Jesus had a tendency to turn people away. Not just every now and then, but with great consistency. In Matthew Jesus arrives at his hometown synagogue, the church in which he was raised, and the text says “they took offense at him” (Matthew 13:57). In Mark Jesus encounters a wealthy businessman and calls him to sell what he has and give to the poor. “At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful” (Matthew 10:22).
When certain individuals offer a reason for delay in beginning to follow Jesus, Luke tells us that Jesus declares that “no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). After offering his body and blood as the Passover bread and wine in John 6, we learn that “after this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66). And Jesus’ response? Well, he turns to the disciples who remained and rather bluntly asks, “Do you also wish to go away?”
So let’s recap: Jesus doesn’t even find support for his ministry in his home church. He fails at his evangelistic outreach effort—maybe he forgot one of the steps from his FAITH training conference. For those that seem somewhat interested he makes the choice harder rather than easier, and they seem to turn away, too. Then, when he finally has a decent following, Jesus drives them away and then asks the few who remain if they’d like to jump ship as well.
I read these stories and wonder if we’ve gotten a bit sidetracked in this thing we call church. I have attended church my entire life. Been going since I was born. The nine months prior to that too, if we’re counting. And, let’s be honest: We always count don’t we? So, I wonder if we’ve lost our way somewhere in the journey.
Church, the weekly gatherings of Christ followers across the world, is supposed to be modeled on the life and ministry of Jesus. Those who lead these local gatherings are supposed to lead based on the life and ministry of Jesus. So are we? And do we?
I think if we are and if we do, we would set aside the discussion about how many attended all of the weekly busyness, and take up the issue of how many live lives that manifest the good news of the Kingdom outside the walls of the building. We would cease trying to come up with strategies to attract more people to our particular location so that we can then extract their time, money and energy in order to perpetuate our myriad programs. Instead, we would seek new ways to get the people out of the sanctuaries, fellowship halls, Sunday School rooms and anywhere else they may hide away, and into the world with the good, grace-full news of an entirely new way of life.
Jesus had a tendency to turn people away. It’s right there in the texts we gather around week after week. Yet, somehow we may have missed the point by focusing on something about which Jesus never expressed any concern. He simply lived a life of faithfulness to God, which meant that the only thing he concerned himself with was proclaiming the Kingdom manner of living, the ethics of the renewed creation. And this often turned people away.
Maybe we should practice a bit more faithfulness, even if it means fewer people showed up at a building once or twice a week. Maybe we should exercise faithfulness even if we are seen as a failure by some, even by those who call themselves Christians. Maybe we should strive to be faithful, even if we have to ask the few who remain, “Do you also wish to go away?”
But are we that daring? And do we believe that the good news is really good enough news to risk being miserable failures by the standards of some (if not, most), but great successes by the standards of faithfulness to God?
Zach Dawes is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministerial resident at Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga.