Back in the 1990’s, I read every book about church growth that I could get my hands on. As a young pastor, I wanted every church I served to grow and reach more people. I still do, albeit as an “older” pastor now.
As we prepared to move from San Diego to Denver in 2009, I gave most of those books away.
Some were dated, having been written in the late 1980’s and describing a culture that no longer existed — or at least was in decline. Some had hung their hat on a particular methodology that only fit a shrinking market. Others had questionable roots in scripture; a few had no roots in scripture.
The books hadn’t changed — the culture was changing. But even more importantly, I was changing. I had more life experience than when I came out of college. By 1997, I had buried both of my parents. By 2000, I had become the father of two beautiful daughters.
My understanding of scripture was deepening as well. Perhaps my life experiences were improving the soil of my heart, preparing it to receive the seed of God’s word.
The authors of those books were not ill-intentioned. There was no master plot to overthrow the church and lead it astray. In fact, I have other books by many of those same authors.
But as I’ve been reading and re-reading John 6, I noticed something about Jesus that I never found in a church growth book: how to whittle down a crowd.
Here is the flow of the chapter, in simple terms:
- Do things to attract a large crowd.
- Teach things to make most of them go away.
I remember hearing Francis Chan say that if he and Jesus had planted a church in the same town at the same time, Chan’s church would have more people than the one Jesus started. Just think about that for a minute.
In the gospels, people often had strong reactions to Jesus. Full-on devotion, fear, and outright rejection.
If someone got their feelings hurt because of something Jesus said or did, it wasn’t because Jesus was trying to demean or belittle them. That’s not the kind of person Jesus was. Even when he spoke confrontationally, it was out of pure motives and concern for the other person. It wasn’t to destroy them.
To the person wounded by sin, Jesus was the kindest, most compassionate person. To the offender, Jesus was direct and blunt.
Those who reacted negatively to Jesus did so because he forced them to address issues they would have rather ignored. Issues like prejudice, pride, lust, dishonesty, and anger. He called out their hypocrisy and double-mindedness.
Because Jesus was more concerned about being a God-pleaser than a people-pleaser, he wasn’t afraid to make people grumble. We see this in John 6:41-42.
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” — John 6:41-42
Perhaps because I’m writing this at 5:30 in the morning, I find the connection between grumbling and bread to be very interesting.
When my stomach grumbles, it’s an indication of hunger. When it’s loud enough for other people to hear, I know it’s time to eat.
The Jews were grumbling at Jesus because he was offering them true bread — and they didn’t see how it was possible for him to satisfy their hunger. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, who father and mother we know?”
In other words, didn’t we watch him grow up? Isn’t this the same kid who was friends with my oldest child? Jesus was so familiar to them that it was impossible to see him as anything other than ordinary.
They are grumbling because they don’t agree with the solution Jesus is offering. “Are you hungry? I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
Let’s be honest: we grumble at Jesus, too.
- Love my enemy? I’m having a hard enough time loving people who are somewhat like me, much less an antagonistic boss who acts like a jerk.
- Forgive others? But you don’t understand how deeply she hurt me (that’s an ironic thing to say to Jesus!).
- Turn the other cheek? I’d rather not.
I used to see grumbling as simply an indication of immaturity and rebellion. It certainly can be those things. But it can also be an indication that the Holy Spirit is stirring things up in your spiritual stomach. I wouldn’t put it past the Holy Spirit to give me a case of spiritual heart burn.
Unfortunately, the grumbling Jews never stopped to process their discomfort. They were unable (or unwilling) to be introspective. Their ability to practice spiritual self-awareness was non-existent.
If something Jesus says makes you grumble, the best thing to do is stop grumbling and start reflecting.
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. — John 6:43
Undisciplined grumbling will eventually evolve into something worse than heart burn. It has the potential to do serious damage to your spiritual wellbeing.
Think of it this way: if something Jesus asks me to do causes me to grumble, that’s a good indication that I want to do something else. And if I want to do something other than what Jesus asks me to do, I’m wanting to do the wrong thing!
In the long run, which path will more dangerous and destructive?
As a pastor, I’m no longer afraid of making people grumble by speaking the words of Jesus. Honestly, some people need to grumble. They need to get in touch with the true hunger inside of them.
But there are others — and these concern me as well — who need to stop grumbling. Their grumbling is no longer productive and isn’t moving them towards maturity in Christ. It’s making them a bitter person rather than a better person.
So, the next time you start to grumble at something Jesus says, stop and ask why. Be open and honest with the Holy Spirit. Seek godly counsel.