Our world is almost obsessed with numbers. We measure everything! Polling numbers, statistical numbers, financial numbers, health numbers, efficiency numbers….you get the picture. And yet, are numbers the real measure of who we are?
Right now, most mainline denominations are stressing out about the numbers – or should I say the lack of numbers in some areas. Every church supported event I attend involves ways to “turn around the numbers” or “stop the decline of the numbers.” Religion has become one more of the many numbers games in the world.
This week I went to see my doctor. I was worried about some blood work that my conference insurance had analyzed as part of our Blueprint to Wellness program. My cholesterol was a bit up from last year. My weight as well. And sometimes my blood pressure is just at the edge of what “normal” range is. I’ll admit it, I’ve been programed to use numbers as a measurement tool all of my life. And yet, those numbers just don’t show the whole picture.
I have a rare primary immunodeficiency disease (CVID) and osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. And I work full time, exercise daily, love my job, and am happier now in life than I’ve been in many years. Sure, there are bad days. But for the most part I’m doing well. My doctor affirmed this when she said, “You are doing great with all the stuff you have going on. Stop obsessing with the numbers and go live your life! Have fun! Listen to your body and rest when you need to. Eat properly and keep on exercising. You’ll be fine. I’ll see you in 6 or so months.”
I’ll admit when I left the office that day I thought, “Well that was a wasted visit! No new medications, no diet plan, nothing!” But over the past couple of days I’ve had time to soak in what she was saying to me. And because my life is so tied up in my vocation (which gives me joy most of the time!) I found so many similarities to the current state of the church.
“We are dying! Look at these numbers!” Matrixes measure our weekly attendance, giving, involvement in small groups and mission, and more. Church leadership touts the next new “pill” as the thing that will save our churches. I’ve learned the tough way that the next quick fix never works for much of anything worth doing.
I’m much more interested in longevity. Part of that however, means not becoming so obsessed and fearful of the numbers that you stop living. For example, if all I did every single day for the rest of my life was worry about how many calories I take in by counting each and every thing….what kind of a way is that to live? Or if I was so afraid of my fibromyalgia flaring that I never went for a walk or swimming? I don’t want to live in fear! I don’t want to live in obsession! Sure, I’m up for a good challenge as much as the next person, but when someone says, “Let’s go to the fair and have cotton candy and fried oreos,” I’m gonna be up for that as well.
I read a book called “I Am a Follower” by Leonard Sweet awhile back and I cannot get the idea of “FOLLOWERSHIP” out of my head. I talk about following Jesus all the time in church. “Follow Christ into the world; Where he leads we will follow; take up your cross and follow Jesus….” Jesus is the LEADER, the head, the living stone of the church. I am a follower. I will always be a follower. No matter how many leadership conferences I attend; no matter how many statistics I am bombarded with; no matter if I serve in an “official” manner or as a volunteer, I have followed Jesus where HE led since I was 14 years old.
So I’m gonna take my docs advice and live. Live true to the calling on my life as I follow Jesus. Live with excitement and compassion and love and grace. Live with balance and discernment and seeing God at work in the world. Live as Christ’s follower. That may not mean huge numbers of folks show up at my church on Sunday. That may not mean we get lots of money in the offering plates. But it may mean that folks are actively engaged in spiritual formation. It may mean that one person begins to share the stories of their faith. It may mean that brokenness is healed. And, I know that if I am faithful in FOLLOWING the living Christ rather than the numbers, I will truly live….and so will the Church.