Some recent events got me thinking about why church organizations seem to be obsessed with high-profile PR and organizational growth. When I compare that with how Jesus went around his business, the two seem quite different.
Particularly in the gospel account of Mark, Jesus repeatedly tells people who have experienced and witnessed miracles to not tell anyone. When Jesus drives out a legion of demons from a man, the man wants to follow Jesus. But Jesus, instead of taking along this “trophy”, tells the man to go back home.
During the first phase of his ministry, Jesus’ popularity increases and at one point five-thousand men gather around him. With a miraculous feeding this would be the perfect time to pitch some good PR to increase his numbers. But instead Jesus talks about “eating flesh” and turns most people away from him.
On Palm Sunday throngs of people gather around Jesus as he enters into Jerusalem. He is in perfect position to gather more of the masses around him and take over the city. But instead he retires to Bethany and then gets himself crucified. By the end of the week only a handful of women and John are left to see Jesus die on the cross.
If Jesus was a church growth consultant today, he wouldn’t get hired.
What was Jesus possibly thinking? Didn’t he want the good news go to all the world? Why reject PR opportunities handed to him? Why intentionally trim the number of people following him?
The reason I can think of is that Jesus valued fidelity to his values over any kind of growth. Jesus didn’t want people who were only around him for adventure, thrills, and the potential for promotion, power, and profit. Jesus only wanted people who were willing to put in the hard effort to learn his ways. Jesus knew that only fidelity to his way would keep his people together over the long haul. Growth in numbers without fidelity to Jesus’ character would be worse than The Way going the way of extinction.
Self-promotion was antithetical to Jesus’ way. Jesus knew his Body would naturally grow as healthy members multiplied organically, not through high-profile PR or focus on “growth methods”.
Maybe Jesus was an expert church growth consultant. Just not the kind churches today want to hear.