A church man came to see me the other day. A churchy man, an important man in his church. A deacon I think, maybe. He came to see me and our little church. He came to see if there was anything of interest going on here.
I was wearing jeans and a Snoopy t-shirt at church that day, which put him off a bit, but the real surprise came when he found that I couldn’t answer any of his questions.
How many members do you have?
I don’t know.
My answer, or lack of an answer, stunned him. He squinted a moment, trying to understand a thing that seemed impossible. It just isn’t possible that a pastor could not know how many members are in his church.
You don’t know?
No. I could print a directory and count the people, I guess. But there never seems to be an occasion when we need to know how many members we have. So I never get around to counting them.
He frowned in an exaggerated way and nodded his head slowly and deliberately. This is one way that men tell you they don’t agree with you but are going to be polite and not argue the fact.
What are you running on Sundays?
This is the way church people ask about worship attendance. The number they are looking for is a weekly average.
I don’t know.
Yeah. I mean, someone would have to count everyone each Sunday and run the numbers and all that. Again, there just doesn’t seem to be any reason to do it, so we don’t.
I wanted to be helpful, so I said, Sometimes this room is pretty full. Then other times I notice it’s not as full. And then sometimes it’s sorta empty, you know, on a slow Sunday.
I can’t believe he kept asking questions, but he did.
How many are enrolled in Sunday School?
I was feeling a little sheepish, for some reason, though I have no intention of keeping these statistics.
Yeaaahh, I said, dragging it out. The thing is, we don’t enroll people in Bible study. We study the Bible, of course. People are free to join us if they like, but we don’t keep track of it.
I could tell by his face that he thought we ran a pretty sloppy operation at our church. If you really cared about doing the work of the Lord in this world, wouldn’t you count members and track attendance like any good business?
I got one final question, one last chance to redeem myself.
Do you have a ministry plan of some kind?
He didn’t say, “Do you AT LEAST have a ministry plan of some kind,” but I assure you the tone of his voice made his meaning clear.
Ministry plan? I racked my brain trying to think of what that might be. It sounded to me like some kind of marketing plan or strategy.
Well, you know, not formally, as such. I guess we would say that our plan is to do what’s right, no matter what the consequences. We should do what we feel is right and good, whether it brings five people or five-thousand people to our door.
And that pretty much wrapped up the interview. He was polite and shook my hand before he left.
It’s a very important spiritual discipline for me to let people like this think that I am an incompetent fool. It is critically important that I not explain myself to them. I just wave bye-bye and let them go. In my defense, I can answer a lot of questions about my church. He just wasn’t asking the right ones.
I can tell you anything you’d like to know about our children. I can tell you that Adam loves race cars and Steven likes to sing. I can tell you that Madeline’s hair always smells good on Wednesday nights and that Anna’s mother is teaching her ballet. I can tell you that Jacob likes to be picked up, but don’t turn him upside down. That scares him.
I can tell you about all the secret places at the church. I’m the one who cut the trail through the woods to the giant cedar tree, and I can tell you about the mysterious pile of rocks at the back of the property. I can tell you the funny story behind the decaying mound of wood and cactus that we call, “Main’s folly,” and I know what the old ring of stones in the clearing was for.
I know why there’s a rock in the back wall of the church with George’s name written on it. I could tell you that story if you had the time.
I can tell you how the building looks in the moonlight just before dawn on a cold Sunday morning. I can tell you why Claud seems sad and why Chloe needs a hug every Sunday. I can tell you what Savannah means when she taps her cheeks, and I can tell you not to worry about what Lyle says because he has a heart of gold. I can tell you how Michael became a deacon and why Mark doesn’t want to teach Sunday School anymore.
I can tell you about all of these things and more. I could talk for hours about the precious gathering of friends that we call church.
I just can’t tell you any of the things that most people want to know.