A comment was made to me this past week that I have heard on numerous occasions before and every time that I hear it I want to correct the person who said it to me.
For the past three weeks I spoke at a small church that has become quite special to me.This was the third summer in which they have asked me to fill in for their pastor while he was on holidays. Fortunately I had some open Sundays and was able to speak.
On two of those Sundays someone apologized to me shortly after my arrival for the fact that numbers were below what they usually are. They were concerned that I had come as a guest speaker and there were only a small number of people waiting to hear me.
I assured them that I didn’t mind at all. I told them that I loved small churches and numbers were irrelevant.
Each time that someone apologizes for low numbers, I wish that I had the time to expand on my answer. In most cases it is just before the start of the service and all that I have time to do is to respond with a one or two sentence comment.
So I am responding in this blog entry with the fuller answer that I wish I had time to give to all the people who have commented to me about their low numbers on a Sunday morning.
Judgment at Nuremberg
I love watching old movies. By old I mean movies that were made prior to the 1980s.
One of my favorites was made in 1961. It stars Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster and a host of other well known stars of that period. It is entitled Judgment at Nuremberg.
After the Second World War there were a series of trials held in Nuremberg, Germany at which leaders in Hitler’s regime were tried for war crimes. This particular movie portrays the trial of four judges who found innocent people guilty of crimes and sentenced them to concentration camps.
At the end of the movie Spencer Tracy, who plays the main judge in the trial, brings down his verdict. Before he does though he shares some of the thinking that went into the court’s decision. At the end of that speech he makes a statement that I have never forgotten.
“Before the people of the world let it be noted that here in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”
From the first time that I watched that scene, I have thought about those words.
Whether it is a country, a work place, a service club or a church, injustice occurs when people forget “the value of a single human being.”
In the case of Germany at that point in their history, they forgot and millions of people died fighting in a war or imprisoned in concentration camps.
The example of Jesus
For the past fifty years there has been a focus on numerical growth in churches. The success or failure of a church is often measured by the number of people who attend.
It is so easy in the push for numbers to forget that we aren’t called to minister to the crowd. We are called to serve the individuals in the crowd.
The church must never forget “the value of a single human being.”
Jesus stopped as he walked along as part of a crowd because one woman touched his robe. He didn’t continue on until he had dealt with the problem of that one woman. (Luke 8:40-48)
He stopped teaching the people jammed into a house that was so full that no one else could get in because one man was lowered through the ceiling. (Mark 2:1-12)
He chose twelve men to be the small group into whom he would invest his life rather than being satisfied with the large crowds that followed him. (Mark 1:14-20).
He spent time with a lone woman at the well in Samaria rather than go into the nearby village where he might have drawn a crowd. (John 4:1 ff)
I could add many other examples to the list but these will suffice. Jesus recognized the value of a single human being.
Applying this to the church
As his church we should do no less.
I am not saying that large crowds on a Sunday morning are bad but when they become the goal for which we strive, it is easy to forget that we have been called to impact the individuals who make up those crowds.
This past Sunday I participated in a special service at my home church. Seven people were baptized as part of the morning service. I was scheduled to speak and was asked to speak on the significance of baptism.
The service was part of the church’s annual church picnic and was held outdoors at a Christian camp. The participants were baptized in the camp swimming pool.
Each of the people being baptized shared something of their stories before they went into the water. While all of the stories were moving, there was one statement that stuck out for me.
One of the women mentioned that there were four women who had played an important role in her life. They had been used by God to draw this person deeper into her walk with the Lord and in so doing they had become very special to her.
As I listened I couldn’t help but think that that is what it is all about. Christians investing their lives in the lives of other Christians helping them to grow in their faith.
There were four women who remembered the “value of a single human being”and in remembering had made an eternal difference in the life of another person.
So get excited when your numbers grow but don’t measure your success by those numbers. A church is only attaining success when the “single human beings” who make up that numerical growth are becoming passionate followers of Jesus Christ.
So if I ever speak at your church, don’t apologize for the attendance. I won’t have come to speak to a crowd. I will have come because each single human being in attendance has great value whether there are five or fifty or five hundred people who are there.
It is my prayer as I write this that you will never lose sight of the “value of a single human being” and that your ministry will always be built around that truth.