Matthew 10 finds Jesus riding a wave of popularity. He has performed miraculous healings. He’s calmed a storm. He’s preached the greatest sermon ever. He’s even forgiven sins. He’s followed by a crowd, and in 9:33 “The crowd was amazed and said, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.'”
If Jesus lived today, at this point in his ministry he’d be producing a popular dvd series, have just signed a book contract and have started building a new cathedral in the suburbs. In fact, at the end of chapter nine he regrets that there weren’t enough workers to cope with the demand for the good news of the kingdom. So as chapter ten begins, he deputises the Twelve giving them “authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” What an excitingly vibrant, and dynamic ministry experience as lives were forever changed through the power of God.
One of the few lessons to have stuck with me from my years obtaining my business degree is that, “Growth is as hard (or harder) to manage as decline.” The military understands this principle. Supply lines have to keep up with troops. If the troops advance beyond their supplies they’ll soon find themselves under-resourced and isolated.
Starbucks provides a corporate example. For 30 plus years they experienced phenomenal growth from 1 store in Seattle in 1981 to over 15,000 stores worldwide in 2007. But then the company’s standards started to slip. They became overly optimistic and complacent. They started opening stores too close together and in communities unable to support the premium prices. They also struggled to provide adequate training and therefore quality of service and product. They had simply grown to quickly. In 2008 they closed 600 stores and shuttered another 300 in 2009 as the company’s profits declined for the first time. Since then, Starbucks has been able to turn things around by returning to its core values, products and standards. (See history of Starbucks’ growth here.)
It’s easy to get caught up in the euphoria of growth and lose touch with reality. 2011 has been a good year for my church as Sunday attendance reaches its highest level in years. But I don’t know who’ll be there next week, let alone over the rest of the year. Can we really count on a third of the Sunday attenders being non-members each week?
The temptation exists for us to get caught up in numbers and graphs and crowded worship services and to forget our core values and standards. Each newcomer brings their own unique set of blessings and gifts, but they also bring unique questions and needs. During periods of growth, it’s common to only see the positives and to overlook the needs driving that growth. When churches stop focusing on making a difference in people’s lives, they’ve lost sight of the Good News of the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus understood the temptations that accompany growth. In the midst of his successful ministry to the crowds, he warns his closest disciples that their core message will not always be welcomed. Jesus’ message challenges the accepted norms of society and the Twelve will encounter opposition as they spread his message. Central to Jesus ministry is the question of his identity. Is he really the Messiah, the Son of God? The answers to this question will prompt disagreements. Brother will betray brother to death and a father his child…” (10:21)
Jesus didn’t allow the growth his ministry experienced to dilute his message or lose sight of his core values and purpose. In this discourse with the Twelve he gives them a reality check also. Throughout his ministry Jesus struggles to keep the Twelve grounded in the present. God will do great things, but they will also experience hard times.
The answer in those times of difficulty is to keep in mind the big picture. Three times in v26-31 Jesus tells his disciples “Do not be afraid.” God cares about them and they are doing His work. They are to keep their focus totally upon Him (37-39).
- Have you experienced difficulties managing growth? What temptations did you face?
- What opposition to the Gospel do you experience in Western culture?
- What are the core values Christians need to “get back to” to prepare for seasons of spiritual conflict?