God and Numbers

Does God Value Numbers?

In his sermon on Sunday, Chris said that God values numbers, because numbers represent people. When I first heard it, I wasn’t sure he was right. As an Executive Pastor I look at numbers and spreadsheets and systems and processes a lot to try and find where we are doing well, and how we can be more effective where we aren’t doing so well. I’ve always had a struggle with numbers. On the surface it seems so calloused and businesslike to use numbers to evaluate how a church is doing. So I’ve always struggled with the way most churches evaluate themselves, and how one of the first questions pastors ask each other at a conference is how big is your church.

It didn’t help when I was reading through 2 Samuel 24, and David decides to number the people of Israel. His advisors plead with him not to, but he goes ahead with his plan anyway. As soon as, he finishes counting the people, he realizes he has sinned. I can imagine him dropping to his knees as he says, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly” in verse 10. How could this reaction from David, and the punishment from God that followed come from simply counting the people? It took me a while to realize that David wasn’t just counting the people, he was counting to measure his success. He wanted to see how great he was, to measure his accomplishments, by finding out exactly how big his army was. It was a sin of pride, and a lack of trust in God to provide the necessary forces in battle.

I finally realized it isn’t the numbers, or counting people in itself that is wrong or sinful, its the reason why you are counting. When David was counting it was to grow his ego. In Acts 2, when they count 3,000 souls, they are showing how God is moving and changing the lives of many. It even says in the next paragraph that, “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). It was God who was getting the glory, not Peter and his great sermon, not the apostles, but God.

As we look at our church, and what God is doing, and how fast we are growing, we can’t look at the numbers and give ourselves credit. It isn’t our pastors, or elders, or community group leaders, or children’s ministry that is adding to our number day by day. It is God who is adding to our number day by day. As I count people and know that those numbers represent people. But more than that, they represent changed lives. One of those numbers is Scott, who wanted to make the decision to follow Christ, but wanted to make sure he wasn’t making a halfhearted decision. When he decided to follow Jesus, his life changed. He is doing things and seeking out opportunities that I never would have imagined. One of those numbers is Mark, who wrestled with trusting his life to Jesus, and made the decision to follow and then got baptized and married on the same day. This could go on and on. The stories of what God is doing in our church are unbelievable.

So now, as I stand in the back of the service and count, I don’t just count numbers, I count people, and not just people, but people whose lives are being changed, whether they are exploring God for the first time, or “growing” more mature in their faith. I know that only God can bring the harvest that we are seeing. Which means our numbers are a reason to celebrate the grace and might of God, as he moves in and through our church to reach the people of Wells Branch with the life changing reality of Jesus Christ.

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