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Steven S. Billings

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Friday, February 23, 2007

THE BOOK OF NUMBERS

One of my favorite seminary professors used to say: "'Numbers' isn't the only book in the Bible!" How true that is! But how easily we drift toward that premise. It seems that nowadays all we do is watch the numbers. How many did we have in church today? How many communed? How much was in the offering? Some people even go further and keep track of how long the sermon was, how long the church service was. What was the exact time that the service started? What time did we get out of Bible class?

In some congregations, people even dig into such things as: How many hours did the pastor work this week? How many calls did he make? Are we getting our money's worth out of him?

Synod-wide now we have this movement called Ablaze! in which each of our congregations, and all our members, are being "encouraged" to keep track of how many "Gospel contacts" are made each week, so that by the year 2017 we can declare that we have reached 100 million souls for Christ. Say what?! Yeah, you heard me right. Now, just what a "Gospel contact" is, no one can say for certain, and there is absolutely no way of verifying whether these "contacts" are legitimate, but we are being "encouraged" (pressured, cajoled) to register on the Synod's Ablaze! website and log in the numbers, regardless.

What's it all about? Why do we do this? What is it about us that we seem to have this need to quantify everything? I mean, did Jesus send us out in Matthew 28:19-20, saying: "Go therefore and keep a record of all the contacts you make and tally them up so that you can boast about them to the world?" You know He didn't. What He said was: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Evangelism is not about counting numbers. The mission of the church is not about quantifying what we do! It's not about us!! It's about Christ! How do we make disciples? According to Jesus, we baptize and teach. And what does He offer as comfort and assurance? Does He say: "And, lo, you will have great numbers to report"? No! He says: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age"!

Our comfort, our assurance, our confidence, is not to be found in how well we meet our annual budget, or how many attendees, communicants, etc., we can report to our district every year. Neither the size of the offering nor the number of those who respond to our message is to be the measuring stick of our success as a synod, as a congregation, or as individual members, for that matter. What matters is the message. What matters is the grace of God in Christ and the means He has given us to confer that grace: His Word and Sacraments baptizing and teaching.

Is it our concern to get the message out? Is it our concern to keep the message straight? If so, then we can be assured of Christ's abiding presence, and if He is with us, as He promised, then He will add growth when and where it pleases Him. Let's keep the teaching pure. Let's do our best to get the message out. But let's leave the tallying of souls to Him. Walking by faith and not by sight, let us entrust ourselves to Him who judges (counts, tallies, quantifies) justly.

1:27 pm est

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

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