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The People of God

Every once in a while I find myself talking with a stranger or catching up with an old friend. Such an occasion came this last weekend as I reunited with several old college buddies. And, as often happens at reunions, the conversation quickly turned to twenty questions: Am I married? Do I have kids? Where do I live?

Eventually, I had to tell my friends what I now do to feed myself and my family. And with some hesitancy, I told them that I now serve as a pastor.

Why the hesitancy? What could keep me from freely proclaiming myself as a servant of the Lord? Simply: I know what the follow up question is going to be. It is almost inevitable:

"So, how big is your church?"

It is amazing how often people ask me this.

And let me just say this: I hate this question. I think it is a horrible, God-awful question.

The people who ask the question aren't bad people. It's like my old college buddies. I have nothing against them; in fact, I appreciate and love them. But, as much as I love them, I really cannot stand that question.

And the reason that I hate this question is that it is oozing with misperceptions and false cultural values. For one, there is the assumption that it is my church, that somehow my talent or work or energy have created and sustained and built this community. That, of course, is complete bogus and most of the pastors I know who fall into actually believing this sentiment end up running on treadmill of do-it-all that is neither sustainable nor helpful.

But, there is more. There is also implicit assumption that a church can be designated or defined by a number, and while it is true that facts and figures do help us understand or comprehend things, it is also true that ours is a culture where human beings and communities are continuously devalued and are wrongly described by life-less numbers. We live in the world where McDonald's has now served billions and billions. Ours is the age where the local hardware store can't stand up to Walmart. Well, I want to stand in opposition to such forces. I believe in the value of specific individuals over the profit of major corporations. I believe in the worth of communities over individual gains.

So, when someone asks me how big my church is, I feel a deep urge to help them rethink their question with me. I want to help people see that the reason I love my work is that there is no way to quantify it. I want people to realize that good communal work done in the service of God is done in ways that require more than a fact or figure. It - thankfully - can never be summed up with one number. No, thankfully, pastoral work ... like being a part of a church ... is something that is intrinsically alive because of God's loving activity. It goes beyond stats and into the realm of flesh and blood. The Church is defined by Christ and by the individual members of the body.

And, this gets to my real feeling. When people ask me the "How big is your ..." question, what I really want to do is tell them about the people, the individual members of the community that I am a part of. I long to relate what a gift it is to live within that community. I want to tell them how much of a blessing it is to know and feel that my life is somehow very much bound up with the ups and downs of a wide community.

Because you cannot put a number on community. You cannot put a number on God's work and Kingdom. All you can do is work within it and experience the grace, the humility, the struggle, the loss, the gain, and the hope that exists within.

Which is why when people ask me how big my church is, I need to say, "I don't know. Why don't you come and join us and find out?"



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