Numbers, numbers, numbers!

Are you good with numbers? I am not. Ask anyone. They’d I can’t add well (even though I think I can), I’m not good at budgeting (unless it’s my church budget), and I definitely am not someone who can do percentages in my head. All of these, in some fashion, have some truth behind them. There was once a time I was coaching a CrossFit class at my box and an athlete asked me how much was on her barbell and I added wrong and she ‘hit a PR’. I felt awful. Even better was the time I thought I PR’d my snatch for 7 reps in a workout but added wrong and everyone cheered for me. It was definitely one of the saddest, and embarrassing, moments in my gym-ing experience. While numbers are important in order to set bench marks or goals, they’re not the only thing that matters. Let me explain.

It’s no surprise that every year the top three New Years resolutions are to lose weight, improve fitness, and save money. All of three of those deal with numbers. They deal with things that we can control, that we need to control, and that would move us further from sickness and closer to wellness. However, there can be times where our numbers become our obsession; where our numbers become compulsive and we forget the ‘why’ or our motivation. Some of us get into fitness because they, as my favorite meme creator John Wooley says, “just want to look better naked.” Some of us get into fitness because our glucose or body fat percentage or triglycerides tell us that if we fail to take care of our bodies, our bodies will fail us and that is a harsh reality that 42% of Americans face. And still some of us obsess over numbers because we need to know where every penny is going, whether we have enough saved for retirement, and how we are going to pay off the $90,000 worth of debt we carry (on average) Numbers can be an obsession or they can help you set benchmarks for where you want to go.

Working with your primary care team, or any medical specialists you may see, can help you manage some of your numbers for your body. They’ll use your numbers and set healthy, realistic benchmark goals that you can achieve. You can create a budget or work with a financial advisor to help manage your debt and if you’re a clergy person, some denominations even offer grants that can help mitigate the burden of punitive consumer debt, like the ECC does. And of course having numbs to use in the gym as benchmarks (such as a 1, 3, or 5 rep max) can help you use percentage work to increase your ability to lift heavy loads over long distances quickly. However, when it comes to the church and her ministries, sometimes numbers aren’t always the best way to calculate the health of your ministry.

As a youth pastor, I am constantly asked “how many kids do we have showing up these days?”. It’s by far my least favorite question to be asked and the one I struggle the most with answering. Truthfully, we may have on any given day 10-15, but I know at one point we had nearly 25. Some of this is COVID related, some of this is that the students are going elsewhere and , truth be told, I’m glad they’re going somewhere even if they’re not attending our programming. But the student who are coming are coming consistently and for the most part want to be here and want to learn more about Christ and want to be in community with their peers. Their dedication and their persistence in wanting to know more and challenging me to be better and providing opportunities for them to know and grow are what keep me in ministry. Because the fact is: for every well intentioned congregant who asks about our youth ministry numbers because they care about the youths in our church, there are three others who ask because they are weighing their investment in me as a pastor. While I generally believe most people are good, I am not naive and have been in ministry long enough to know that when programs aren’t running well, we trim the fat. So how do I keep plugging along when the numbers are telling a different story? Here’s a few things I tell myself that could be helpful for you:

  1. I’d rather have 10 students who want to know and grow show up to my ministries than 35 students who don’t want to participate in anything and just want to get out of the house. There are times and places for that sort of thing, but on a normal week, there is a plan and the students who show up want to be apart of it.
  2. Just like with weight training or weight loss, I look for the non-weight victories. The scale is annoying. Period. But there are more victories to be had outside fo the scale. Did you choose to eat veggies instead of cookies for a meal? Awesome! Non-scale victory. Maybe you chose not to skip a meal today. Awesome non-scale victory! Did you fail a 1 rep max clean and jerk, but had great form and technique? Non-weight victory! For me in ministry, I need to remind myself there are non-numeric victories each day. Getting coffee with a kid, helping them with some relational problems, watching a kid choose to seek Christ over anything else. Non…numeric…victories.
  3. If others don’t want to do something, they won’t, and that’s not your problem. There’s a friend of mine at Wig Wag who always says “you gotta want it!” when people go for big lifts. And that’s true! If I step up to the bar hesitantly, not thinking I can lift the weight, then I won’t lift that weight. Likewise, I can sit through a sermon and get absolutely nothing out of it or I could glean something from it. But I have to decide that.

What about you? What’s your relationship with numbers? Take some time and evaluate your relationship with numbers and let me know!

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