Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Keeping the Wrong Statistics. . .
The Church is no less tempted by such things. We hear all the time about how many people churches worship (what an odd expression, really) or how many dollars supported the work of the kingdom in that place (even though the bulk of them might be spent on creature comforts for the folks already there). Pastor are also easily intimidated by the almighty reign of numbers to define success, worth, and value. How many of us mumble our numbers out when someone asks how large is the congregation we serve? We have learned to be comforted by big numbers, intimidated by size, shamed by small numbers, and marginalized by our diminutive statistics.
Before I go on, I must say one thing. I am in no way suggesting that lazy pastors and self-centered parishes are justified in failing to be anything less than robust in their witness and generous in their service to those beyond the pale of the Sunday attendance. No one ought to be comfortable behind locked doors, facing a shrinking congregation, while refusing to carry the Word and work of the kingdom to those not yet of that kingdom. If we do all we are able to do and the church does not grow, fine. But if we have done nothing except wait for God to produce a miracle, then we should not be commended for choosing to bide our time while unmistakable opportunities to speak boldly God's Word of rescue and act compassionately on behalf of those in need have passed us by.
That said, the success of the Church and of the particular parish and its pastor are not testified simply in numbers. Christ has never promised nor suggested that the Church would eventually dominate the world. Just the opposite, Jesus wondered if He would find faith on earth when He comes in His glory. As tempting and as easy as numbers and statistics are to define our success and give us value in what we do, we dare not allow only these to define us.
In fact, if these are the only statistics we keep, we are keeping the wrong statistics. The whole nature of the renewed sense of visitation in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is born of the painful realization that the health and life of a parish and its pastor cannot be adequately ascertained by comparing last year with this year in worship attendance, baptisms, confirmations, income, etc... Too often by the time attendance and money indicate problems, another indicator has already been sounding an alarm. You find this out not by filling our forms and emailing them to an office; you find this out only by knowing the parish and its pastor. You find this out by faithful visitation. Parishes and pastors need to be transparent in what is being believed, confessed, and taught, how the work of the kingdom is approached and accomplished, whether or not the heart of the people and the heart of the whole congregation lie in the Word and Table of the Lord, whether people are being called to repentance and faithfully absolved, and whether or not the vocation of the baptized is being vigorously and intentionally encouraged.
If the only thing we know about our parishes is how many people were in church this week and last year at this same time, how many baptisms and confirmations have taken place, and how much money has come in through the offering plate, we do not know our parishes very well. If the only statistics we keep are the ones easy to define and chart, then we are keeping the wrong statistics.