I think as youth workers we should want to have all the knowledge we can about the body of Christ we’re serving. We should want to know how many fingers and toes there are, and how many ears, how many mouths, which parts are strong, and which need work. To serve this body as we should, we have to know it.

History

I hated studying history in school. Most of the time the numbers seemed relatively unimportant. In fact, one look at the Biblical book of Numbers, and most of us go, “Yuck. Lists…how boring.” But those numbers and those lists in that book are part of our history, and they’re important. They help us determine the genealogy of Christ our Messiah, and they give us a real picture of what it must have been like to wander in the desert with all those people. Most of the numbers in Scripture help us put handles on things about which we know little.

Think about Christ feeding the multitude. A multitude to one person may be 500 and to another 10,000. The scripture tells us it was 5,000 men plus women and children. We now have a better picture of what that might have looked like. Noah’s ark is another example of how numbers help us imagine something more vividly. The numbers let us know the size of the ark, how many animals of each kind were on board, and that only eight humans were taking care of all those animals for all those weeks. What a picture the numbers help to paint.

In the future, others will want our numbers to help paint a picture of what ministry was like in this place and time. They’ll need to know what worked for whom and for how many. In fact, I love the stories of how many souls were touched at a camp or a revival and how many students came forward for prayer.

I don’t love these numbers because they point to human success or to a friend’s bragging rights but for the “wow” that God did in those moments.

God Does It

One of my favorite parables is found in Luke 15—the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus is talking to the crowd and says, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

How did the shepherd know one was missing? He counted. God counts us and, if one of us is missing, goes out to get us and brings us back. Every week at our youth meeting we take roll; we count because we want to know who’s there and who’s missing. We want to keep all of them in the fold, and we have to count to know if they’re present.

Each number represents a soul. They represent God’s sheep, God’s children; and I don’t want to lose one of them. But counting isn’t just how we know which ones are missing but also which ones are present. And I definitely want to party with the angels in Heaven each time a soul is added to God’s kingdom.

Jean Tippit is the youth minister at Spanish Fort United Methodist Church in Alabama. She's been working with students, for 20 years as a youth minister, writer, and speaker, and she is married with two girls.

This article first appeared in the March/April 2004 issue of Youthworker Journal. Used with permission of CCM Communications. For information on how to subscribe to Youthworker Journal, please click here.