Thursday, October 6, 2016

Evaluating a Ministry, Part 4

This series is designed to help us determine some characteristics of how ministries are often evaluated and how they might better be. I am centering this study on Mark 8, evaluating Jesus ministry by the perspective of those involved. To date, I have reviewed the Pharisees (who were interested observers with a loaded agenda) and the disciples (who were included participants but had little understanding). This week, we look at the crowd.

The Crowd

The crowd plays an important role in Mark. The word first appears in Mark 2.4, but the evidence of a crowd is obvious in Mark 1 in verse 22 (compare verse 28 as this crowd was now spreading the fame of Jesus), verse 32 (the whole town came after sunset), and in verse 37 (everyone who wasn’t healed the night before returned. In Mark 3, “crowd” becomes a negative term as they might “crush him” (v. 9). They were so insistent on Him helping them they “pressed around him to touch him” (v. 10). Jesus taught the crowd in Mark 4, but held the explanation for those closest to Him (v. 11) and in chapter five, the crowd begged Jesus to leave (v. 17). Again the crowd presses around Jesus so tightly after He arrived back on the other side, the word “thronged” is used (v. 24). These instances and others set up the great feeding in Mark 6 (for the Israelites) and ultimately prepare us for the evaluation from the crowd in Mark 8 (Gentiles).

For the remainder of the post, I need to clarify that the “crowd” being considered does not include the Pharisees nor the disciples. Obviously, both groups were present during the instances above and for the miracle in Mark 8.1-10. However, both have been reviewed independently, so the crowd in question will not include these groups. It is important to remember that these two groups were stunned (and appalled) at the miracle Jesus performs here – not for what He does, but for whom He does it.

Most of Jesus’ ministry was in Israel, but he did venture into Gentile territory occasionally. (In Mark 5, He healed the demoniac on the other side of the sea, for instance.) Mark 8 begins by stating “in those days” He had a crowd following Him. The days relate to the end of Mark 7 where He has been in the Decapolis (7.31), so we are dealing with a Gentile crowd. (This is important because many – most? – of Mark’s initial readers were in Rome and, therefore, Gentile, so Mark is showing the God’s ministry concerns them as well.)

The Adoration

We can further ascertain the group is Gentile if we understand the word “these” in Mark 8.4 to be read in a sarcastic tone (as in these people?), which I believe is likely. These people have been following Jesus for three days and had nothing to eat. If they were willing to follow Jesus for that long, like the crowds in Israel, they were enamored with Him. Thus, at this point, their evaluation of Jesus’ ministry would likely have been “Excellent” but may have begun to fade toward “Very Good” because of their physical needs.

Jesus feeds these people from the scraps and certainly wins their adoration. Not only did this Jew (Jesus) come and spend time with these Gentiles, but He provided care for them as well – in the same manner He had for the Jews earlier. No other rabbi would make this gesture; very few, if any, Jews would make this gesture – and that is not even considering the miracle!

Perspective: What can you do for me? “This man is special. He is a Jew who came to our territory and has taught us many wonderful things. Now, he has even provided food for us.”

Evaluation: Outstanding! Unbelievable! “I never thought I would see the day that a Jew would help one of us (a Gentile).”

Of course, it was my fictitious quote here that is the primary factor for the evaluation in these posts. The Pharisees and disciples has a perspective of doubt and skepticism while the Gentiles would have been bewildered in a positive way.

The Point

Unlike the Pharisees or the disciples, from the verses in Mark 8, we cannot perceive that this crowd had any agenda nor a definitive calling. Therefore, their participation in this pericope is not only voluntary, but largely free of expectations. Granted, the demoniac that Jesus healed in Mark 5 was told to stay in the region and tell others “how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 10), so the news of Jesus’ power and mercy would have stirred some interest when He returned to the region. Any interest which had been stirred was now fully realized as this crowd saw Jesus’ mercy (feeding these people) and His power (4000 fed from seven loaves and a few small fish). Each member of the crowd had to make their own determination about Jesus, but what had once only been hearsay, was now experienced in person.

The Conclusion

The crowd does provide a perspective on ministry, but the size of crowd should not be the indicator! In fact, in John 6, Jesus tried to thin the crowd (and succeeded!) because they were not true followers, but were miracle-mongers and the like (see John 6.66). While the crowd does add a perspective (what can you do for me?), the crowd is rarely the best evaluator of anything – including a ministry. Why? Because the crowd is usually gathered for what it can get and will go along with others due to the idea of “group think.”

Consider, for instance, a sporting event. If the home team does something poorly, the crowd will boo (you are not giving me what I want). Even very young children, who do not understand the game in general (let alone nuances of it) will begin to boo. Why? It is what the group is doing. We must remember this is what happened to Jesus at His public trial. Many of the same people who heralded Jesus as Messiah as He entered Jerusalem on Sunday were calling for Him to be killed (and Barabbas released) just a few days later.

So, while the crowd is an important element of ministry, their lack of knowledge of the ministry’s goals and purpose, the processes involved, and other factors such as lack of personnel (or good help, as with the disciples as of Mark 8), usually makes it unsuitable for properly evaluating a ministry. Generally, when the crowd is happy, they will say the ministry is going well. When they are distressed about anything, the verdict will be something less. The problem is that this change may take place in the course of minutes or hours, and as I mentioned two weeks ago, any single event (the test the Pharisees wanted, v. 11) can bring success of failure (happiness or sadness) and is not truly indicative of a ministry’s (or minister’s) value. 

Thus, we must continue to look elsewhere for how to best evaluate a ministry. Next week, we will add one major piece, before tying them together the following week, and concluding the series the week after that.

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