Found on the internet recently: a Pony Express recruitment poster from 1860 that reads: “WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
Were I to respond in the spirit of the age I would say, “That’s narrow-minded and discriminatory.” I mean, what if I want to ride for the Pony Express and I am over 60? Or I weighed more than 300 pounds? And what’s all this stuff about risking death? No way, Jack! I want to ride but I don’t want to do anything that might risk my hairdo, much less my life and limbs. Are you really telling me that I cannot apply? Well, you will hear from my lawyer, “Mr. Express.” Count on it!
If you think that club was exclusive, you should check out Jesus’ qualifications for discipleship. He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Not only do you have to come and risk death; if you want to follow Jesus, you have to come and die every single day.
See, here’s the truth about Jesus’ church-growth “methods.” He preached a crowd-thinning word, not a crowd-pleasing one. He told his followers that they would be dragged before the magistrates and authorities. He told them they would be hated for his sake. He told them that they would have much tribulation. Then he spoke the mother of all “anti-church-growth” messages when he said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him.” He wasn’t talking about cannibalism there or even about the elements of the Lord’s Supper, as many have supposed. He was talking about so identifying with him that those who would follow him would take his life for their own, would lay down their desires and their plans and take up his. It was at this point that “many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more.”
Jesus did not seek a crowd. He was never interested in drawing crowds or mobs. Jesus was the leader and still is, of the remnant. He was looking for disciples, not warm bodies. He wasn’t interested in scaffolding, which is temporary support but cannot be trusted under any kind of significant load or stress. Scaffolding is up today and gone tomorrow. A scaffold will say, “Lord, we ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets,” but Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” Scaffolding comes and goes, blown about by the wind, but stones set in mortar are here to stay. The cornerstone, Jesus, was getting ready to lay down his life, and he was looking for some men who would lay theirs down as well. He was searching for solid stones, suitable for setting in mortar next to the cornerstone to build a building whose maker and builder is God.
Someone asked a pastor once how he was able to have such a wonderful congregation of people gathered together on a Sunday morning. They knew that it had not always been that way. In fact, when the pastor first came to the church, it was filled with turmoil and division. Now it was thriving, filled with worshipers who loved the Lord and each other. “How did you do it,” the pastor was asked. “I preached it down to four,” he replied. Jesus preached it down to eleven. The crowd wandered off, but the disciples remained. How about you?