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Crowd Control

By Michael Roop

This is part four in a five-part series on the lifestyle of Jesus. To catch up on previous posts in this series, click here.

I grew up in mostly large churches. In junior high and high school, my family attended a church that was on the top 20 list of fastest growing churches in America for several years in a row. The effect of being part of a large and growing movement is intoxicating. The growth of the church seemed at the time to be clearly indicative of God’s blessing. This church is doing it right. How else can you explain these numbers?

In hindsight, I’m just now discovering the depths to which those churches formed me and my expectations for ministry. I don’t mean to assign malicious intent; most of the ways we are nonconsciously formed are not immoral or ill-willed. But repeated exposure to the world of rapid church growth, origin stories, and exceptionalism, left me expecting that my ministry, my preaching, my leadership would definitely lead to similar outcomes. Provided, of course, that I was doing it right.

It wasn’t until I started reading the gospel with an eye for Jesus’ lifestyle that I realized how ruthlessly He avoided fame. We talked about these passages in seminary, but in purely theological terms. Why did Jesus turn from the crowds, command people not to reveal His identity, and constantly say “my time has not yet come”? Yes, it’s true that Jesus was not eager to accelerate a pattern of events that would culminate in the cross. But upon further reflection, I think something much more basic is going on.

In His humanity, Jesus did not pursue fame. He didn’t go after name recognition or manage His brand. He wasn’t after more campuses or a social media following. What’s more (this is the part that didn’t click for me until very recently), He didn’t treat fame as incidental to faithful obedience to the Father. He didn’t have a hands off, laissez faire attitude toward growing crowds. No, Jesus actively resisted fame.

Jesus was constantly withdrawing from crowds to pray (Luke 5:16). He would direct His disciples to leave towns when the crowds started getting too big (Mark 4:35-36). He turned away crowds that only wanted Him for the miraculous provision of food (John 6:22-40). He ate with the wrong types of people (Matthew 9:9-13) and walked away from the right kind of people (Matthew 8:18-20, 12:38-42). In short, if the name of the game was name recognition, Jesus took all the wrong steps.

During my pastoral residency, I picked up several phrases that have become DNA for me as a pastor. One of them is a reflection on both the pre-anointed life of David and the pre-public life of Jesus: character is forged in obscurity and refined in visibility. Many of us, myself first in line, are too quick to pursue the public eye. We believe that our influence for Christ will expand along with our name recognition, all the while failing to consider whether our character is up to the corrupting nature of fame, power, and influence.

Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus commands us to do our good deeds in secret, where none but the Father will see (Matthew 6:1)? This is the life He modeled, and the life He offers to those who will take His yoke. How much easier, how much lighter the life that isn’t wasted juggling the applause of humanity? Jesus lived before the audience of One, and He calls His apprentices to do the same.

And that’s where we will wrap up the series next week.

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