Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Does It All Add Up?

We live in a church context that is frequently dominated by numbers. The higher the numbers the more spiritual the church or ministry. We live in an age of mega-churches and the exaltation of the leaders of mega-churches. However, as in all things there is the danger of a reaction in the opposite direction. We can automatically condemn large numbers as being evidence of ungodliness and catering to the world. There is always a danger of people on both sides of an issue being pushed to extremes in reaction to the other. But where does the truth lie?

God's criterion is not numbers but faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:1,2). Further, the only ultimate judge of that faithfulness is God (1 Corinthians 4:3-5). Now the question must be asked, will not faithfulness produce numbers? The answer is, not necessarily. Scripture tells us that to the world at large, which wants to hear what it prefers, the gospel is a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:22-25; 2 Corinthians 4:3,4; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). Now this does not prove that every one who attracts large numbers is wrong. But it calls into question the idea that they must necessarily be right. Ultimately, what determines the increase when the leaders are faithful is not their ability but the power of God (1 Corinthians 3:4-9; Psalms 127:1,2; Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:10).

But how does this work out in practice? Jonah preached, resulting in a great revival, and then went out and pouted because God spared the city of Nineveh (see the book of Jonah). Jeremiah wept over the destruction of Jerusalem, but had few if any results (see Jeremiah and Lamentations). The Lord Jesus was followed by multitudes (Matthew 4:25), but many stopped following Him when He pressed His message home (John 6:66), and in the end the crowd called for His crucifixion (Mark 15:11-15). The apostles enjoyed great success (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 17:4), but they also faced great opposition (Acts 8:1-3; 14:19; 17:5).What I would conclude is that trying to evaluate a ministry one way or the other by numbers is a mistake. There is certainly a point in examining what we are doing and honestly asking, are we doing the right thing? And if numbers are low, we may want to at least ask why. But the issue ultimately comes down to faithfulness, including faithfulness in proclaiming what God has actually said. For it is His truth we must proclaim (Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; John 17:17), regardless of the numbers.

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