Friday, July 13, 2007

Numbers

I heard an interesting story of a church that was practically resurrected from almost total annihilation. It had risen to a size of more than 3,000 before what is known as the “fall” took place. That is, the pastor of the church had run off with his secretary.

This villainous pastor had likely preached wonderful messages of love and forgiveness. Surely he was well endowed with just the right mixture of charisma and organizational genius. Likely before the “fall” he was being asked from far and wide to tell an eager throng how he had risen above the ordinary. I’m sure his CD’s and podcasts were well known. Likely a television program was about to air because of his charismatic personality. How could he give up all that power and adoration and money for some lowly secretary?

The people were shocked. Their king, I mean pastor, was not satisfied with the praises of his people any longer. Had they not given him their rapt attention and time and money and love? They felt abandoned and justly went elsewhere seeking another pastor to guide them in their spiritual journey. After all, they had been well taught by this pastor how much they needed a pastor to serve and adore.

Did I say a resurrection had occurred? After the “fall”, the church had dwindled to a paltry 300 when the next man of vision managed to step on to the stage. Some were not sure of this young upstart but he quickly won them over with his charisma, passion and in his own words, control. (I’m sure the villainous pastor that had preceded him had those same qualities as well.)

Happily today, the new guy is traveling far and wide letting others know how God redeemed his church (he was one of the paltry 300 hangers on) from the brink of destruction and today it stands as a shining symbol of 3,000+ who truly know how to follow such a wonderful pastor.

Why is it that we fail to comprehend the lessons of Samson, Saul, David, Solomon and the never ending list of kings who self-destructed in the Old Testament? Power and numbers were never meant to be handled by mere men with feet of clay. Has anyone ever heard of Gideon?

Church history informs us that at the end of the first century there were about 25,000 Christians. At the close of the third century there were some 20 million. This was done without buildings or professional clergy as we know them today.

Under Constantine’s rule (323 AD), Christianity was legalized, the first church buildings were erected and professional clergy became the elite religious rulers of the day. What couldn’t be stopped by the edge of the sword was almost destroyed through beautiful buildings and professional clergy. By 380 AD it was once again declared illegal for house churches to exist. Their small numbers were apparently a threat to the large, centralized, corporate structures. Nothing new for the early church. But it was the first time in church history that persecution was being perpetrated by the hands of those who met in beautiful buildings, administrated by paid clergy declaring themselves to be the true representatives of Christ on Earth.

I hope this young pastor whom this story is about is able to fight off the destructive process of the praises of God's people combined with the tantalizing elixir of ever increasing numbers. I fear for him as praise and numbers tendeth to corrupt or in the case of pastors, simply cause them not to care about who comes and who goes as long as the numbers keep increasing.

But why fear? There will always be the next guy waiting in the wings willing to serve this idol called numbers.

2 comments:

Nick Hourd said...

If numbers are a good indicator of spirituality or God's presence, we should all attend the Superbowl. It IS on a Sunday after all.

David Grant said...

The most influential pastor in America is Joel Osteen.
http://www.thechurchreport.com/mag_article.php?mid=875&mname=January

And he is in a stadium with big numbers to validate his influence.