter. The Apostles counted the Church in round numbers. There’s a whole book in the Old Testament that bears that name. Numbers represent unique individuals with eternal needs. We should work and pray for many to enter the kingdom, but we shouldn’t use numbers as a basis for esteem. We should treat them with the attitude of John the Baptist who mused as his congregation dwindled away, “A man can only receive what he has been given from heaven.”

John’s sense of worth did not come from his followers, but from the One whom he followed: “The friend (John) who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine.”

Our Lord does not call us to find joy in the amount of work we do, or the number of people who are a part of that work, but in doing our work—whatever it is—for his sake. Serving him in a small place is not a stepping–stone to greatness. It is greatness. Jesus himself set the example: Nazareth was a little place, and so was Galilee.

DHR

2 comments:

FIELD Applications Engineer said...

Hi David

I encountered an article written by you on Ezekiel many years ago. I appreciated it and would like to share something regarding the Mt of Olives with you. On this blog, which I just read, I have the following comment: When God asked me to give up my dream, and I embraced the dream He gave me in its place, the path I have walked has been filled with pain, but by the grace of God there has always been the revealings of His love, mercy, faithfulness and power along the way. Truly, it is only when we give up on self that we can be clothed with the wedding garment, the righteousness of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Blessings.

Dieter Schlaepfer said...

Plus, did you know that angels are required to fill any empty seats?

Yep. Part of their job. ;-)