Whether it’s musicians, authors, churches, entrepreneurs, businesses, or politicians, everyone is interested in gaining a following. Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and email lists become critical to this in our social media age. There is nothing inherently wrong with growth per se, but I am struck by how much of our thinking here contrasts to Jesus. How He went about His ministry seemed to insure that He wouldn’t gain followers. Here’s what I mean:
1) Jesus didn’t offer incentives to follow Him. If anything, He was blunt and troubling at times. At one point, what He said was so offensive that many decided to quit following Him (John 6:66). Repeatedly, He said that to follow His way meant leaving behind and letting go of many things. In the end, it meant death to ourselves (Mark 8:34).
2) Jesus refused to honor the wishes of the people. In that time, Jesus was the at the center of so many conversations and debates. So many believed that He was to be the new Messiah that would rise up and lead a revolt against the Romans. But He did not cater to the wishes of the people. He did not give them what they wanted as followers. He had a mission to accomplish that disallowed such thinking. He was not going to inherit worldly power. He was going to the cross.
3) Jesus did not use others to gain a following. In a digital age, it is so easy to use others, to see them as numbers or tools to gain a following. Jesus only had one agenda: it was others. It was their redemption (Mark 10:45). The gospels record countless times when He would stop and minister to individuals. Everyone had a name to Jesus. Everyone had a story to hear.
4) Jesus had no image to project. So much of gaining followers in our age is about image management to appeal and attract. But Jesus had no image to keep up. There was a indelible is-ness about Him that turned heads and terrified others (John 18:3-6). He was who He was, and He would not change that even with death threats on His head.
5) Jesus had a different metric for success. The end of Jesus’ earthly life is a stunning rebuttal to our common measurements for success. He was rejected by the power brokers of that age, found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit, tortured mercilessly, and murdered in the worst way imaginable. In the end, almost everyone left Him. He had no followers. In earthly terms at that point, He was a total failure. But Jesus wasn’t about success in the usual terms. He was about obeying His Father and finishing His mission. That was success.
Jesus seemed to go about gaining followers in the worst possible way. But the legacy of His life has garnered more followers than anyone else in history. Somehow, He did it all wrong and got it all right. He turned everything upside down and yet, in so doing, turned it all right side up.
To follow His way is to let Him turn everything upside down in your life. But in so doing, everything will also come out right. This is His promise.
In the end, everything else will fail us. Only following Him will matter.