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September 04, 2010

Church Math

I am never good at math and might never be. As a full blooded Chinese – I am a rare case of someone who is Asian 100% Chinese who sucks at Math. My first failure was in Math. My college Math courses brought me to my knees. The only subject that I fasted for is Math. I am close to my Math teacher because I need the grace of my Math teacher.

BUT…..

there is one MATH that I am tempted to excel on. It is CHURCH MATH. A Math that is not God-ordained. Some pastors treat it as a curse while some pastors treat as a measurement for success – two extremes to watch out for when it comes to CHURCH MATH.

So what is church math? It is the numbers of baptism, the amount of tithes and offering, and the church attendance. Nothing wrong with it especially if the numbers are high and the cashflow is positive but when numbers go down – most of us dread church math.

Nothing wrong with counting people and tithes and managing your church as a faithful steward of your leadership and God’s church but I love how Dustin Neely blogged about pastors being justified by church attendance.

The equations on the chalkboard of our heart usually go something like this:

Lots of people = Visible success in ministry = I am happy

Fewer people = Failure in ministry = I am depressed

Anybody else think that math is a little fuzzy?

I think it is a little fuzzy and at times I fall into that trap of church math.

So what do we do so as not to fall into the trap of church math. Here are some important reminders from Pastor Dustin Neely:

1. Define yourself by what Jesus did on the cross, not what you do on Sunday.

Though we all know this is true, we often struggle to believe it when it counts. To see change happen, we must do what it takes to write this gospel truth on our hearts, so that it is ready when we need it most. As we grow in our ability to use the gospel in daily life, we will be better equipped to fight the enemy’s lies.

2. Be careful with counting.

As I said before, I’m not telling you not to keep track of things. I’m simply saying that we recognize attendance records can be like handguns—helpful in some situations and dangerous in others. Ask yourself questions like, “Why am I watching the attendance so closely? For Jesus or for me?” Remember, our worth as followers of Jesus and as pastors is not wrapped up in how many people attend our services, but in the gospel.

3. Be careful with how you define success.

Though our “bigger is better” mentality may tempt us to think otherwise, a big crowd doesn’t necessarily signify a faithful ministry. In fact, as we study the Scriptures we see a number of “successful” preachers who weren’t always surrounded by huge crowds—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and at times, even Jesus. While we can take heart in this fact, we must also guard ourselves from going too far in the other direction as well. Pastoring a small church doesn’t necessarily make us more faithful, just as pastoring a large church doesn’t make us unfaithful.

4. Be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Nearly every pastor I know struggles with this issue. Will you join me in serving your fellow strugglers and not let “So what are you guys running these days?” be the first question you ask your pastor friends the next time you talk to them? Ask about their soul, their family, or how they are engaging their community. As we do, I think we will do the kingdom a great service.

Our justification is in the gospel, not how many people attend our services. What are you looking to for your justification today?

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