The Numbers

You ever wonder why Paul never talks about the numbers of people he led to the Lord or the number of churches he’s planted as evidence of his success and authority?

I have.

In church leadership world this is how we show that we are successful and worthy of being listened to.   We talk about the size of the groups we lead.  We talk about how many people we have in small groups.  We talk about the number of multi-sites we’ve planted.  We talk about the number of people at our last event, or the number of people we’ve baptized, the number of people that made some kind of decision after our last worship service.  We are all about quoting numbers.

And the thirst for larger numbers seems unquenchable.

Today I’ve been listening to pod-casts from the Exponential conference that occurred in May in Orlando.  I stumbled onto them by accident last night on i-tunes (they are all free…crazy good stuff for free).   Sounds like it was a phenomenal conference.  I love the speakers I’m listening to.  They have amazing things to say.  I’m learning a ton.

But the focus of the conference is how can church planters achieve “exponential” growth.  There is a lot of talk about not just creating a new mega-church, but starting a movement – achieving numbers far beyond one measly mega-church.

Now I’ve never planted a mega-church and I’ve definitely never started a movement.  All I know is my own heart and struggle.   As I listened I couldn’t help but asked the question I started this post with.

Paul was at the center of the first great Jesus movement.  He saw the church go from being a small crew in Jerusalem to spreading all over world.  He planted churches, led people to Christ, did things most of us only dream of…he set the world on fire for Jesus.

But, as far as I can find, he never talked about numbers.  I’m not even sure he was keep count.

I think there are two things that I have gotten wrong as a church leader.  Two things that if I embraced would keep me from obsessing over numbers.  Two things that Paul understood.

#1 – It’s all about sacrificially loving individuals.

I could sight passage after passage about this (1st Corinthians 9 for the best example) but I think the place Paul most simply sums it up is Galatians 5:14 – “The entire Law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I’ve expended so much time on reaching masses of people, on effectively speaking to groups, of moving groups from one place to the next.  For Paul it was about individuals.  The question we should be asking is, “How can I best love the lost guy next door?”

#2 – Ambition is dangerous.  Humility must be pursued with disciplined passion.

Check out what Paul said in Philippians 2:3 – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition and vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.”

I’ve been struggling with this verse now for months, constantly discovering that often I justify selfish ambition, my personal dreams of greatness, with “building the church” language.  I like looking at the masses, talking about systems, and moving people from one space to another because having a large following justifies my leadership and strokes my ego.

Paul, I believe, was able to focus on loving individuals because he put his personal ambition to death.  He didn’t care if anyone ever new his name, asked him to write a book, or gave him credit for his work.  All he cared about was the message of the cross.

That is it.

People uniting to God through the blood of Jesus.

Nothing more.

I want to be more like that.

No more personal ambition.

Just loving people.

The Numbers

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