The Number Game, by Kari Anderson of the CLCC

(The CLCC is one of the numerous confessional groups that posts on the BJS website. For a complete list see our Regular Columns page.)

I’ve been noticing a lot of numbers around lately. There are big numbers and little numbers. I’d like to discuss some of these numbers and what they can possibly mean. Numbers aren’t bad, in and of themselves, but sometimes it’s what can be done with the numbers that can make them either good or bad.

Number #1: Reach 100,000,000 million by the year 2017

I checked the LCMS site and as of Feb 3, 2009, there have been 9,610,614 people who have been reportedly talked to about the Gospel. What does this mean? We should ask this as Lutherans. It is good to share and confess our faith with others. “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you” 1 Peter 3:15b. We, as Lutherans should not be ashamed of the Gospel. God placed us in our vocations to be where we’re planted to serve our neighbors. We live our lives knowing we are covered by Christ through our baptism, but we usually don’t try to keep count of how many people we mention the name of Jesus to each day. I don’t think we should keep count, because in order to do that, we need to start looking inwardly at ourselves and what we do, not outwardly at what Jesus did for us, and at our neighbor, whom God wants us to serve. We could become boastful of the number or we could fall into despair thinking we’re not “doing” enough. Even when we are faithfully filling out the vocations that God placed us in to serve our neighbor. Anyway, I think God really is in control of whom, when, and how the Gospel message will reach them. His timing is always perfect. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

I heard from someone that it was good to give our youth a goal of how many people to talk to each day. That bothered me, because I thought of how this could affect the child. One girl might be extremely shy, yet a good student, honor her parents, a good friend, faithful in the vocations God put her in, but when told she has to make a number and report on it, she might fall into the despair of being a failure. Then another girl might be very bold and can easily talk to more than that number in a given day. She gladly boasts and reports how many critical events she was successful at, and it makes the shy girl feel even worse, but the bold girl is sinning by being prideful. Either way, as I see it, the number game is bad for our youth.

Number #2: 2,000 new mission starts by 2017; current number started: 498

I’ve been noticing these new mission starts. It seems I’ve noticed something pretty common about most of them. They lack the name Lutheran. They include Jefferson Hills Church from St Louis, MO that made the TV news during Lent 2008 with the billboards, then there’s Epic Church in MI with its Lenten sex series and Star Wars series the year before, and now we have The Alley in Cottage Grove, MN and its celebrating of the Lord’s Supper during a church potluck. I don’t know about you, but to me that just isn’t keeping our Sacraments sacred. These churches aren’t Lutheran in their practice at all. I know that JHC and The Alley received Ablaze grant money to start. The Alley has not been accepted yet in the MNS district because it doesn’t meet the guidelines they set for being a mission start. They don’t only lack the Lutheran name, but everything we associate with being Lutheran. I know these are just three examples of 498, but I’ve also heard of many others that don’t have the name Lutheran in their name. The really sad thing about this is, I know of one church in our Minnesota North District that wants to be distinctly Lutheran in both doctrine and practice, and they are not accepted. Go figure! With these examples, what percentage of the mission starts that we’re paying for are even Lutheran?

Number #3: Congregations with over 750 or over 1000 members get an extra vote (from the Blue Ribbon Task Force report)

Now, on the outside this may seem to be a better representative of the people in our synod, but God says “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” Matthew 18:20 Congregations are members of our synod, not individuals. Each congregation is special. Wherever the Word and Sacraments are properly administered there is the church. I think that it could be too tempting for people (after all our churches are run by poor, miserable sinners) whose churches are close to the number line to either weaken their theology by “giving itching ears what they want to hear” in order to get a few more numbers in the pews, or to not go through their membership rosters to eliminate people that haven’t been at their church to worship in years, due to moving, or starting to attend a church that doesn’t require you to switch your membership. Then they could keep their extra vote, or gain another vote. Either way, we sinners don’t need more to be tempted with.

These aren’t all of the number games being played, but these are the ones that came to my mind. To me, they show that playing the numbers is not the best way to look at the way God would have us operate as a church. Where I am wrong, I hope you will correct me.

The number game – may the Lord have mercy on us all!

Kari Anderson

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