Crowds are the thing. A picture of thousands worshiping at a high-octane conference or seminar is chill bump time for most of us. Packed mega-church worship centers remind us that though there are changes in the statistical landscape of evangelicalism the church is far from dead. Rejoice and be glad! Then there's poor Waldo, one of the invisible guys absorbed into the multitude. Finding and identifying Waldo is the goal. And, its not a game but real life for that one so often lost in the crowd.
Jesus was usually surrounded by crowds. Wherever he went people were attracted by his miraculous touch, the authority and power of his teaching, and his inclusive message to those left aside by the established religions of the day. So, they thronged to be around, or more closely near to him. With all the noise and motion of the multitudes Jesus was also very sensitive to the ones, the lone individuals with a personal need. There were many of them too---Jairus (Mark 5:21-24); the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22); Nicodemus (John 3:1-21); the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26); the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2-10), and more than can be mentioned or listed in this space. While he had compassion for the multitudes because of their spiritual wandering, he reached out to the single people with a special burden.
He chose twelve of them for intense preparation. Mark annotated their selection with the brief descriptive "...so that they might to be with him" (Mark 3:14), an intimate smaller circle of disciples to whom he would entrust the commission for his church. Once again, it was a scaled down number from the multitudes that typically trailed his ministry. He wanted to do something unique and special in them as preparation for a movement that would change the world. Among them he seemed to be more connected to Simon Peter, James, and John, individuals that he developed in a more concentrated way. Through them all, he showed us the paradigm for making disciples of all nations, a process more effective in small groups or one-on-one.
Most of us grapple with the numbers and crowd thing at some point in ministry. Recently I've been to the woodshed on several occasions because of a tendency to overlook the one and concentrate on the many. Who among the pastor/minister cohort hasn't felt the rush of a filled room or shocking statistics or budget surpluses or a crowded prayer rail. They are all personal validation of ministry effectiveness, what we perceive to be the best measure of our kingdom impact. In some cases they are ego boosters, what we need to feel good about ourselves. In others they're just mile- markers, a way to track progress. We usually need something at which to aim.
In retirement I tend to click Google Analytics first thing every morning to check the page views and sessions on my web site or to insure that my two blog readers are being consistently faithful. Measuring friend and follower additions and subtractions is a new sub-culture exercise for those of us participating in social media. Words with Friends will even give every player a recap of their game history, wins and losses, number of games played, with score tabulations, of course.
Then, there is one. Within the throngs were the ones. And, Jesus made special mention of them in his teaching.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the
ground apart from your Father.
Matthew 10:29, ESV
Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a
disciple, truly I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
Matthew 10:42, ESV
Whoever received one such child in my name receives me...
Matthew 18: 5, ESV
One of my favorite texts about our Lord's focus on the one is in John's account of his interaction with Nathanael. John wrote it up like this---
Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before
Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
John 1:48, ESV
John 1 is such a power-packed glimpse into Jesus' life and the underpinnings of our faith. That Jesus took note of Nathanael reminds me up front of his concentration on the one. With that example, it is my prayer that the one will be the prime number of mission and that we'll understand that changing the world always begins with Jesus changing one.
Praying that he's changing me and making me attentive to just one.