Part Two... 2. Community
From the crowds, came the seekers. One senses in reading the Gospels that there were people in and out of Jesus' life who were actively seeking to know more. Some of them are made known to us in the gospel accounts, like Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, or the Roman centurion. There must have been many more who were actively interested in hearing His teachings. They were people who had listened to Jesus speaking, seen Him perform miracles, or had heard about Him and wanted to know more. Different people had different reasons for seeking Jesus: some were sincere, others wanted to find fault with Him, and still others were motivated by curiosity. Some were desperate for help. Jesus' response to seekers was very different from His response to large crowds. He was more personal, but not always more friendly. He was probing, questioning, and He almost always asked or demanded something costly from seekers. Jesus tested them, but in a pro-active and loving kind of way. He would give them something to do, a step to take, to show they were prepared to pay the price necessary to actually follow Him. Jesus did not continually dispense truth to seekers if they did not show that they were willing to obey what He had already taught them.
Jesus modeled for us how to arouse the interest of people through telling stories and doing miracles. But we also learn from Him how to ask seekers to go beyond spiritual curiosity or the miracle they have experienced, to hearing and obeying His teachings. If they took one step, Jesus led them to the next. Because we have the advantage of knowing the parable of the Sower, the seed and the soil, we know that Jesus understood that the hearts of people were all different. Some were hard, some were responsive; and of those that were responsive, not all were genuine or lasting.
There are many examples in the Gospels of Jesus' interaction with this group of the not-yet-committed as He invites them to be obedient disciples:
- Matthew 8:18-22
- John 6:60-66
- Luke 5:4-5, 27-28
- Luke 8:19-21
- Luke 14:25-33
For Jesus, evangelism was disciple-making.
Our 'community' is people we have personal contact with. They are people who show spiritual interest, or who will show interest, if we pray for them and take time for them. Make a list of people who you know personally who don't know Jesus. Those are the 'seekers' God has placed in your life that comprise your 'community'.
3. Core group disciples
The core group disciples were those who were attracted to Jesus, who subsequently crossed a threshold in their lives and decided to trust Jesus. Understanding grew gradually in the hearts of the disciples of what it meant to obey Jesus. Jesus deliberately selected some of His followers for more responsibility. It says in Luke 6: 12 that from those who were with Him, He chose twelve for apostolic responsibility; that is, to be set aside, fully ready to obey Jesus.
At this point terminology can fail us. There seem to have been many of Jesus' disciples who were not fully in or fully out. Jesus left it purposefully that way. He did not draw up a list of rules like the Pharisees of His day, and decide – based on strict adherence to His 'rules and regulations' of discipleship – who was 'in' or 'out'. Jesus invited people to be His disciples by drawing them to Himself, rather than by establishing an 'in or out' closed society. But there was no question about whether He wanted obedience from His core team – that had to be absolute, because He stood at the centre of the new community He was creating. There were people who were called disciples, but who had not counted the cost of following Jesus all the way – "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more" (John 6:66). Jesus asked the twelve whom He had appointed to share leadership responsibility with Him if they, too, wanted to leave Him. Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
Understanding the paradoxes of discipleship is crucial to this process of moving from crowds, to a community of seekers, to a core group of disciples. This is not a hard and fast method, but a process to follow in order to find people in whom we can invest our lives.
Sharing Jesus is partly about discerning the 'crowd' in our lives, building relationships with a 'community of seekers' and then selecting a core group of potential disciples to invest in. Sharing Jesus – what we typically refer to as evangelism – cannot be separated from a process of finding those who are responsive to Jesus.
Jesus taught and modeled the way in which to discern how open people are to the good news (Luke 8:4 and following). He respected people, but also challenged them to go further in their search for God. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus compared the good news to seed sown into the soil of people's hearts. The 'soil' represented four different types of people's readiness to hear His message. Jesus told this story to His disciples to help them to discern the soil condition of people's hearts. In Luke 8:11, Jesus explained to them that the 'seed' is the message from God to people. Luke begins chapter 8 by saying that "Jesus. . . began a tour of the nearby cities and villages to announce the Good News concerning the Kingdom of God. . ." In His parable, the 'sower' of the seed is the disciples themselves.