Jesus drew large crowds, which seems like a good thing. He apparently thought otherwise. In Luke 14:25-26, we learn “Now great crowds were traveling with him. So he turned and said to them: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” Then Jesus doubled down. He warned against starting a building program or going to war without counting the cost (Lk. 14:28-33). His clear message: disciples wanted, adoring crowds not so much.

COVID has had a thinning effect on attendance at many churches. Attendance has declined and does not appear to be rebounding. Interestingly, in many of those same churches, financial income has remained about the same. While attendance has gone down, giving has remained steady. How can this be? One obvious answer is rooted in stewardship and generosity as marks of discipleship. Those qualities are not common among casual church attenders or nominal Christians. The committed core, who are still fully engaged with their churches, have and will pay the bills.

Some churches are working double-time to regather their former crowds based on false assumptions like size equals quality or attendance equals commitment. That may be a wasted effort which is overlooking a positive aspect of attendance decline. It has revealed the shallowness of the commitment of many who may have previously been considered a vital part of a church. It has revealed misplaced definitions of discipleship and misplaced priorities. Rather than building fully devoted Jesus followers, we have been too content with just having a flashy crowd who come to church for the Sunday show.

We can do better. Rather than create ministries to placate tepid commitment, perhaps we should design ministries that meet deeper needs and call people to radical life change. The next chapter of Luke begins this way: “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him (Jesus). And the Pharisee and scribes were complaining, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’ (Lk. 15:1-2).”

Jesus rejected one kind of crowd – nominal followers who came for the show. He welcomed another kind of crowd—social outcasts, political sellouts, and broken people. The word “all” is an interesting qualifier. While it may not mean each and every tax collector and sinner in the country at that time, it certainly implies a lot of them! Jesus wanted a crowd, the right kind of crowd, to gather around him. When the Pharisees and scribes complained, Jesus told them parables about a lost coin and a lost son—followed by a story about serving the right master.

Jesus had no problem drawing a crowd. He just wanted the right crowd. As churches come back from COVID, keep this principle in mind. Regathering nominal believers is not our primary mission. Reaching hurting people is. Let’s work on drawing the right kind of crowds.


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Personal Timeline Lessons of Ministry Leaders

Kristen Ferguson
Director of Online Education | Associate Professor of Educational Leadership
Dr. Kristen Ferguson serves as the Director of Online Education and associate professor of educational leadership at Gateway Seminary. Her doctoral research at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary investigated evangelical faculty perceptions on online theological education. Her continued research focuses on online course design, blended learning, and online teaching best practices.

The Plain Meaning

Dr. Iorg discusses the simplicity of Bible interrpetation. We cannot let our disobedient hearts guide our interpretation.

Jeff Iorg
President
Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president of Gateway Seminary. Prior to his service at the Seminary, Dr. Iorg was the Executive Director of the Northwest Baptist Convention for almost ten years. He was also the founding pastor of Greater Gresham Baptist Church in Gresham, Oregon, and has served as a pastor in Missouri and a staff pastor in Texas.

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Study Isaiah
October 3, 2022

Uplifted Hand Oracles and Isaiah’s Commission – Isaiah 5b-6 & 9-10a

This week on Study Isaiah, Paul Wegner and host Tyler Sanders continue hopping around the palistrophe in Isaiah 5-12. First, they cover the uplifted hand oracles and then Isaiah’s commission.
Lead On Podcast
October 2, 2022

Overcoming Destructive Habits

Dr. Iorg explains how destructive habits can be formed by looking for significance and security in places other than Christ.

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Spirituality of Jonathan Edwards | JEC at Gateway Seminary

Dr. Chris Chun hosted a digital symposium with Dr. Michael Haykin and Dr. Robert Caldwell to discuss Edwards’ spirituality, devotional life and theological impact in American Christianity.

Chris Chun
Professor of Church History | Director, Jonathan Edwards Center
Dr. Chris Chun is the professor of Church History and the director of Jonathan Edwards Center at Gateway Seminary. Chris’ doctoral research at St. Andrews University was focused on the eighteenth-century Edwardsean Baptists in Britain. He also has served as president of The Evangelical Theological Society (Far West Region).

Faculty Dialogues: Dispensationalism or Not

In this episode of Faculty Dialogues, Dr. David Rathel and Dr. Paul Wegner held a live discussion on their views on dispensationalism.

David Rathel
Associate Professor of Christian Theology
Dr. Rathel is the associate professor of Chrisitian Theology at Gateway Seminary. Prior to Gateway, Dr. Rathel supplied pastoral care to churches in the United States and Scotland, served as an Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy for the Baptist College of Florida, and provided teaching assistance for the University of St Andrews.

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