Jesus was not seeker sensitive. He was not after the crowds. Obviously, his signs and wonders, and authoritative teaching naturally drew crowds. But in the scene below we find Jesus trying to escape the clamoring crowds and find a moment of solitude. Even more shocking, when his disciples tell him of a crowd of people looking for him, he leaves them in the dust and goes to another village! Mark sets the scene:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons (Mark 1:35-39).
In contemporary terms, we would say Jesus’ ministry is exploding in numbers, his “church services” are now standing room only, and his leadership team (disciples) are wondering where the “senior pastor” has run off to!
Keri and I are currently planting a new church with a team of adventurous Christians, and when you are attempting to build a community and ministry from the ground up, numbers take on more significance. We are thrilled when five new people show up for one of our gatherings. So, I can sympathize with the disciples in this story who don’t want to let this opportunity slip away. In fact, I giggle when I read this story in light of our own situation. Here’s the crazy scene I imagine in my mind:
It’s Sunday evening, and MainStreet Community (our new church) is holding it’s regular gathering. A crowd of people who have heard good reports about our ministry are eagerly flooding through the doors to meet the pastor and see what all the talk is about. Our greeters are trying to make these visitors feel at home and tell them our gathering will begin shortly.
Yet, to the shock and horror of our entire leadership team, an hour passes by and there is no sign of the pastor and worship band! The crowd is growing impatient. They’ve heard about our energetic worship music, and can’t wait to hear one of the pastor’s jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring sermons (wink, wink). Yet, they have vanished and the service start time has come and gone.
Our leadership team finally decides to go looking for the pastor and worship band. They find them out in the back of the parking lot, away from all the noise, sitting in a circle deep in prayer. The team is furious, and one of them exclaims: “What are you doing?! Everyone is looking for you!”
You would expect the pastor and worship band to say, “Oh, sorry. We lost track of time. Let’s get in there and start the service.” But that is not what happens next. Shockingly, in this story, the lead pastor (Jesus) tells his leadership team, “Let us go somewhere else…so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
What?! What about all the people who are inside waiting? What do we make of this scene? Well, Mark doesn’t tell us what became of the crowd. I’m sure they were disappointed. Some were probably mad that they came out to hear from Jesus and be ministered to and were left waiting. But Jesus seems to be more concerned with teaching his disciples (his leadership team) an important lesson about ministry priority: Don’t be enamored by big crowds, but remain focused on furthering the mission to reach the lost.
This lesson is a serious challenge to pastors and churches that can easily grow content with just ministering to the crowd that gathers every Sunday morning to be fed. Yes, the church should gather weekly for worship, teaching and ministry; but this same crowd that comes together to be fed on Sundays must, as Jesus says, ‘Go out to somewhere else’ during the rest of the week to ‘preach there also’.
In this story, Jesus is practicing what he preached elsewhere when he said the good shepherd will leave the 99 sheep to go searching for one lost sheep. He won’t hesitate to leave a packed auditorium of Christians in order to bring the good news to the lost people in the neighboring town. Jesus always put the advance of the mission above the allure of a packed church service.
Now, I want to be part of a church like that! Lord, give me the boldness to lead like Jesus. May MainStreet Community be such a community!