Answer: You count the things that can be counted and you pretend that they are really important.
This might seem cynical, but there is perhaps more than a grain of truth to it. As human beings, we like to measure progress. But the problem is, sometimes we are making progress on very important things, but in ways that cannot be counted.
How do you tabulate an afternoon spent with a grieving family? What is there to count? It may be the most important thing you do the entire week, but there is no way to measure the blessings that came to them through your ministry. How can you assess your reassurances of God’s love to a broken-hearted divorcee? What is the real value of a student who was able to stay in Adventist schools through your generosity? These things may shine more brightly in heaven than all of the things you do in an entire year, even though you aren’t keeping a record of your actions.
None of this is intended as criticism of accounting or careful record-keeping. There are things that can and must be counted. We have to keep track of finances in our homes and in our churches. We should have accurate records of membership. We need to account for many things, and I would never suggest that we ignore any of it. I am simply calling attention to the fact that there are important things that neither can be counted, nor need to be.
For Biblical support of this position, notice that the apostle Paul was not obsessed with counting, either. When the Corinthian church got into a squabble, he put the matter in proper perspective: “I thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius . . . . Oops, wait a minute; now that I think of it, I did baptize Stephanus and his family. I can’t remember if there were others.” (Paraphrased; see 1 Corinthians 1:14-16)
My grandparents were baptized in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. My grandmother’s brothers and sisters thought it was madness for a man with four children to support (five, when my mother was born a little later) to accept a doctrine that kept him from work on Saturdays, when any kind of work was so desperately hard to get. They made their feelings known, and relations were strained for several years as they watched my grandfather pass up work opportunities in order to keep the Sabbath holy. But as the doubters saw that over the years, God was faithful and none of the children missed a meal, attitudes began to thaw. And as my grandparents were able to afford it, they sent Signs magazine to family members.
Wilbur was one of my grandmother’s brothers, and Nellie was one of her sisters. In the late 1970’s, when both Wilber’s wife and Nellie’s husband had passed away, brother and sister attended Adventist meetings together and were baptized. When the evangelist remarked to them that it was unusual for people to change religious convictions at this time in their life, they replied, “Our sister and her husband were baptized in 1932, and we have been watching them for over fifty years. We want what they have.”
For half a century, a witness was going on in a thousand small ways, none of which could be measured. There was no sign that there would ever be any result. But Personal Ministries is not about counting things. It is just a simple reliance on the words of another Christian who wasn’t much interested in counting things, either: “Let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9)
(With thanks to my father, Elder Don Inglish, who inspired me with this thought early in my ministry, and who helped in the preparation of this article)
By Douglas L. Inglish Personal Ministries Director Assoc. Director Gift Planning & Trust Services
e-TNL Staff: Jeff Wines, Director; Carol Lyons, Editor; Melisa Mauk, Website-editor
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