The allure of crowds and how Jesus shows a better way

I’ve been thinking about crowds lately. With football season approaching, there will be many stadiums full of college students each Saturday and fans on a Sunday anticipating and cheering on their team. Crowds are exciting, and even can kick-start movements, and even enticing. I love going to live events as they add to the overall moment of the game.

People like to see full stadiums and full arenas – it increases revenue, keeps people engaged, and even makes the games more entertaining causing the Owner, General Manager, and players to feel good about themselves. But let me get personal here – Pastors, along with church leaders, really like to see full sanctuaries. Sadly, for some of the same reasons – it increases tithing, can keep people engaged, and can even affirm the decisions the leaders are making in growing the church.

The inherent danger of course, is that much of this is focused upon the praise of man, rather the praise of God. The danger is also in that aiming for big crowds is part of the flaw of consumerism, which leads to the desire for more and is never satisfied. It’s a terrible trap.

As I’ve thought about crowds, I thought about how Jesus viewed them. Jesus seemed to do much around crowds (like, you know, feed them) – but He always seemed to retreat from them as well. Jesus knew crowds could be fickle, quickly. They couldn’t be trusted at face value. Jesus would often retreat from a crowd in order to pray alone and in a quiet place. He would go to the hills or up in the mountains. He would pour out his heart to the Father and He would listen to the Father, obeying all that was asked of Him.

In fact, in Luke 5, after a crowd gathered to be healed by Jesus, we read this: “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” The Greek construct of this sentence indicates that this was a continual practice for Jesus. He did this on a regular basis. This should indicate the grave importance for us to consider, and follow.

Why? Didn’t Jesus love people? Sure he did. But Jesus understood that the real way change was going to happen was when his communion with the Father was established – not when the crowds cheered or chanted his name (see Matthew 21:1-17). Jesus knew a better way.

As I think about becoming a Pastor of a church… which seems more real every day, I want to be careful not to become allured to just having a crowd – rather, a room full of people who are being transformed by the gospel of grace into better images of Jesus than the day before.

In sum, I want my time in prayer with Jesus to shape and sharpen my communication of the message of Jesus. When this happens, I believe a healthy church will be established and will grow – not primarily in number, but in depth… which is as it should be.