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We all know that there is a book in the Bible called Numbers.  And we know that behind every NUMBER is a person that Jesus loves and died for.  And, every pastor knows that on the day of Pentecost the NUMBER of converts was 3,000…. And that the “Lord added to their NUMBER daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Numbers aren’t wrong.  Counting isn’t evil.  In fact, a number all by itself is innocuous and amoral.  But numbers become a problem in the heart of a pastor when they move from being a point of celebration to becoming the driver of our motivation.

And for many of us, our attendance numbers get scarily tied to our identity.

I remember as a young pastor, the events I dreaded the most were pastor’s gatherings.  It wasn’t the pastors in my community that were the problem.  They were all kind-hearted, faithful shepherds.  The problem was “the” question.  And the question was certain to be asked at every gathering.  It was the number question.  “What’s your attendance?”  “How many did you have last Sunday?” 

In those days I dreaded the question.  We were a small church with very little numerical growth.  As a pastor, I knew how to play the game and when I answered “the” question, no one would have ever known how much angst the question caused in my soul.  And every time I was asked “the” question, I was tempted to exaggerate the reality of our numbers.  And on more than one occasion, I gave in to the temptation.

You see, if I am honest, I have to admit that “the” question led to feelings of failure and inadequacy. 

And this struggle wasn’t just limited to pastor’s meetings.  The truth is, I lived and died by the numbers every week.  If our attendance was up, I felt good about ministry and about me as a leader.  However, if our attendance was down, I felt inadequate and insecure.

Now, many years later, I think I can look back with greater objectivity and diagnose more accurately what was going on.  I bought the lie that all successful pastors had growing churches. Their NUMBER was always growing.  More important than the number is that the number was larger this month than it was last month.  And more than I want to admit, I longed to be seen as a success by my fellow pastors.

I suspect that this is a battle you are familiar with to some degree.  Perhaps like me, this battle has been deeper and harder than anyone would ever know.

Let me share with you some practical encouragement that I believe can help you

1.  Listen to the voice of your heavenly Father.

I love the fact that at the baptism of Jesus, God speaks blessing over the life of His Son.  Before Jesus had “accomplished” anything, His Father says “this is my son, in whom I am well-pleased.” 

The focus was on the relationship, not the size or success of his ministry.

So, let me challenge you to focus on your relationship with God.  Don’t skimp on your time with God.  As you sit in His presence and linger over His Word, may you feel His pleasure.  And, may you remember that you are loved, accepted, and pursued. 

2. Don’t fuel that which is unhealthy.

If you struggle with making growth and success an idol, then let me challenge you to starve those things that fuel an unhealthy preoccupation with success.  You might need to stop reading certain kinds of books.  You might need to take a break from some social media.  You might need to attend a different kind of conference this year.  Resist the temptation to talk about numbers with your pastor friends. Or, perhaps you need to fast from getting reports on weekly numbers at your church

Maybe this year you need to replace the mantra of “bigger and better” with the call of “closer and deeper”.

3. Surrender the growth and so-called success of your ministry to God.

Perhaps “numbers” have become an Isaac in your life and it is time to lay it on the altar.  We must realize that first and foremost this is a heart issue.  Therefore, ask God to change your heart and give you pure motives.

4. Find contentment in faithfulness. 

When I was getting ready to leave my position at Saddleback Church, there was a little voice whispering in my ear “You know, when you leave Saddleback, no one is going to care what you have to say anymore.”  I knew that Saddleback Church had given me a great platform and opportunity to influence pastors.  In those days God met me powerfully and reminded me that at the end of the day He was not going to evaluate my life based on the size of ministry, but rather on my faithfulness to what He had uniquely called me to do.

The same is true for you!



Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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Ryan Vernon

commented on Apr 12, 2023

Excellent article and reminder! Loved your "Replenish" devotional book! So good!

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