Monday, February 20, 2017

Jesus' Approach to Making Disciples vs. Congregants


By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"


In modern Christianity, the success of a pastor is often based on the size of the church. Popular opinion holds that a church with 20,000 members is more successful than one with twenty members. Is that the vision Jesus had in mind for His followers? The Bible tells us accounts of multitudes, in the thousands, following Jesus to hear His teaching. He fed them, healed them, and preached to them. After Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, the number of adherents to the new faith of Christianity increased exponentially.

Many Christians believe Jesus wanted the multitudes to follow Him. They also believe He wanted to convert as many people as possible during His earthly ministry – the mission of most modern churches in society today. However, Scripture reveals that to be a myth, and nothing could be farther from the truth.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus divided the people He interacted with into two categories: disciples, and everyone else. The Bible refers to those who fall into the second category as “crowds” or “multitudes.” In Jesus’ mind, they are very different categories.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples,and said
to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must
deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

~ Mark 8:34 ~

When he had left the crowd and entered the house,
His disciples questioned Him about the parable.

~ Mark 7:17 ~

In both examples above, the Scripture clearly defines the two groups as individual categories. Why is this important? His disciples viewed the world through the same lens Jesus did; the multitudes did not. This fact eludes many modern Christians.

To illustrate this point, consider the following passages from Chapter 8 in the Gospel of Luke, the Parable of the Sower.

When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Luke 8:4-8).

In this parable, Jesus explains there are four types of people that hear His Gospel (the seeds sown). The first is the one who hears, ignores the Word, and belongs to Satan. The second hears the word, and has a shallow faith that disappears under pressure. The third hears the Word, but makes worldly concerns a priority, thereby negating the faith. The fourth type hears the Word, believes it, and follows it. Those seeds of faith multiply in the fertile soil of a disciple’s heart.

Based on the Scripture, Jesus finds only one of the four categories valuable: those who hear the Word, believe it, and follow it. That’s the only type that survives and multiplies. What about the second and third types? Where do they fit into the equation? For the answer, consider the next two sentences in the same passage of Scripture.

His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand (Luke 8:9-10).

Q: Does the Scripture mean Jesus was using parables to conceal His message from the crowds?
A: Yes.
Q: Why would He do that?
A: Jesus only wanted His disciples to understand His message.
Q: Who were His disciples?
A: Those who took the time to question Him, asking Him what the parables meant.
Q: What about everyone else?
A: Jesus didn’t worry about crowds of admirers, only disciples.

The time of Jesus’ earthly ministry was only 3-1/2 years. He had much to do in little time, and He knew that. He didn’t care about drawing large crowds, or measuring the success of His movement on the number of “registered congregants.” Jesus dedicated His attention to His disciples, and only His disciples.

Jesus had compassion for the multitudes; He fed them, healed them, and He preached to them. Those who listened to His message received His compassion. However, God sent His only begotten Son as part of the redemptive plan for all of humanity, and only those who followed – the disciples – got His attention.

Those who heard the Word, believed it, but were shallow in their faith – they liked the message, but wouldn’t fully commit – didn’t get His attention. Scripture makes that perfectly clear. Those who heard the Word, believed it, but were more concerned with wealth and possessions – they liked the message, but wouldn’t fully commit – didn’t get His attention. Scripture makes that perfectly clear.

A combination of modern culture, false teaching and biblical illiteracy have combined to portray Jesus’ earthly ministry as a “come one, come all” event. Scripture makes it clear Jesus was not going to waste any time fertilizing rocky soil and thorns. Many Christians at this point may ask, “If Jesus wasn’t concerned about crowds, where did His thousands of disciples come from?” That’s a great question; Scripture reveals the answer:

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst
of the disciples (altogether the number of
names was about a hundred and twenty);

~ Acts 1:15 ~

After 3-1/2 years, Jesus had about 120 disciples at the time of His Ascension: 11 primary, and the rest in supporting roles. That’s all He needed to launch His divine mission.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate
and broad is the way that leads to destruction,
and there are many who go in by it. Because
narrow is the gate and difficult is the
way which leads to life, and
there are few who find it.

~ Matthew 7:14 ~

The reward of God's promise to us, co-reigning with Christ in Heaven and spending an eternity in the presence of God the Father, is far greater than the cost we pay in the world for true discipleship. I pray that the Holy Spirit guides you in your studies, and brings you to a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Have a Blessed day.

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