Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. John 4:1-2 (TM)
I virtually rolled my eyes when I read these verses this morning, but I realize I can’t point the finger at the Pharisees without three fingers pointing back at me. How we love to play the numbers game, don’t we?
- How many people attend your church?
- How many records or books has he sold?
- How much money does he make?
- How many people came forward?
- How many people came to the event?
Our church is doing a survey for some research firm about our "spiritual life" but when I took it the other day I was surprised how many questions revolved around the numbers…
- How many people did you invite to church?
- How many people did you talk to about Jesus?
- How many times did you read your Bible?
- How many times did you go to church?
- How many dollars do you make?
- How many dollars do you give?
I realize that numbers are a way to give tangible evidence to intangible things (I’m partner in a research company, for cryin’ out loud). I sometimes wonder, however, what our true motives are when we play the numbers game. Sure, I hear the research company and our church staff feeding us the line "if I’m growing spiritually there will be evidence of the actions and behaviors that are contributing to the growth – we’re simply trying to measure what people are doing to grow spiritually and how the church is supporting that".
Nevertheless, it was so easy to fill out the survey and not secretly feel judged by the numbers: "I post chapter-a-day five times a week so I’m REALLY spiritual there. I bet I’m MORE SPIRITUAL than most people!…Oh crap, I haven’t invited anyone to church in a long time. I’m a total loser…Dang! I’m not serving the needy either – I’m getting closer to the ‘goat’ side of Matthew 25 all the time!"
But it wasn’t about the numbers for Jesus in John 4 and it’s not about the numbers today. I think it was a conscious choice of John to share the story of the Samaritan woman after he shared about the Pharisees turning Jesus and John’s work into the Baptismal Bowl competition. The Kingdom is about a quiet conversation next to well with a social outcast. It’s about divine appointments unlooked for.
Maybe those types of moments can be quantified, but I’m not sure they should be.