Why is it that churches in our culture are often correctly described as a mile wide and an inch deep? Here’s the reason…
We have failed to understand the significance of the fact there were two entirely different groups of people in Jesus’ ministry. There were the large crowds of people. And there was the small group of disciples.
Jesus loved the crowds. He healed them, and he sent them home well fed! But most of his time was spent on the disciples. Why? Because he wanted to transform the crowds into disciples. And the only way to do it was to invest in the small group whom he was discipling to reach the large numbers.
Jesus did not make the same demands of the crowds that he made of the disciples. The disciples were commanded to leave everything behind -- job, security, family and reputation -- just to follow Jesus wherever he went. The crowds were local folk who just turned up wherever he was, got healed and fed, and then went back to their ordinary lives -- for the most part largely unchanged.
Jesus didn’t study the demographics, create a trendy church brand, open a hipster coffee shop in the foyer, and sit back waiting to pull in the numbers. He invested the bulk of his life discipling a small group of men (and even allowing a group of women into his inner circle).
Why is it that in church today we so often have exactly the opposite strategy? We love to create big churches where many are entertained, but few are equipped. People come and go, untrained, untaught and undiscipled. Instead, we should be working with small groups of disciples, teaching and training them to create spiritual families who will go out, plant churches and create more disciples. Crowds will disperse in a moment. Families last for a lifetime.
We will have crowds -- if we can move in miracles and gifts of healing in the way Jesus did. Failing that, we may still attract crowds with a world-class preacher, a state of the art building, millions of dollars of sound equipment and professionally-crafted programs for every age group. But even if we do, and I am not saying this is in itself wrong, the crowds will never form the foundation of our church, any more than they formed the foundation of his church.
Jesus reached out to the crowds in compassion, but he chose to build his church on the much smaller foundation of those willing to give up everything to follow him. In the dark days after his crucifixion, the crowds had gone, but the family, with only one exception, remained. And it was on the foundation of that family, after Pentecost, that he built his church.
Jesus knew the only way in the long run to reach the crowds was by establishing a base of committed disciples who would multiply his own ministry in the world once he was gone. Otherwise all they would be left with was the memory of a massive signs and wonders movement based on the ministry of a man no now longer among them. Successful Christian leaders are always training others for the day they will no longer be there. That’s why men like Calvin, Luther, Wesley and Booth left movements behind them. They did not invest in the size of their own pulpits, but in the men and women following them.
The crowds came and went and did their own thing. They were there for Jesus to meet their needs, and then they went home. And a lot of churches are like that today.
Is our church just another crowd, or is it a band of disciples committed by covenant to follow Jesus no matter where he leads? You can create a buzz with a crowd. But to extend the kingdom, you need disciples.
We live in a society full of broken relationships and looking desperately for family. The church should be the answer to that cry. It is a tragedy when people come looking for community, but find only another crowd.
Let me leave this thought with you.
If we don’t preach discipleship, it’s because we don’t want to pay the cost. But let me suggest this. The price is worth paying! Why? For this reason alone: discipleship is the only way to draw close to Jesus. The crowds were on the fringe of the meetings. The disciples were at the heart. Do you want to be close to him? Do you want to be the one close enough to touch the hem of his garment? Do you want to be close enough for him to touch you?
There’s a simple answer. Become a disciple.
You’ll never regret it.