Doing Ministry by the Numbers.


John 4: 1-3 (MsgB)

Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that He and John performed (although His disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning Him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.

Before I start this blog today, let me tell you that I firmly believe that God is truly interested in numbers. If He weren’t, I sincerely doubt there would be a book in the Bible entitled, ‘Numbers’!

But, here’s my big beef with numbers.

We, in the American church, are consumed with numbers. Especially BIG numbers. As a matter of fact, when it comes to numbers in the American church, the bigger the number, the more successful you are! For years now, I’ve called myself a 3-B pastor who’s in recovery…trying my very best to stop measuring “success” (or failure) in ministry by measuring the size of three specific components. I call them the 3-B’s:



(B)utts in the seats.

So here’s how it works in Americanized church. If our 3-B numbers add up well and are increasing annually, our ministries are a huge success. But let any of the numbers in any of these three arenas (Buildings, Bucks, Butts) take a dip and we’re talking failure beyond belief. Am I right, pastors? Or am I right?

And, so it is in Jesus’ day. Numbers truly mattered. Particularly to the established ‘church’ of the day. In this case, the synagogue rulers are found tracking the number of those being baptized by Team One: John the Baptist and his disciples, versus Team Two: Jesus of Nazareth and His followers. Too bad they didn’t have any reality TV back then. I’m sure if it would have been available, this numbers competition in baptisms would have been a big blockbuster on Jerusalem-based TV stations!

But as we’ve been reading in John’s gospel, neither Team A Captain, John the Baptist, nor Team B Leader, Jesus, has any apparent interest in making Kingdom ministry into a competition of numbers. Now please, don’t misunderstand. The fact that numbers of people were being baptized was a great thing to both parties, but when it came to marking those baptismal numbers down on a tote board so that everyone could compare those numbers, that’s when Jesus left town.

Makes me wonder how many times Jesus has walked out on some of our ministries when it all becomes a comparison game of numbers? Apparently, the Son of God has very little interest in tote boards, adding machines, or calculators. As I see it, Jesus cares very little when you or I meet our numerical objectives in ministry. To Him, the only number that truly counts is ONE.

ONE Lord. ONE Faith. ONE Baptism.

ONE Way. ONE Truth. ONE Life.

ONE Person. ONE Christ.

ONE Salvation. ONE Changed Life.

ONE Heaven. ONE Hell.

The power of ONE.

For His ONE Name’s sake.

Now…those numbers will never lie!

My prayer: Lord, set me free from the numbers game that so rules the way we evaluate success in Kingdom ministry. May I be more like Jesus and simply walk away when counting numbers becomes the key issue in doing ‘successful’ ministry for God. May I bring the numbers game under Your Lordship, allowing me to look more to You for success in ministry than that freakin’ tote board we have over in the corner of the sanctuary! For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: Why am I allowing the 3-B’s to control my view of successful ministry? How can I let go of being consumed by Building size, Bucks in the bank, and the number of Butts in the seats, and begin counting more important things that truly matter to Christ instead?

So what is God speaking to you today as we follow Jesus the Nazarene, the Leader of the Church?

Between now and the end of 2015, we will be sharing with you a blog series we first developed in 2013. We call it Follow The Leader: Re-defining Successful Leadership from the Gospel of John. In order to keep all 46 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Follow The Leader home page for ease of use. ENJOY!

Click here to go onto the next blog in the series.

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