Beware of Crowdsourced Faith

More than Great Teaching

Jesus’ ministry cannot be summed up as one of great teaching.

He was a great teacher. His sermons and parables are as relevant today as they were in time of the Roman empire. We do well to study His teaching and to continuously re-read the gospels.

The power of Jesus’ ministry, however, exceeds great teaching. One of the additional facets of His ministry is that, like the Father He perfectly reflects, His Words aligned perfectly with His life.

The daily choices Jesus made and the ways He invested His precious moments on earth can inform our living in these demanding times if we pay attention.

The Crowds

The gospels reveal how Jesus related to several key groups: the religious and political rulers of the day, His close followers (the twelve and the men and women who traveled with Jesus), sinners, the sick and the demon-possessed, and the crowd.

I’ve been reading Mark and closely watching Jesus’ relationship with the crowd.

This is important to me because so much of our current culture – both secular and faith-informed – seems to place great faith in the value of assembling crowds.

We like numbers – majorities – great assemblies of people. Crowds sway rulers, sell books, build ministries, garner attention, affect policies, and often win the day.

The Pharisees had incredible crowd awareness and crowd influence. Repeatedly the gospel writers tell us they based decisions on their “fear of the people.” Jesus called them out on their love of “being seen” and the hypocrisy of tailoring a public persona that doesn’t align with the private truth of one’s life. And in the final week of Jesus’ life before His crucifixion, the Pharisees succeeded in stirring up the crowd against Jesus – despite that only days earlier, they’d ushered Jesus into the Jerusalem with a parade of palms.

The Temptation of Crowds

Crowds do have power. And it’s hypnotic, alluring, and tempting to court. Jesus was tempted in every way we are and so, I have no doubt, He, too, was tempted at some point to play to the crowd. Yet, He resisted.

Early in His ministry, a great crowd followed Jesus. So great, Jesus tells the disciples to get a boat ready for Him “lest they crush Him.” The crowds were so large and so demanding, sometimes the disciples couldn’t eat, Jesus’ family thought He’d lost His mind, and the Pharisees grew to fear Jesus enough to plot to kill Him because they feared the people and the people followed Jesus.

Crowds aren’t tame. Yes, on the flannel-graphs in church school, they seem like a peaceable bunch gathered on hills in little family groups waiting patiently for bread and fish, but we know better, you and I.

These crowds around Jesus were an assortment of sincere seekers and curious bystanders. There was the press of many needing healing or freedom from demons and so the crowds were full of the sick and of evil spirits. They sought forgiveness so there were many sinners. There was talk that Jesus was the Messiah who would lead Israel and so, the crowd likely drew Zealots, just waiting for the command to attack Rome. The Pharisees lurked in the crowd, watching, baiting, whispering, plotting.

And Jesus, understanding humans because He created them, loved them, even knowing that at any moment, they would turn.

Crowds, you see, are wild, unpredictable things.

The Secret to Resisting Crowd Appeal

At the beginning of Mark, we see a quietly pivotal moment that helps us understood how Jesus resisted the temptation to crowdsource His ministry.

Jesus had spent the night healing the sick and casting out demons. “The whole city was gathered together at the door.” For a new ministry, this would be ideal, a dream come true, the genesis of a great work for God.

But Jesus slipped away, while it was still dark, to a desolate place to pray. When His disciples found Him and beckoned Him because “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus replied, “Let’s go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

We can surmise from this that they moved on leaving some people unhealed, many people disappointed, and others confused about why Jesus wouldn’t dance to the pipe they played.

Jesus’ focus was on His Father. That’s it. Pay attention to the Father and do the Father’s will. The crowds may gather or disperse but the plans for Jesus’ days, His actions, His Words, His movements were in line with the Father’s will alone.

It’s fascinating that Jesus demonstrated that He could control the wind, rain, demons, and sickness. His ability to exercise control was infinite. But He didn’t try to control the crowd and neither did He let the crowd control Him. Meditating on this has changed my prayer life. So many of my prayers are appeals to God to control the crowd and yet, I see from Jesus this shouldn’t be my focus.

Living Worship

Worship, it can be said, is what occurs when we rightly respond to the truth about God. If our lives are to be our living worship, then our days, our moments, must be a response to the truth about God – NOT a response to the circumstances or the noise of the crowd.

If we live in response to the crowd, it’s too easy to begin to worship the crowd. If life is a constant response to the crowd, there’s no real difference between that and worshiping the crowd.

If, however, in responding rightly to God, we serve those around us and gather a crowd, there’s no harm as long as we practice what Jesus did and pull away to desolate places to hear our Father’s voice above the roar. Then, whether they stay or go, as crowds will do, we are able to stand, in faith.

What say you? How do you see the crowd impacting the church and your personal ministry in our times?

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    The Conversation

  1. Lorrie Hart says:

    Lori, I can’t thank you enough! This is a loving corrective word for the church. Not only now, but for so much of our history we have focused on how to ‘get the message out’ in a way that will draw a crowd. Now the church has become the crowd, and we’re confused. All the time. This is fruitless. We can only draw near to the Father, through Jesus. He is the way. We are not in a position to know whether or not people around us ‘get the message’ — we don’t have that data. We don’t even need it!
    Thank you for your faithfulness and love.

  2. Deb Kreyssig says:

    Hi Lori, we are keeping our eyes fixed on Christ so only He can dictate what we do. As the world becomes more and more distracting and might pull us off course, we are choosing to walk away, to pray and to worship only God. We answer to an audience of one. Praying for the church that she might do the same.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So pertinent for today! Thank you for your words of truth and encouragement.

  4. Karen White says:

    As churches evaluate re-opening, the crowdsource factor must be considered.
    Is the re-opening truly to preach/share God’s word; which many are already doing electronically with great success and for some even greater outreach. Or is re-opening about the crowd, about worship-tainment?
    Good thoughts Lori – thank you!

  5. Barb Welch says:

    Crowds are usually impulsive and build their size by some zealous, outspoken leaders who incite emotional displays. Most of us are followers and love to jump on the band wagon with others of like persuasion. Followers usually aren’t deep thinkers and tend to lean in the direction the pendulum is already moving. I remember being in college in 1969-71. Many of my sorority sisters were protesting around the same time as the Kent State shootings. One very large sorority sister invited me to go and protest with them. I declined because I did not want to be arrested or make any trouble for myself I may regret later. She tried to bully me into going to the protest, but I was an independent thinker and refused to let her make my decisions for me. Crowds tend to become crowds by weak-minded people wanting to get caught up in the moment or movement. Remember, crowds also tended to take the law into their own hands, resulting in lynchings, etc. I have no desire to participate in crowd activities. Corporate worship is the only crowd in which I want to take part.

  6. Bruce says:

    Excellent Lori,
    I have been meditating on this same thing. It is very deceptive drug that crowds bring, and many long for that high. They dream of stadiums, and large gatherings, but thy don’t realize that the first work God wants to do is to make them a true child, in secret, unto the Father only. God cannot trust His children with power or authority, until they are transfigured into the image of Jesus, and no longer seek power or authority or crowds, but only the pleasure and will of their Father.

    There are a few places where the crowds gathered big that He gave some of His hardest teachings, in which many would walk away. (Jn 6, Luke 14 etc.) He did not play to them, even though He cared for them deeply.

    One place in John where the crowds were praising Him, it is written: “…many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”

    We do not know what is in man, and unless we learn, we may be susceptible to addiction to that drug. God give is a greater grace!!

    Great article… thank you for sharing it!!