AN ENORMOUS OBSESSION
It's strange to be content with small in a big world. Western culture is fascinated with getting more, being more, doing more...
"Go big or go home."
"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?" says Mr. Trump.
"Bigger is better."
WIN THE CROWD
But "big thinking" is nothing new. "Quantity brings fulfillment" is a tale as old as time. In the words of Proximo, "Win the crowd and you will win your freedom." Creating emotional and sensual experiences to attract and captivate an audience is an ancient growth strategy. In Jesus’ day, the Roman Empire controlled territory from the Rhine to the Nile. As they conquered, they appeased the masses, entertaining them in amphitheaters that held tens-of-thousands. The poet Juvenal's commentary on the times speaks volumes in but a sentence, "Everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses."
The Jews, under Rome’s thumb, expected a larger-than-life Messiah to come and put the powerful Empire in its place—a leader for their resistance—an all-powerful King. "Christ," by Pharisaic definition, denoted one who would claim political position. (As a side note, perhaps this is one of the reasons Jesus came directly to the "common man," since their idea of the "Messiah" would not have been so narrow—God will simply "visit His people with salvation" somehow.) But Jesus didn’t play by the rules of the Kingdoms of this world. He didn’t mimic the Empire’s strategies nor did he rally an army to overthrow them. He didn’t put out door hangers to hear a “life changing message” in the local amphitheater on Sunday nor did he fall within the ministry development track of other Rabbis.
FOREIGN TO THE ROMANS
When you look at Jesus’ methods, they would have made no sense to the "Leadership Gurus" of the day. Rome would never have pegged Jesus as the point-man for a movement that would outgrow their borders. I'm sure they would have found his approach "unimpressive”. And so were the people He gathered! They definitely weren’t high-capacity movers-and-shakers. These disciples of His were blue collar workers. They were "that guy" who graduated High School and went right to work in the family construction business.
FOREIGN TO THE JEWS
Claiming Jesus' methods were entirely "countercultural" would be inaccurate. He was very much a Middle Eastern Jewish man. For example, Jesus the "Rabbi" called 12 to be his disciples. This was not an insignificant number, as a minimum of 10 adult males had to be in attendance to perform a worship service and new synagogues were not opened without at least 12 families committed to a particular Rabbi's teachings. His initial invitation to these 12 likely left some assuming, "I see what he's up to here." But here's where things get interesting...
Jesus didn't "plant" a synagogue in the traditional or physical sense!
A MEGA OPPORTUNITY
In Mark 1, we hear Jesus' message "The kingdom of God is at hand..." or in our paraphrase "An otherworldly reality has been made available." Jesus then calls his first disciples, "Come and see..." Crowds are gathering wherever Jesus goes, seeking words of wisdom and a touch of healing. He's becoming a local hero in Capernaum!
Right then and there, by our big standards, Jesus should have built a 5,000 seat auditorium and launched a lucrative ministry. But instead...Jesus leaves! He doesn't stay in Capernaum!
As we keep reading through Jesus' life and ministry, we observe him saying things that send big potential donors away saddened and the fickle crowds away confused. Only the wise remained. Who were the wise? Those who believed the "foolishness of God." These were Jesus' disciples. They were his focus.
WALT DISNEY'S CHURCH
In my church consulting days, I recall a particular staff team that was reading/reviewing a book as a kind of "devotional." It was a best-seller about adopting the principles that made Disney such a successful enterprise. Does this sound ridiculous? Wait! I've found many just like them, looking to these large "kingdom of this world" corporations, measuring success based on the same metrics they use.
"But shouldn't we mimic what we see working for them if we too want to be successful?" (Perhaps it's worth defining what one means by "success" here. Successful at what?)
"Isn't it selfish of us to limit ministry to smaller expressions if we have the opportunity to gather large crowds?"
"Why bother investing in only a few people if we can reach thousands?”
If I were to summarize the method of the American Church, it could be "Influence through attraction." (We thought "Influence via addiction to brain dopamine release" sounded a little too harsh.) But the Jesus' Method was vastly different....
The Jesus' Method was discipleship through relationship.
If you've only read this as a knock on the church, then you're totally missing the point....
If your takeaway equals "big is bad," then you're also missing it....
Here's the point....
We are in danger of not reaching the goal set before us because we’ve abandoned the narrow road that leads us there. If we want to reproduce the MINISTRY of Jesus, we must take seriously the METHOD of Jesus!
Did crowds gather to see, hear, and receive from Jesus? Sure! But Jesus wasn't seduced by the crowds, nor was his focus on keeping them coming back for more. He was a humble foot washer, not a flashy celebrity.
THE MISSION TO THE METHOD
To really understand the reason Jesus adopted the method he did, we need to look at the mission he had. What was Jesus' end game? If we don't understand this piece, we'll just think of Jesus' methods as a really strange approach to building company culture. But Jesus wasn't starting a company. He wasn't building an organization. (This is a good time to recommend "What Is Church?" as your next read.)
The mission of God is the Kingdom of God, which brings restored relationship. Jesus didn't tell us that being and making disciples was the best way to grow a religious institution because that was never Jesus' mission in the first place! We (the Church) need to seriously evaluate not only the methods we're applying but the mission we're trying to accomplish!
It's true—Jesus' methods don't work if our mission is to build a large successful organization that accumulates resources and builds Christian coliseums within a 15-minute commute of every household in our corner of the world. But, if we will begin to realign our mission with Jesus' mission, then only His methods make sense!
My hope and prayer is that through embracing the mission and the method of Jesus, the Church will find its way back. That we would go and make disciples as Jesus told us to do and let Him build His church like He said He would.