John 5:41-47

I'm not interested in crowd approval. And do you know why? Because I know you and your crowds. I know that love, especially God's love, is not on your working agenda. I came with the authority of my Father, and you either dismiss me or avoid me. If another came, acting self-important, you would welcome him with open arms. How do you expect to get anywhere with God when you spend all your time jockeying for position with each other, ranking your rivals and ignoring God?

"But don't think I'm going to accuse you before my Father. Moses, in whom you put so much stock, is your accuser. If you believed, really believed, what Moses said, you would believe me. He wrote of me. If you won't take seriously what he wrote, how can I expect you to take seriously what I speak?" // John 5:41-47, The Message


As the kids say these days, “Jesus just said the quiet part out loud!”

Again, perhaps it’s the books I’ve been reading or maybe it’s just my own presumptions about the way much of the American church has failed over the last 70 years, but we really need to hear what Jesus is saying here.

Michael Frost a missioligist and church planter said it really well,

Perhaps you have listened to the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast or the Gangster Capitalism: Liberty University podcast or you have just seen so many of the headlines about the many failures of the American church. For many, Michael’s question is right on the money, “Where else can we turn?”

You see, Jesus didn’t care about crowd approval. Yet, for many of us pastors that is all we care about. In many churches all that matters is getting more people in the door of the church regardless of means, short of illegal and mostly short of immoral. Why? Because for them the ends justify those means.

The crowds are what matter.

The bigger the crowd then the more God is blessing the ministry, obviously. The thing is, that isn’t really true. You can have huge crowds and not honor God in the slightest.

Jesus says, “I'm not interested in crowd approval. And do you know why? Because I know you and your crowds. I know that love, especially God's love, is not on your working agenda.

We see this all over the place. As Frost says, “The proof is in the pudding.”

As a result of the Acts 13 Network seeking to embody the church in a different way, I am privileged to sit down with people who would likely not sit down with other pastors. These folks have been so deeply wounded and traumatized by the church. I hear their stories firsthand. They are gut wrenching.

When we care more about crowd approval then we will move away from love, it’s not on the working agenda. This is because to gain the crowd you have to focus on the things that draw the crowd. It’s all about the coolest, the most beautiful, the people who can look the part of the “blessed.”

The crowds demand everything to look perfect all the time. The crowds need to feel good and to feel powerful and to feel like they are in control. Yet, the leaders know that to make those things happen they first have to hook the crowds up to strings so that they can control everything. I know. I’ve done it.

The crowds hate messy.
The crowds hate uncertainty.
The crowds hate mystery.
The crowds hate reality.

Over the last 70 years the American church has become expert in hiding the messy, hiding the uncertainty, hiding the mystery, and hiding reality.

This came crashing home for me when two movies were released about the holocaust. In 1993 Schindler’s List was released and many Christians said that it was inappropriate to see the film because of the full frontal nudity and the brutality depicted in it. Then in 1997 Life is Beautiful was released, a film about the holocaust where a father tries to keep his son from knowing about the horrors of the situation. Christians largely endorsed this film. It’s interesting isn’t it? Both films have their place. But, the American church boycotted one and embraced the other (at least in my Evangelical circles). I think this displays a symptom of the greater problem.

I think those of us who are Elders need to rethink the working agenda.

Is most of your time spent thinking about the Sunday event, the numbers of giving units, budgets, and programs? If it is, then you are likely in a place where the crowds matter most and the working agenda is not Jesus’ working agenda. Is most of your time spent praying for the people in your congregation, meeting with people in your congregation, being present with the people in your congregation? Then, I think the working agenda is more in line with Jesus’.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “There’s no way I could spend time with that many people!” Then perhaps you have your answer. Perhaps it’s time to break up the monoliths into smaller congregations with Elders and pastors who can truly shepherd and care for the people. Perhaps it’s time to sell off the land and the property and leave the offices behind.

When is enough, enough? When will we as the leaders of the American church realize that the religious industrial complex is sick and needs radical surgery?

What is your agenda? Is it Jesus’?

I don’t have it all together. I struggle with the desire for the large crowd. I still deep down inside believe that more numbers equals success. It feels good to have large crowds. The bigger the crowd the bigger the ego bump and it is awesome. But, I’ve noticed even in my setting that when we have a bigger crew on a Sunday night it’s really hard for me to get to really engage with every person that comes. I want to be able to do that because I want to know what’s happening in their lives and to be able to pray for and love them well.

I desperately want my working agenda to reflect the working agenda of Jesus.

I desperately want the church at large in America to have the working agenda of Jesus.

Something needs to change.

We need to hear what Jesus says here to the religious leaders of his day. We need to be changed by it.