Counting Widgets

It’s difficult not to get discouraged at times about teaching a Bible class, isn’t it …? Teaching is one of those spiritual tasks that rarely provides tangible results.
Years ago I had a close friend in Georgia who was a carpenter by trade. On occasion, when the two of us went out driving together, he would slow his truck down, point to some nice two-story house over in an open field and say, “I built that.” He wasn’t trying to brag on himself — that wasn’t his nature; he was simply proud of what he had done and wanted to share that with me because I was his friend. I never said it, but I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of envy during those tours around Bartow County. After three or four months of labor, my friend could back away and identify what he had accomplished.
Like carpentry, other endeavors produce similar quantifiable results. Those who teach in a secular environment can give quizzes and tests to gauge the progress of their pupils. People who commit themselves to a fitness program are eventually able to see measurable changes in their body and weight. But not so with those of us who are Bible class teachers — we don’t have an apparatus to mark the growth of those entrusted to our care and tutelage.
I appreciate one author’s observations in this realm. He notes:
We usually try to measure success based on the wrong things. Normally, our natural tendency is to measure our effectiveness on things that we can count or see. We delight in trying to count church membership, converts, or the number of contacts we are able to accumulate. We want to be able to see how many people are now coming to the church as a result of our [efforts]. But, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Corinthians 16:7). We have our focus on the external things rather than on the internal things … That is what I refer to as the widget mentality. Typically in business we measure our output by the number of widgets that we are able to produce. We put raw materials into a big machine, and out the other side come widgets. We are able to count the widgets and therefore we are able to measure our effectiveness. But that does not always work in the spiritual realm (Cecil 106).
Those of us who teach a Bible class rarely, if ever, are granted the opportunity to see the actual fruits of our labor. We can’t follow our students at home, in school, or on the job and put a yardstick to their maturation in the faith. If a youngster resolves to be more obedient, to cooperate with his or her parents or to have a better disposition, we may not be able to witness this evolution in character. If a teenager decides not to cheat on an algebra exam because of a lesson we taught on honesty, we may never know [this side of eternity] of the silent victory that was won on the battlefield of temptation. If a husband and wife determine to work harder on their relationship because of a study we delivered on God’s will for marriage, we may never be made privy to the wondrous transformations taking place in their hearts and house. Growth (2 Peter 2:2; 3:18), from our vantage point, is slow and imperceptible.
I’ve come to the realization that Bible teaching is, by its very nature, a long-term investment (1 Corinthians 3:9). It’s not just what the kids in our class did or didn’t do last week, but where they will be twenty years from now. And, it’s not just where they will be twenty years from now, but where they will be in eternity, and who they in turn will have influenced for the Lord (2 Timothy 2:2) before the Last Day.
God’s Word produces results. We have that guarantee. “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11 NKJV). Perhaps those of us who teach a Bible class should focus less on counting widgets and concentrate more on planting seed (Luke 8:11).
Cecil, Douglas M., “Being Fruitful,” The 7 Principles of an Evangelistic Life. Chicago: Moody, 2003.

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Mike Benson

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One thought on “Counting Widgets

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