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Friday, January 27, 2012

We Can't Forget the Crowds

I have heard many Christian leaders claim that they must forget about the numbers and focus on a small group of disciples. They claim that this is the way of Jesus but I beg to differ.

Sure, Jesus had His small group. They walked with Him daily. They were the people He would hand His ministry when He was gone. They were essential to the continuance of the gospel.

But Jesus also spend a significant time preaching to the multitudes-those people who had no close attachment to Him. These people also got the full gospel. Much of what we know of Jesus teaching was recorded by His disciples as He taught the multitudes. He said what they needed to hear. He drew them in by going to them.

Jesus taught the crowds the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. He fed the crowds in Mark 8. He had compassion on the crowds in Matthew 9. Jesus was concerned about the crowds too.

Let's imagine Him differently. Let's say He took the small group approach alone. He would never have been crucified if He hadn't made such a huge impact on the crowds. The Pharisees would have seen Him as one of the many self-proclaimed messiahs with a few followers. They would never have spent the time or thirty pieces of silver to have Him executed. He would never have been more than an annoyance to them.

But isn't that true of Christians today? We will never change our culture or even get our message out unless we have both the small groups  and the large crowds. Very few will pay attention if we are no greater than a few small groups who keep their faith to themselves.

Thus, much of Paul's preaching was done before crowds. A couple of months ago I was at Mars Hill in Greece and imagined what it would have been like for Paul to preach the gospel there. He stood on the small platform and began his message to appeal to the crowds passing by. A crowd assembled when he talked of an unknown god. He addressed them right where they were.

So, please do not think of the gospel or discipleship as only for the small groups. The crowds were discipled too. The small group was not exclusive for Jesus and it doesn't need to be exclusive for us either.

When someone says to you, "So, your church is all about the big crowds,' please answer: "Yes, we love the crowds, the small groups and the individuals, too."

Jesus loved all three, too.

Matthew 5:1-2 (ESV) 1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:


Anthony Chia said...

I cannot agree with you more. The one common problem with many is that they are so fixated on methods or methodology. Be careful, legalism can rear its ugly head. Always differentiate between “intent” and “method”. Generally speaking there are many ways to skin a cat, although of course, NOT in every situation, every single way is acceptable. I repeat, if it is method, clearly, Scripture supported diverse methods for the same intent, to reach non-believers for God.

One of the things that immature Christians (everyone has come that way, before, including me!) to is to zero in on particular verses, and failed to see the various bigger pictures in collective scriptures; it is like we have a huge painting before us, and all we do, is to be so focused on a part of the painting, seeing, say, an apple on the ground, and NOT seeing there are many apple trees in the painting – in other words, taking a myopic view. To fully get the most out of a painting, one has to look at the picture, NOT only in close proximity, but also from various distances. Like using a microscope, one zooms in and zooms out, seeing singly, and seeing over a wider area. Those familiar with Science, will agree, if you zoomed in on one amoeba, you may conclude it is one shape, but if you look over a wider area, seeing more, you will know that amoeba has no definite shape!

A mature Christian, because of “constant use” (Heb 5:14), can develop more acute discernment of what is good and what is evil, which is the one, for the occasion, and which is NOT the one.

When you eat with someone often enough, you get to know how he holds his chopsticks (I am Chinese-lah), but can he NOT hold it differently at times? Of course, he can. Well, he is the one eating, and that is his intent, to put food into his mouth to eat. If for this one occasion, he holds the chopsticks 2cm higher up the length of sticks, it is NOT unacceptable for his intent and purpose, which is to put food into his mouth. No, if he can manage it, let him be.

Now, is there a difference between that generic “he” in the above example, and God, and between a general stuff like putting food into the mouth with a pair of chopsticks and the doing the things of God? There is; and the core difference is that we are in the context of serving our Master. When we are serving our Master, then the overriding concern of ours, is to please our Master.

Suppose, you need to wrap a gold foil around the part of the chopstick where God would hold the chopsticks; to please God, you observe, and you put the foil at the part you noted your God would customarily hold the chopstick. So, invariably, we are talking about our serving Him, our honoring Him, our loving Him, and so, we pay attention to what He wants. We are to treat God with due reverence concerning all of His ways; that is our duty, that is our job. It does NOT matter God chooses to move the foil higher up the chopstick, for a particular occasion; He is the Master, He can do what He likes. But that which would please your God, is your attentiveness to what pleases Him. Am I sure God likes people to be after His heart? Yes, God held David in great esteem for being a man after His heart; and I submit to you, in the Book of Revelation, when Jesus said to one of the churches NOT to lose her first love, in a significant part, Jesus was referring to the church’s lack of attentiveness to what would please God at the moments.

In other words, if he prefers you to attention the gospel to the mass in this place for this period, rather than to concentrate on small groups or individual evangelism, you do what he preferred for the moment. You use whatever method or approach God wants, not what you want for the moment, because it is NOT about you; it is about God and His will, His desires, and His intents and purposes.

Cont. on next page...

Anthony Chia said...

Cont. from preceding page

Often, there is nothing wrong, in itself, of the various methods; it is simply He is the Master, and we are to do that which our Master wants; yes, please Him. He is God, He knows what He is doing, and there is probably a good reason for Him preferring one approach over another at a particular occasion; the fact that we know NOT, the good reason, matters NOT. Even if there is no good reason, if you love Him, you just do it. Is it NOT so, when your darling tells to you to use the love-shape jelly molds instead of the round ones, you just do it? Of course, both sets of mold can do the job; you just use the ones your darling likes.

Another angle to look at why we should just use the approach or method He wants, is that it is His intent, His project, and if it is also His approach, surely, when you are in full agreement with what God wants done and at the time it is to be done, there is every reason to expect God to render His grace for a success. Often, it can be we, of ourselves, are inadequate to accomplish a mission without the backing and resources of the Master, after all, we are servants or slaves. It makes entirely good sense to defer to the Master, in how His mission is to be accomplished; unless you want to show off, and pride often comes before our downfall.

Having said all of the above, I must repeat, when it comes to methods, do NOT be dogmatic, and even be found to be guilty of legalism. God does NOT like that, and Jesus showed that, in His earthly ministry. In short, still the best safeguard is to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and to subscribe to Heb 5:14, and note Prov 11:14 which said that there is safety in the multitudes of counsel.

Specific to the subject matter on hand, the intent is clear; God’s desire is none be lost to Hell (1 Tim 2:4), and the way is one, through the gospel, but the methods or approaches to reach out and to present the gospel are varied, and God’s preferred method for you and for your season, and for your setting, may be different from another, but it is NOT necessarily that, that method is wrong and this is right. What is right is to be viewed from its agreement with the desire of God then, in terms of action to be taken and timing. Of course, it is NOT to say there are no boundaries or guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is NOT; often there are. For example, God is NOT evil, so do NOT lie and engage in deceptions. God is holy; he cannot join you in sin.

PS: I believe, with my sensing of "heat" that has come upon me as I write and review this, the things said here strike a chord in the heart of God.