We can never know what it was like for Jesus while he was on this earth. None of us has ever had to carry the weight of the entire world on our shoulders. And none of us has ever had the task of starting a major movement and then giving our lives for the cause. It would certainly be tempting for any of us, put into his situation, to think that, by doing some miracles and getting the crowds on our side, we could create a movement and affect real change on the earth. There are certainly many world leaders, including church leaders, today who seem to feel this way.
But Jesus didn’t want to be famous as a world leader. He didn’t crave the spotlight. In fact, the spotlight hindered his true work and, at times, brought it to a halt. That’s because Jesus did not come to be a great leader; he came to be a savior. To that end, he needed to do two things. The one greatest thing he did, of course, was provide payment for the sins of all people on the cross. The other thing he needed to do was connect with people personally.
We can think of many examples of Jesus’ ministry where he singled people out. It’s very possible that he needed to do that to reach them. Certainly Zacheus had heard a lot about Jesus and wanted to see him. But would he have truly found Jesus more than a curiosity if Jesus hadn’t singled him out to be his host one day? Would Matthew have left his lucrative job as a tax collector and traded the scorn of the people for the forgiveness of Jesus, become a great evangelist, or written the first of the Gospels without the personal exhortation of Jesus to follow him? Would Mary Magdalene have left prostitution? Would the four fisherman have become apostles? We certainly know from Peter’s own mouth that he didn’t feel worthy to follow Jesus.
There are also many examples of Jesus’ popularity as a miracle worker hindering his work. Countless times, when healing people, he told them to keep it to themselves. But they broadcast it all around, with the result that Jesus had to go elsewhere. At one point, the crowds became so great that Jesus had to tell them he was not here to be a supplier of earthly bread, but a supplier of eternal spiritual sustenance. This was a real buzz kill to his groupies, and many stopped following him that day. A lot of pastors think they need to do rhetorical tricks–to, in a sense, be able to walk on water in order to attract people to the Gospel. But, if we bring people in with personalities instead of message, then what happens when these people discover that the pastor can’t walk on water? What happens when the thrill is gone? As long as they are high on the personality, how will they understand how much they need the pure spiritual milk of the Gospel?
Certainly we can all learn lessons from Jesus about effective ministry. The more renowned ministers become, the harder it is to minister to people on a personal level. Certainly there are many pastors who know how difficult it is to be a personal confidant to each parish member, especially as budgets shrink and fewer pastors must serve more people. Certainly there is more than one music minister who is too intent on putting on a good “performance” to remember that the real task at hand is to help everyone to use their own personal gifts in worship.
Jesus could have stayed on earth after he rose and preached to the whole world. But that was not his plan. He had disciples for that. He gave the Spirit of power so that they could carry his message to the nations. Then he gave them the secret to successful ministry: Teaching. Teach the people. Train them for works of service. Teach them to share their faith with others. People love to follow rock stars. There is nothing quite like the excitement of going to a big concert and spending a night with a celebrity. But, in the morning, the star, and the thrill, is gone. The one who is still there for you is the one who knows you, knows your life, who can speak the truth in love every time you need to hear it. We don’t need Christian rock stars. We need Christian friends.