I’m sitting in our living room this morning working on the passage in Mark that I will be preaching from this coming Sunday. The first two verses give a snapshot of what some writers call “attractional” ministry—i.e., ministry models that aim at attracting people.
"Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him." (Mar 3:7-8 ESV)
I just last week submitted my graduate essay on a closely related subject, so perhaps I’m reading into this a bit? But it sure looks to me like these “great crowds” are attracted to Jesus because they “heard all that he was doing”. Verse 10 clarifies that among the things the great crowd heard about were the many healings Jesus had performed.
But what does Jesus do? Look for ways to meet the needs of the people? Organize them into affinity groups? Raise funds to build a new church facility large enough to contain the whole crowd?
Verse 7 introduces this portion by saying, “Jesus withdrew”. The crowd followed Him. Then He told the disciples to have a get-away vehicle ready (actually a boat—verse 9), because the crowds kept coming. Then He went up a mountain “and called to him those whom he desired” (v 13).
Jesus, it seems, was not interested in being popular. He was not interested in meeting the felt needs of the crowds. When He was right in the middle of an attractional ministry with nationwide success (see verse 7-8 and look up those places on a map of Palestine at that time), he “withdrew”. He wasn’t attracted to attractional ministry. No matter how successful. He did not want people who wanted him for their own reasons and agenda. He knew whom He wanted and He called them to Him, forsaking the crowds.
And those few chosen and called ones He sent out to preach and to wield His authority (verse 14-15).
Because it was for the preaching of the Gospel that Jesus was there in the first place. Not for what people wanted from Him, but for what people needed to hear from Him.
Back in Mark 1:37-39, Jesus corrected His disciples’ wrong-headed ideas about attractional ministry.
“They came to him saying, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
Something tells me that Jesus’ idea of success is different from that of most of us in ministry—mine included.