March 20, 2006

Jesus' Large Crowds

Here's a part of a post I was reading over at STR ...
Bigger Is Better. That's a quintessentially American motto. I'm not sure it suits the church.

In the age of the mega-church, it seems that it's taken for granted that success is marked by the size of the congregation. Yet, Jesus would have failed that test. The accounts of the crowds Jesus attracted at at the beginning of His ministry. The crowds begin to dwindle and disappear as Jesus work carried on, until there were just a handful of followers left at the cross. He spent the time after His resurrection with his disciples and small band of followers, most of them women. The crowds didn't begin to grow again until Pentecost.
I’ve heard this reaction countless times, and many times from STR ... but who actually thinks that!

I think it’s pretty well known that size doesn’t = healthy, and anyone who thinks that is fooling themselves. I recently read an article about a mega-church that converted a entire old mall to its use, that’s kind of silly --- but so is a 50 person church that hasn’t grown in 10 years, large doesn’t automatically = unhealthy, but surely small doesn’t = healthy either.

The Example of Jesus

But I've thought about, and studied the example of Jesus given --- and it seems a bit off.

Jesus drew huge crowds, and preached them the ‘milk’ of simple sayings and slightly more complex parables. He often then went away to ‘recharge.’ Later he would instruct his own close followers, and then further nurture four in particular. Of those four close associates (Mary, James, Peter and John) only John and Mary apparently ‘stuck’ with him until the end.

The crowds however, did not ‘dissipate’ over time as is implied in the post --- at least if you take the Gospels seriously. The crowds only grew up until a few days before his crucifixion.

The Large Crowd

The healing of Lazarus (near the ‘end’) drew a ‘large crowd’ (John 12:9) --- John puts the Triumphal Entry right before Passover, the other Gospels seem to place it slightly earlier, in either case Jesus still commanded great crowds at that point, enough to cause the priests to say that they couldn’t arrest Jesus two days before Passover ...
“for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.””
How is that a slow dwindling? Seems to me in essence Jesus had a large following right up until the end. However, when he didn’t end up over throwing the Romans as they thought he would --- then they turned on him. They thought were willing to accept his message, but really they couldn’t accept his method. Of course, then a mere 40 days later thousands join their ranks.

The Method of His Message

I’m not saying that their isn’t a point to be gained from Jesus asking more of his disciples overtime (there certainly is;) but I think if you look at the accounts carefully you’ll see the reason people turned away from Jesus wasn’t what he was saying, its what he wasn’t doing. His Kingdom was different then the crowds and even his followers then understood. As Jesus says in John 18:36:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

1 Comments:

At March 21, 2006 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin,
I saw your comments about the large churches at STR and decided to check out your blog.

Like you I attend Saddleback Church and I even work in RSM. I agree that a bigger/smaller church is neither better or worse. I've been members of both.

Steve

 

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