In John, chapter 6, Jesus presents a difficult teaching. Here’s a short sample.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
(John 6:53–58 - ESV)
Because of these words, scripture tells us that just about all of Jesus followers left except for the twelve, and even they seem troubled by this teaching.
Put yourself in the sandals of Jesus’ small band of brothers. This event happened right on the heels of Jesus feeding the five thousand. The disciples must of have been saying among themselves, “All right, guys! Looks like this following Jesus thing is finally starting to take off! Now those leaders in Jerusalem will have to listen to us. Now things will really start to happen. Our numbers are growing and maybe we could even have enough money to build a really nice building to meet in every week with beautiful stained glass windows and a nice new pipe organ!” To which Peter replied, “I will only attend if we sing contemporary music!”
And now, in the blink of an eye, the “Jesus crowd” went from several thousand to only a handful. Do you wonder if any of the disciples wanted to say to Jesus that evening around the campfire, “Couldn’t you have just taught more about loving one another? Or maybe, you could have told the crowd another one of your parables. They don’t understand them, but they sure love them. You could have just kept feeding them. I know they would have stayed if you had done that!”
It wasn't that Jesus missed a great opportunity to dramatically increase His number of followers. Instead, He purposefully said these things, knowing it would cause many to fall away, and it wasn’t the only time Jesus did this. Jesus was much more concerned about finding sold-out, on-fire, fully-committed followers, ones who truly abided in Him as He was describing in those verses, then just trying to keep everyone happy.
By today’s standards, Jesus would not have been an effective leader, for every church leader “knows” that once you have a few people following you, you do everything in your power to keep them satisfied. Why would Jesus, on multiple occasions, willingly and purposefully thin his “congregation”?
It’s because Jesus’ approach to growth was not about adding numbers but instead about radically transforming lives. It’s true that each person matters to God, but Jesus wasn’t so concerned about having half committed followers. Jesus knew that things were going to get even harder than they already were. He knew that His Great Commission would push His followers WAY out of their comfort zone, and well beyond the old way of doing things. He sought to have people around Him that wouldn’t get upset when things changed, because there were a lot of big changes ahead. Jesus wanted those who respond with a simple and quick “yes” when called to a new task instead of those who would hem and haw and come up with excuses. Jesus sought men and women’s hearts – all of them, completely dedicated to the Father’s will.
Whether a minister or member, we should all ask ourselves a few question when it comes to trying to grow our churches.
1. Is our aim just for numbers or for dedicated followers? Let’s take the time to examine our motives concerning how we operate in church. We should not be so worried about getting in the masses that it keeps us from teaching people about what it truly means to follow Christ
2. Are we avoiding talking about the tough stuff or making the touch choices? I have said to myself before, “If I say this or do this, that family might leave our church, and they tithe!” If we speak the truth of Christ, in love, and are willing to do whatever it takes to bring in and disciple as many dedicated Christians as possible, then we will at times rock the boat and even cause people to leave. It’s never fun, but since it happened even to Jesus, I can be sure that we will still face this today.
3. Am I fully committed to what Christ asks of me to fulfil the Great Commission? If we can honestly answer yes to this question, then we will stop worrying so much about trying to keep others happy and will simply do whatever it takes to reach others for Christ.
Examine your own heart, and ask yourself this question. “When I go to church, am I hoping just to be kept happy, or do I want and am willing to be challenged to change my own heart and participate in changing the hearts of those who are lost?”