Have you ever played the numbers game? I mean, whatever party, event, or meeting you’ve attended and sat there with your internal calculator waiting for the moment when the number of people you first envisioned coming finally show up?
5 people at the gathering?
10 people at the dinner?
20 in your “small group”? (Guys let’s be honest that’s no longer a small but a “large” group…)
100 at your morning worship service?
When is the point when it tips in favor of feeling satisfied, accomplished, successful, and fufilled?
I’ve been thrust into leadership positions on countless occasions but yet still the same inevitable question comes up: When will this thing get big? When will it become what I’ve always dreamed it could be?
It’s the “dream” every leader/pastor/youth minister might have and the vision they’ve run with: if I can just get here, then my thing will take off. But I want to focus on the conundrum of this ongoing hamster wheel known as the numbers game.
I don’t want to hammer down on any godly vision the Lord might have given, rather simply take steps forward to be useful and confident in love as leaders despite our current numbers situation. How many people attend your bible study? House church? Youth Group? Sunday service? Regardless of where you’re at, the Lord is looking for leaders who will give themselves to exalting God and leading with humility regardless of what numbers may come.
Our wild and wooly friend, John the Baptist, is the perfect example of this numbers phenomenon. Talk about a guy with tons of prophesied potential, an angel showing up declaring he’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mothers womb as the crowds exclaimed “what kind of child will this be?” (Luke 1:66) He was as focused and prepared as they get, spending his early decades in the furnace of transformation out in the desert (spiritual disciplines, fasting, solitude, silence, giving, etc.). John starts his public ministry at age 30, and knocks it out of the park!
5 “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” -Matthew 3:5-6
He was the ministry everyone was talking about, the one that had the bold, triumphant message that people flocked to the wilderness to hear. Jesus said he was “more than a prophet” and that his heart of obedience and dedication described him as the ‘greatest born of a woman”. (Matt. 11:11)
What a title. And yet John saw the swells of souls for only one year! Think about that…
One year of transforming lives out of darkness, seeing the worst of the worst in society come to repentance without a gimmick, without lights, without any social media. He was the real deal. John had the ministry, the title, the character and the fruit to show that his ministry should be thriving for years to come.
And yet this was not so. Within a year, John’s crowds ceased, people flocked to Jesus and our locust-eating friend was soon beheaded by Herod. (Matt. 14:10) Even John’s disciples didn’t see it coming:
26 And they came to John and said to him “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and ALL are coming to Him!” –John 3:26 (NKJV)
John’s buddies are saying “What gives? Everyone is leaving!”
And John’s response might be one of the most treasured passages I’ve received in my short time in church leadership. To me it provides the perfect perspective and response of how every leader should handle the highs and lows of numbers:
27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 “He must increase, but I must decrease. –John 3:27-30 (NKJV)
John is rightfully assessing their numbers non-sense and declaring each of the following:
- 1. We must understand how to be obedient in the “small things” even if all we’ll ever have is a “small” thing. Hudson Taylor put it best “A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a great thing.” I’m assuming that 99% of all ministries were never meant to be a “big thing”. Instead, the grace the Lord gives is not always for numbers but for leaders to handle people and hearts well.
- 2. We must primarily learn to live before God’s eyes and adopt God’s value system and His ways as ours. Numbers do not validate our ministry. What God calls great is what matters.
- 3. We must not “flirt” with the Bride, instead point them straight to Jesus. That would be the worst thing at any wedding if a groomsman was caught flirting with the bride. And yet John says we cannot look at people this way for our own gain or ministerial dreams.
- 4. We must place our worth and others as a Bride being prepared for Jesus. We are leading people unto a day they are to be married to Jesus, as Paul also declares. (2 Cor. 11:2) This needs to be the lens of our own lives.
Whether the numbers swell, the crowds come, or the ministry bottoms out, the joy has always been the same: hearing and knowing the voice of our bridegroom. Let us not validate ourselves on the next number that comes through the door, but knowing our place in the story and how He feels about us.
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