In a society controlled by corporations, one in which people equal units and units equal money, numbers reign supreme. After all, the more people who respond to your ad, attend your seminar, vote for your candidate, or attend your church, the more money that is generated for your business, your stockholders, your management team, or your owners.
Christians are alive and well in this worship of numbers. As any visiting missionary drumming up support can attest, “souls saved,” “people reached,” or “local population participating in Ministry Outreach A,” is a major factor in releasing funds, with things like, “hurting people we’ve listened to,” or, “amount of hours we spend interacting with human beings and forming meaningful relationships” not really worthy of investment. If it can’t be counted, it doesn’t, well, count.
Churches themselves qualify their success rate by the number of regulars as well as new attendees, although regarding the latter, a plus factor of 2 families in Church A generally results in a 2-family decrease from Church B. Mega-churches, with their age- and economically segregated groups and programs, garner more respect from men (and, it is assumed, from God) than small, scrabbly little assemblages, which themselves keep weekly tabs of who showed up for “worship” service, Adult and Family Fellowship, and mid-week small groups, not to mention paying strict attention to financial contributions.
And the Pew Research Forum, which for some reason is accepted as the voice of authority regarding all things religious, regularly releases the numbers with carefully guided interpretations — U.S. Public becoming less religious by “key measures of what it means to be a religious person.”
The Numbers Game
People equal units, and units equal money — this is the way the world goes round, it is the system upon which the world thrives, and while we as Christians live in this environment, we are not called to embrace it as warmly as we do.
God is not counting the number of Likes on His Facebook, retweets on His Twitter, hits on His blog, or dollars in His bank account, this latter, presumably, managed by a series of celebrity Christians and internationally sanctioned, globally approved God-invoking corporations that reach the world, or families, or workers, or any other pseudonym for the masses of units that are nameless, faceless, and void of significance other than their paltry supply of copper coins.
In a world such as this, where numbers dominate because they translate into dollars, there is no room for ordinary, unimportant people like fishermen or women who draw water from a well. Frankly, we are unable to command those numbers and corresponding respect which are the principle signs, we are told, that the gospel is getting out there, and people being reached. Better to support the fine, established, large ministries, foundations, and conventions which successfully reach the world for Christ in a way that we individuals could never do. For convenience, regular payments can be billed directly through our credit or debit cards.
But is this God’s view?
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?” Jesus asked the crowd in Luke 12:6.
“Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted.
“Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
God does not count people the way we do, nor does He focus on numbers — how much we make, how many people we “reach,” the percentage of chairs filled each church service — as a means of worth or value. Tellingly, it is the number of hairs on each of our individual heads — something over which we have no control — that matters: our names, our dreams, our fears, our hopes, our needs. Indeed, the few times large numbers are mentioned in the gospels (5,000 or 4,000 men, a quantity now shrugged as minor when it comes to social media followers), the central point was His concern for people:
“I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:2)
Putting Numbers in Perspective
The number three is kind of important because that’s a long time to go without eating much. And while 5,000 men and attendant women and children could generate a decent amount of cash if each family gave the equivalent of today’s dollar to hear Jesus teach, He never made it His business to treat His Father’s message as a business.
God’s business doesn’t have to do with generating money or amassing numbers; it has to do with individual people, and in that respect, there is no better way to meaningfully reach individual people than one by one, something each of us, as individuals, is uniquely poised to do.
“My friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4)
Paul’s argument to the Romans, while it says much that we pay little attention to regarding grace versus the constant drive to please, and appease, God, also directs us to leave behind the ways, the wisdom, and the wiles of the world — this world that relies so heavily upon numbers, statistics, quantities, Likes, reposts, indexes, and votes as a means to judge worth.
In Christ, we exchange the slavery of the world of men, with its drive to create wealth (for a few) and control nations (by a few), for the teachings and the life of God who walked on earth: one man who died for the many so that the many could be free.
That is our central message to others, but if we don’t get it ourselves, if we find ourselves trying to reconcile the world’s values with God’s, what is the good news that we are speaking?
Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. The further I walk on an extremely narrow path, the more I realize that “not fitting in” — at school, at work, at church, within any group — is a sign that we’re listening to different music than the rest of the crowd. Step away from the noise, and see if you can hear that music.
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