Monday, April 10, 2017

Getting Caught Up in the Crowd

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!’

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’” (John 12:12-15 NIV)

It was my first week as the new campus minister for Campus Christian Fellowship at Appalachian State University and on the afternoon of our first large group meeting, we were informed that our venue was not available due to a scheduling error.  Our student leaders scrambled to find a place to meet.  They settled on the concrete amphitheater outside of the student union.  I learned later we needed a reservation to use it and we weren’t permitted to have amplified instruments.  

To my amazement, a stream of students began to fill the seats.  I had been told when I accepted the position that the group would be 30-40 students.  Approximately 150 came that night!  In the ensuing weeks, that number grew to 250.  It was an absolutely crazy and overwhelming time.  I was brand new to the area; I was the only one on staff; and the ministry was in a financial crisis.  Yet, how could I not be excited about so many students wanting to be a part of the ministry?

I admit the excitement did grab me.  The largest group I had ever led was around 100, and that was after many years of leading groups not any larger than 50 students.  There was energy and enthusiasm, and the fact that the numbers would be impressive to potential financial supporters didn’t hurt either. We were in desperate need of them.

So I got wooed by the crowd into thinking significant things were happening. It wasn’t until the next year when one of our student leaders came to me with some sobering news: things were not as they seemed. He let me know of drinking parties being planned in the parking lot after our weekly meetings, of students sleeping together, and of inappropriate behavior during pick-up games of Frisbee and basketball. There was also pushback against my leadership.  All of which I was unaware. Instead, I was focused on the crowd and keeping my head above water.

While there were committed students in our ministry, what I had missed is what many in ministry miss: crowds are not necessarily indicative of spiritual success.  Often people show up just because others are showing up, or because of a talented speaker or, as in our case, a talented worship band.  On Palm Sunday, it was the charismatic Jesus that drew the attention of the crowd.  But in reality it didn’t mean much. This same crowd that was shouting “Hosanna” only a few days later would be shouting “Crucify!”

Right now, the ministry I lead is again relatively small—around 40 students.  I admit there are times I am tempted by envy looking at larger ministry groups on campus.  I miss the energy and excitement that comes with a large crowd.  But then I remember this passage and the ones that follow it that describe the huge crowd dwindling down to zero. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, no one in the crowd supported Him and not even one of His disciples was anywhere to be found.  I am once again reminded that the size of any ministry is not indicative of its significance.  We often believe that and get swept up in being a part of something big, but Palm Sunday proves otherwise.  What was going on in the hearts of the crowd was something not immediately apparent, but it came to light quickly enough.  Jesus, however, knew it all along.  He was not impressed by the size of the crowd or beholden to it.  He continued to speak the truth and remain faithful to His Father’s will.

Today, recognize success is not measured by size or popularity, but by faithfulness to the Lord.  While the energy and excitement of the masses can be exhilarating, worldly success is never a substitute for faithfulness to what the Lord has for you. You may be part of a massive church or ministry, but remember all may not be as it seems. Rather than get carried along by the excitement, focus on being faithful to the things of the Lord.  And if you are a part of a small church or ministry, don’t be discouraged.  Size is not a concern to the Lord, but faithfulness is.

© Jim Musser 2017

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