I recently read an online solicitation from a "church growth specialist" promising that I could double, or triple my churches attendance in as little as 90 days. After I read down through the numerous pages describing how this program was guaranteed to produce enthusiastic worshippers of all ages flocking into the pews Sunday after Sunday I got to the bottom line, which indicated that this material valued at $147 dollars can be mine for this one time offer of just $37 dollars.
I am certainly for church growth. Who would not be excited to have their church full of enthusiastic worshippers each and every Sunday? However, when I examine this "church growth guarantee" against the backdrop of Christ's ministry I find a bit of a contrast in ministry style. In fact, most often when Jesus finished delivering His sermon the people scattered, or a riot broke out, or they took up stones to kill Jesus, or His followers. There were many fans of Jesus as long as He was producing the miracles, but when Jesus called the people to give their lives wholly and totally over to Him and become a committed follower of Him many left and never returned. They were fans, but not true followers.
In the Gospel of John chapter 6 we see the account of Jesus feeding 5,000 with just two fish and five loaves of bread. Jesus used the miracle to share a four-point sermon. Out of this miracle Jesus illustrated that He was the Bread of everlasting life, the Bread of satisfying life, the Bread of resurrection life and then concluded that He was the Bread of indwelling life. Jesus concluded his sermon by demanding that those gathered there receive Him into their lives in order to have eternal life. John 6:60 says, "Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, this is an hard saying; who can hear it? Then in verse 66 the bible says, "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." The setting in which this sermon took place was immediately following this great miracle of the feeding of 5,000. They were all gathered as one big fan club cheering on Jesus for the great miracle worker that he was. When Jesus begins to share with them that he expected their total devotion, commitment, service, and life that is when the cheering stopped and many turned and left, never to return again. In Luke 14:25-27 Jesus addresses the multitude again and tells them that "If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." Certainly Jesus is not advocating hatred in the sense that we hold malice, or animosity toward our family, but Jesus is saying that in the Jewish culture of that day when one turned to receive Christ and become a follower of Christ they would be put out of the synagogue and be shunned by their families for leaving the Jewish religion. To receive Christ and follow Him was as though you hated your family.
Pastor Randy Mason
Often in our evangelical churches today we ask for a raised hand, or invitation to come forward at the end of the service if you want to give Jesus your life and follow Christ. We have usually spent the entire sermon "selling Jesus" telling what a wonderful life you will have once you give Jesus your life. Often times the reality of our request is that we are calling people to become fans of Jesus rather than to become true followers of Jesus who are willing to commitment their lives to follow Jesus wherever and whenever He leads them. We leave out the fact that being a committed follower of Christ will come at a cost, but also a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross only one of the 12 disciples was present. Judas had betrayed Christ, Peter had denied Christ, Thomas had doubted Christ, and the remaining disciples except John had all scattered. Only John was a true follower of Christ. The rest were all fans and when their team was down they quit cheering and went home.
It was not until after the resurrection when the disciples saw Jesus in His resurrected body that they finally understood that this indeed is the Christ the Son of God who was worthy of their commitment, their life, and their service. 40 days after the resurrection Jesus had gathered with His followers to give final instructions. After telling them that the Holy Spirit will come to give them power to be His witnesses Jesus left this earth and ascended up to heaven. All that were left of Jesus' 3-? year ministry were 120 frightened disciples gathered in the Upper Room waiting for the empowering of the Holy Spirit. It is from these 120 committed disciples that Christianity has grown to see millions upon millions come to faith in Jesus Christ the past 2,000 years since Christ's ascension.
Our churches today are full of fans who gather every Sunday to cheer on Jesus and pontificate about the latest "God thing," but the true follower of Jesus can be found down on the playing field where at times we get knocked down, bloodied, and harassed because the life of the follower of Christ was never met to be lived out in the comfort of the stands as a spectator sport, but on the playing field where the messy things of life take place.
If we are to see a spiritual awakening in Central Iowa and our nation it will first require followers of Christ who are willing to pay the price of true discipleship. Are you a fan, or a follower?