“Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”——-Luke 14:25-35
On the heels of the last blog post, Repent And Believe The Gospel, something else that is worth considering is another aspect of what we believe about the Church. We have been taught and had modeled, that in order to plant a new church or grow an existing church, getting new people to join is critical to defining success. The appearance of numerical growth is the means by which many determine if church is being done the “right” way.
I have come to the conclusion over time that the task of planting or growing a church according to this criteria really isn’t a very difficult one. Let me explain.
If you throw enough money, marketing materials, have good networking (social media and otherwise), great charisma, and can appeal needs and desires that “build community”, you will begin to attract the crowds. Now, not everyone is good at all of these things, but in order to establish a thriving church according to these standards, you need to surround yourself with those that excel in each of these areas. Once these things are in place, you can then further draw people in by formulating sermons and sermon series’ around the so-called “relevant” issues facing people today.
Now we all know that planting and growing a church is more difficult than what I just outlined. But in reality, it really isn’t that far from the truth.
People have become so consumed with defining success by numbers that even among those with the best motives, they have often fallen into this trap. It is difficult not to. When you look around and see the seeming success of what others are doing and how they look like they are having an impact, it is easy to want to want to do what they are doing and replicate their ways. But what we miss, maybe even without realizing it, is that if we do try to build a church simply by gathering people together, we are taking our understanding and direction from others and not from Scripture. Sure, we can discuss and learn from others things we may have missed Biblically or possibly how to be more effective in sharing our faith, but if our starting place to understand church is looking at other’s models and methods, we have completely missed the boat.
In Luke, chapter 14, Jesus has given us a lot to consider. This is a very difficult and powerful passage because Jesus defines what it means to believe in Him and what the focus as believers should be. In other words, the cost of discipleship.
It amazes me every time I go through this passage that it can be easy to overlook the first part of verse 25. Luke is very intentional throughout the entire book in describing seemingly insignificant details and setting the scene for why Jesus is addressing the things He does throughout different situations. In verse 25, it describes that “large crowds” were following Jesus. At this point, most people would be rejoicing over the fact that so many people were going along with Jesus. What is missed, though, is that the crowds that followed Jesus often only sought Jesus for what He could give them. Whether it be healing, food, miracles, or other things. Very similar to many today. But instead of rejoicing over the crowds and affirming them for following Him, Jesus instead gave them pause to count the cost of what it would mean for them to truly follow Him.
What this shows is that Jesus isn’t simply about gathering crowds, but making disciples.
Now at this point, many might claim that they are all about making disciples as well. But among many this can be easily refuted. When churches end up being so focused upon facilities, mailers, media, and all the other things that they think make a church, the Church, it shows they have missed what Jesus was actually preaching and doing. Those things in and of themselves may not be bad, but more times than not, reveal that in order to attract people and keep them engaged, churches and ministries must use other means than simply proclaiming the Word of God and seeking to be the Church.
Simply gathering people together is community organizing, not disciple making.
In Luke 14:26-35, Jesus seems to basically talk the large crowds out of going along with Him. This concept is very foreign to most. When you seem to be making progress, this is a time when many would be cheering; not seeking to un-convince people out of joining. What it seems, though, is that Jesus saw through what the crowds were really after and it wasn’t submitting their lives to Him in true faith and obedience. Jesus then describes that if the crowds were to actually believe in Him and follow Him, it would cost them everything. Each individual would need to understand that it would require that they put Jesus ahead of all their relationships and make Him a priority over everyone and everything else; even over their own lives. They would need to also follow in Jesus’ likeness of “carrying their own cross”. In other words, dying to sin and rising to new life through faith in Jesus. And not in a profession of faith as a one time event, but to continue to live for the purpose in which we all are created for; to live according to God’s Way and not our own.
Gathering crowds can be easy in many respects, but we must not be looking for the crowds, but seeking to make disciples. Seeking to make disciples may not always equate in large numbers joining. Often times it may mean that some will ultimately turn and go their own way or find somewhere else that fulfills their worldly desires. But rather than looking for a large audience and trying to build the church through man’s ways, we should find ourselves faithful in sharing the Gospel with those around us whether or not that means that people join or not. It is only through true discipleship that the Church is built.
Building the Church according to God’s Way may mean a person or a few at a time may be added as we share our faith or joining with other like-minded believers along the way. It might also mean that there might be stretches of time where people joining might be sparse. This doesn’t mean that the Church isn’t effective or not doing what it should. The long and the short of it is that we cannot fall into the trap of just simply getting people together and calling it “church”.
Our hope should be that as we share the Gospel, people will consider the cost of following Jesus and begin to understand the real implications of what it means to believe in Him. This “putting the cart before the horse” or trying to plant or grow churches through other means, must stop. We might be the most faithful at sharing the Truth of the Gospel and might not see many, or even any for that matter, put their faith in Jesus. But our faithfulness in sharing our faith matters infinitely more than simply the outward appearance of success through gathering the crowds together.
Many in the Old Testament were faithful in trying to warn people of God’s punishment for their unfaithfulness and calling people to repentance and faith. Most of the time, people would scoff and continue on in their sinful ways. Were these prophets unfaithful because very few repented and turned back to God in faith?? By no means!! These prophets were very faithful in most respects, but just because their preaching and teaching didn’t result in the masses flocking to them, didn’t mean they weren’t obedient to the Lord.
Success cannot be measured upon how well we do at gathering people together or simply because a ministry or church has the appearance of growth. Some might flourish as people put their faith in Jesus, but we must be careful that without close inspection, we cannot define their success by these terms alone. Our desire must be to see churches grounded in the Truth and people walking in faith in Jesus, but we can’t do so at the expense of building churches through man’s ways and methods.
The Church must be built upon disciples gathering together to challenge, encourage, pray for one another, worship together, read and study the Bible, and grow in greater faithfulness and obedience to the Lord. Church is not just an exercise in gathering people together to “build community” or to gain an audience. May we find ourselves faithful in sharing the Gospel and that through our faithfulness, may the Lord add to our number those being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)